Servicio de Información Comunitario sobre Investigación y Desarrollo - CORDIS

Final Report Summary - NOVELQ (Novel Processing Methods for the Production and Distribution of High-Quality and Safe Foods)

The ultimate aim of the NOVELQ project was to formulate strategic solutions for technical and basic research hurdles in order to develop and successfully demonstrate Novel processing (NP) schemes. The exploitation of potentially unique NP characteristics aimed to improve quality, facilitate (incremental) innovation and further increase the added value of the European food sector through:
- substantially extending shelf-life (without compromising safety) of, especially, fresh-like convenience foods of plant origin. This is generally the limiting factor in maintaining the shelf-life of prepared whole meals. A solution to this problem will maintain the value (quality and export) of regional recipes and, hence, contribute to promotion of the rich and diverse European cuisine;
- responding to the demands of consumers for food with fresh characteristics close to those of the raw material (taste, aroma, texture, healthy ingredients). This goal was not achievable using conventional processing;
- responding to the demands of consumers for foods that contribute to individual health and the well-being. Such foods help to lower the levels of diet-related disease and reduce associated health and social costs across the European Union (EU);
- enhancing eco-friendly innovative processing, as a direct consequence of reducing:
a) current wastage of fresh produce (approximately 35 %) via extended shelf-life,
b) energy inputs, via low-temperature and low-energy processing,
c) usage of water and chemicals, through applications of new hygiene approaches, and
d) migration problems and packaging materials, via in-pack processing (thereby avoiding any need for repackaging)

NOVELQ was set up using the food chain approach. This required that plant-based raw materials, new processing concepts, packaging, shelf life and consumer evaluation were considered in a holistic manner and that development and exploitation of novel technologies were placed within the broad food chain perspective.

The project aimed to enable the benefits of individual NP technologies to be identified and evaluated at different stages along the food chain (e.g. as pre-processing technologies and as actual processing-preservation unit operations); examples included pre-processing with NP followed by pasteurisation based on classical heating technologies or advanced heating technologies.

NOVELQ represented an integrated interdisciplinary research, demonstration and dissemination project designed to overcome current bottlenecks that exist across the entire Research and development (R&D) chain. These bottlenecks inhibit the introduction of NP technologies in the European food industry. In order to achieve this ambitious goal, fully interacting approaches were adopted:

Firstly, in Sub-projects (SP) 1 and 2 a comprehensive knowledge base was developed offering mechanistic and kinetic insights into the effect of NP and packaging materials on the safety and quality of complex (regional) food products (solids and liquids) of plant origin. This approach was adopted as opposed to the examination of model systems (e.g. buffer systems); although the latter is simpler, its results are less readily transferred to industry. SP1 focused on mechanistic and kinetic insights in changes of food components and food products during processing with NP. Novel processing schemes include High pressure (HP), Pulsed electric field (PEF) and (cold) plasma. SP2 focused on the effects of NP on packaging materials and food package material interactions with the food itself (e.g. migration).

Secondly, an integrated product / process development and demonstration approach (embracing reversed chain thinking) have been developed for the range of products mentioned above. These products include a number of regional products subjected to NP. SP3 focused on consumer perceptions of NP; SP4, 5 and 7 focused on pan-European innovation, demonstration, dissemination and training. Both advanced heating and novel processing schemes (HP, PEF, cold plasma) were further developed and demonstrated. Therefore, cross-sectorial cooperation between food and equipment manufacturers was a feature of this project being strongly supported by partner research institutes. Over 80 food and equipment manufacturers became member of the Industry advisory platform (IAP). Finally in SP6, the project management and administration was outlined, emphasis was placed on managing innovation processes in R&D projects.

Finally, to extend the study of edible coatings on different food products in the existing NOVELQ project, a project called NANOCOM focused on novel raw materials that are required for inclusion into coatings and films. As part of the NANOCOM project (incorporated in SP2), the raw materials were agro-proteins that are available commercially or isolated, from whole grains and cereal by-products of the milling (bran) and brewing (spent-grain) industry, which are not available commercially. The inclusion of nanoparticles to improve material properties and films on pilot plant scale processing was performed.

In general, the approach applied in SP1 allowed to perform highly controlled kinetic studies to fully quantify and understand the effects of high pressure thermal processing and pulsed electric field processing on quality and safety aspects of foods in the context of processing intensities covering pasteurisation and sterilisation (in case of HP processing) levels. As the same study vehicles were used throughout the subproject, comparison of (novel) unit operations on a quantitative basis and from a viewpoint of true equivalence became within reach (as for instance undertaken in SP4). Furthermore, the first sensors and models design, validation and optimisation of novel processing technologies based on high pressure thermal and pulsed electric field processing were developed. Finally, a step forward was made in the understanding and quantification of the effects of cold plasma on microbial food safety aspects.

Major progress was made in the knowledge on the effect of novel processing on packaging materials through an extensive evaluation of the impacts of NPs on the performance of common and novel packaging materials and on their interaction with the packaged food. Particular emphasis was given to HP/T treatments and combination of novel packaging concepts (i.e biodegradable films and edible coatings, nanocomposites, bio-active polymeric systems) with novel processes that permitted to prolong the shelf-life above that accessible with currently available technologies.

Key issues such as the evolution of material properties with process conditions as well as food-packaging interactions associated with NPs were analysed and modelled through the development of integrated theoretical and numerical tools that allowed:
a) the prediction of functional and structural properties of the packaging materials;
b) the prediction of the process / package-product interactions for simulating and controlling migration of unwanted compounds (for regulatory issues on undesirable compounds and quality maintenance by avoiding scalping);
c) the assessments of the suitability for use in HP treatments of certain polymers and multilayer structures in view of designing specific package structures.

The results of the work in SP3 research indicated that consumers perceive PEF and HPP treated juice to be a better choice than pasteurised juice if the price and taste are right. But most of all consumers want freshly produced apple juice with a premium taste at an acceptable price. The finding that HPP juice is easier to accept than PEF juice is also in line with previous studies. The results of the consumer observation study showed, that the freshly pressed, mildly pasteurised and high pressure processed juices do not differ from each other on the tested attributes, except for sour. The average liking scores for the three juices were comparable. The quantitative consumer acceptance study showed, that the attitude change toward the technologies due to the sensory experience can be explained as an affective conditioning effect. Due to the pairing of the technology name with the sensory experience, the affective reaction elicited by the sensory experience is transferred to the technology name. The focus group interviews with consumers regarding the rename of the PEF technology to 'micro pulse' technology discovered, that 'micro pulse' name has better associations (indulgence, short, modern), than pulsed electric field (associated with radiation, unhealthy, unnatural, rough) and 'micropulse' is in no way associated with 'electricity' among then respondents.

The integrative approach of SP4 and 7 led to insights how to overcome barriers in hygiene, environmental impact opportunities, shelf-life, selection in technologies, upscaling, etc. SP4 was able to bridge the gap between lab-scale experiments and industrial development. Clear guidelines and models are available that can guide industry towards the appropriate technology and show ways of implementation in their processing lines. This has increased awareness and number of successful NP innovations.

Finally, the NOVELQ project was able to bridge the gap between food manufacturers and equipment suppliers, by bringing them together in the IAP platform. The discussions between them contributed to better understanding of each other demands and quality offers; and enabled them to jointly step into (short-term) demonstration projects.

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