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Food Quality and Safety in Europe



Killing micro-organisms can kill taste. This is not the slogan for a health advice campaign, but could well be the simple conclusion reached by consumers who eat ready-to-eat (RTE) meals. RTE foods are very popular for their convenience and widespread availability, but they are not always as tasty and healthy as fresh products.

The lack of taste and freshness is mainly due to decontamination processes, where the eradication of micro-organisms for the protection of human health often goes hand in hand with the loss of nutrients and flavour. The project HighQ RTE looks into the decontamination problem and suggests novel nonthermal technologies to improve microbial safety and shelf life of RTEs, while maintaining overall high taste and nutritional quality.


In HighQ RTE, the focus is on three types of foods: ready-to-eat vegetable and fruit salads; fluid foods (egg- and dairy-based products and ingredients); and ready-to-eat meals of vegetable origin.

Current thermal food manufacturing processes can improve food safety and product shelf life without leaving residues, and are cheap and well perceived by consumers. However, heat treatments at high temperatures induce several changes including lipid oxidation, nutrients bioavailability and modifications of the organoleptic properties. Another frequent effect of thermal treatments is the 'Maillard reaction' which results in melanoidins which can be metabolised by the microflora of the hind gut in heterocyclic amines, some of which have been reported to be human carcinogens.

HighQ RTE is developing four new technologies. For each, modelling of the death kinetics of the naturally occurring microbial population and deliberately inoculated pathogenic species is performed. This results in models of bacterial survival and regrowth that is the basis for quantitative risk assessment procedures. Risk assessment is fundamental in determining lethality levels and treatment doses in all processes and for choosing the appropriate processes for each food system.


Four non-thermal processing technologies are being developed to improve the safety and shelf life of RTE meals: Photosensitisation (PHOTO); Pulsed Electric Fields (PEF); High Pressure Homogenisation (HPH); and High Hydrostatic Pressure in combination with CO2 atmospheres (HHPCO).

PHOTO is used for ready-to-eat vegetable and fruit salads. It consists of the combination of a non-toxic dye and a bright light which, in the presence of oxygen, results in the selective destruction of the target microorganisms. The PHOTO technique can also be used for packaging decontamination. PEF and HPH is used for fluid foods.

PEF involves the application of high voltage electrical fields for microseconds to liquid foods such as sauces, dressings, beverages and fillings. During HPH treatment the fluid is forced, under high pressure, through a narrow valve after which it undergoes a rapid depression. The process variables affect also the food microstructure and the interaction between food ingredients.

The fourth technology is HHPCO which is used for RTE meals. It combines traditional high hydrostatic pressure with CO2 for safer packaging and longer shelf life. HighQ RTE studies the effects and results of these four technologies and compares them to thermal treatments.

HighQ RTE is developing pilot scale equipments. The resulting technologies can be used to significantly increase the production of high quality and safe RTE products in the catering sector.

List of Partners

  • University of Bologna - Dipartimento di Scienze degli Alimenti (Italy)
  • Orma (Italy)
  • Vilnius University - Institute of Material Sciences and Applied Research (Lithuania)
  • Universidad Politécnica de Valencia (Spain)
  • SIK - Institutet for Livsmedel och Bioteknik (Sweden)
  • Institute of Food Research (UK)
  • Laboratoire National de Métrologie et d'Essais (France)
  • Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (Spain)
  • UAB "Palink" (Lithuania)
  • Tecnoalimenti (Italy)
  • Ortoreale (Italy)
  • Cooperativa Sociale "Il Bettolino" S.C. (Italy)
  • Rubinetteria Webert (Italy)
  • Acetum (Italy)
  • Centro Tecnico Regionale di Ricerca sul Consumo Europeo (Italy)
Full title:
Innovative non-thermal processing technologies to improve the quality and safety of ready-to-eat meals
Contract n°:
Project co-ordinator:
Maria Elisabetta Guerzoni, University of Bologna,
EC Scientific Officer:
Jürgen Lucas,
EU contribution:
€ 2.1M
Specific Targeted Research Project

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Last update: 06 December 2007 | Top