By overcoming the bottlenecks and barriers hindering market uptake of innovative food-processing technologies, the EU-funded i3-Food project aims to reduce food waste and improve the quality and shelf life of products.
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In 2011, 10.7 billion litres of fruit juice were consumed in the EU. In 2009, the ice-cream market in 14 major European countries generated €8.9 billion. Processed foods like these are clearly very important to European consumers as well as the economy.
Developing more efficient and effective food-processing technology has therefore been a research priority in recent years. Studies seek to extend the shelf life of products both fresh and long-life while improving quality, reducing the use of chemical preservatives, and saving energy.
This has resulted in pioneering food-processing technology, but there has been little market uptake by EU industry. The majority of European food-processing companies are SMEs, which may be unable to make substantial investments in new technology, especially in the absence of guidelines on food safety and other requirements.
The EU-funded i3-Food project is seeking to foster market update for three particularly promising novel food processing technologies that it has identified:
- Pulsed electric field preservation (PEF-P) perforates cell membranes within food and kills microbes without affecting product quality or appearance. This could extend the shelf life of fresh orange juice, for example, from 7 to 21 days. It could also increase cost-benefit by 10-15% compared to conventional processing.
- High pressure thermal sterilisation (HPTS) can be applied to longer-life products, such as ready meals, to produce higher-quality packed foods with better colour, taste and texture.
- The third technology, low shear (LS) extrusion of cold food products, has been applied by i3-Food to ice cream. This deep-temperature extrusion process provides greater control over fat crystallisation in spreadable, viscous products so that they look, smell and taste better.
To encourage rapid and easy market uptake, phase 1 will involve analysing the innovation environment, and identifying opportunities. Phase 2 will see road-mapping for market penetration per technology. This approach will provide maximal synergies between the three technologies addressed. Application opportunities beyond the known use cases will also be explored, and a scientific strategy for overcoming the market barriers to rapid and maximum market uptake will be defined.
The results, and in particular the cost-benefit potential, will be disseminated to end-users, partners and multipliers through workshops and demonstration days.