The proposed project will investigate radio-frequency heating of foods in flexible vacuum pouches during water immersion and its application to minimally processing of convenience cook/chill or cook/freeze fish products. The rapid volume heating of the process is expected to reduce overcooking of the heat sensitive fish flesh and to result in better product quality while maintaining product safety and shelf life. Application of the process is expected in fish processing as well as in large food service companies, the processed products will go to the retail market and to food service. The proposed project covers process adaptation and optimisation, investigation of safety and microbiological process validation, validation of achieved product quality, and estimation of processing cost and of potential convenience fish product markets. Expected project results will enable the industrial implementation of the process and will help to judge the potential and economy of the novel process for producing high quality prepared fish meals.
- Explore the potential of a combination of radio-frequency-heating (RF-heating) with water immersion for production of minimally processed cook/chill or cook/freeze convenience fish dishes. It is intended to use a mild thermal treatment with temperatures < 100°C, which requires a subsequent chilling or freezing for safe storage and distribution.
- Investigate and optimise the process with respect to heating uniformity, rapidity, reproducibility and develop a temperature-time treatment, that will retain most of the desired fish quality while achieving safe reduction of potential hazardous microorganisms.
- Adopt and develop methods and predictive models for process validation and demonstrate experimentally microbiological safety of the heating process.
- Verify quality achievements with respect to texture, cook-out, taste, colour, and shelf life of heated products and compare to conventionally autoclave or hot water-bath processed products.
- Estimate economic feasibility of the process and investigate markets and distribution system for minimally processed fish products.
- Demonstration of microbiological safety and product quality achievement of the novel RF-heating process for minimally processed fish products.
- Availability of experimental tools and predictive models to optimise the process, to perform microbiological validation, to implement the process on industrial scale, and to adopt process to other prepared foods or to temperature-time regimes with short-time sterilisation.
- Estimation of economic feasibility and competitiveness of the process for both, the fish/food processor as well as the manufacturers of process equipment and packaging material.