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RF-water-bath heating process for rapid internal heating of packaed food products

A novel RF-water-bath heater for food in portion packages with rapid internal heating has been developed, to overcome the long heating times and the thermal over-processing of retorts. The process has been intended and investigated for a mild “sous-vide” process with fish portions vacuum packed in plastic film. It is possible to transfer the heating process to other foods, to high temperature regimes, and to other packages like glass jars, glass bottles, plastic beakers, or plastic bottles. In a laboratory prototype of the RF-water-bath heater, more than 700 fish portions have already been successfully processed and evaluated for quality and microbiological safety. Processing time for a heating process from 4 °C to 75 °C could be reduced to 3.5 min compared to more than 30 min for a retort process. Product quality in these early sample series was shown to be equal or better compared to conventionally processed fish. Risk micro organisms could be inactivated by the required factor of 10e6. It is also projected for industrial scale, that energy use is much less (0.3 kWh/kg vs. 1.8 kWh/kg) and that processing cost of the novel RF-heating process is similar to a conventional retort process (0.14 €/kg vs. 0.13 €/kg). Further improvement and optimisation seems possible with respect to heating uniformity and heating reproducibility, in particular with food portions of varying size and shape. First technical concepts for production size equipment have been sketched but need to be detailed and implemented.
-‘Potential applications’ Minimal thermal processing, pasteurisation, sterilisation of temperature sensitive food in packages. Infusion solutions, parenteral nutrients in packages. Packaging materials have to be transparent for electric fields like plastic films, plastic beakers, plastic bottles, glass jars, and glass bottles.
-‘Potential users of results- Manufacturers of food processing equipment, food producers, producers of infusion solutions and parenteral nutrition.
-‘Innovative features / benefits’ Rapid heating, heating rate increased by one order of magnitude compared to conventional autoclave, better quality preservation and less thermal damage to food during pasteurisation, sterilisation. For projected industrial scale processing, much lower energy need and similar processing cost is expected.
-‘Market size for processing equipment’ For the German market of foods processed in industry autoclaves, a minimum production size of 1.5 million tons is derived from statistics. In the EU it is possibly 5 times as much. It is estimated, that at least 1500 to 2000 industry autoclaves are used for food production throughout Europe. If 5 % of these autoclaves could be replaced by the novel technology, this would be equivalent to 75 to 100 RF-water-bath heaters. We estimate a price of 800,000 € per RF-heater with 500 kg/h throughput. This would translate into a market size of 60 to 80 million € in EU.
-’Potential barriers’ Heating uniformity and reproducibility in heating packages with size and geometry variations need to be improved. Transfer of heating technology to different food items and different food packages has to be tested. Equipment for continuous transfer of food packages into and out of pressurised equipment is needed.

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