Often, it is the case that technologies developed for one industry present exciting new possibilities when transferred to other areas. Here, we highlight two technologies which offer real benefits to food and beverage manufacturers.

The TORBED ® hot air system, originally developed for minerals processing, offers manufacturers an opportunity to introduce new products to the market and to save money. The second technique, irradiation, is concerned with food preservation and safety. It was first used for the sterilization of medical products, and despite the mis-placed concerns of some consumers, it offers the surest means of ridding food of spoilage and pathogenic bacteria such as E.coli O157.H7. The importance of this benefit cannot be overstated. This micro-organism has caused multiple fatalities in the US, Japan and Europe, and its incidence is increasing.

Just hot air ?

The TORBED hot air system works by suspending a gentle rotating bed of free-flowing particles above a ring of static vanes through which high velocity hot air is directed. This ensures a rapid and even heat transfer from air to particles. Translate this into the snack food industry and the technology creates many exciting opportunities for new product development. Snack products are traditionally fried or cooker extruded before being dusted with oil and flavourings. In order to help disguise the fatty taste, heavy flavourings often have to be used. The TORBED hot air system expands the snack pellets in hot air, which means that for the first time, virtually 100 per cent fat-free snacks can be produced. The absence of oil also allows a wider range of flavorings, including sweet flavorings and those that are milder in taste, to be considered.

In addition to opening up new product opportunities, the TORBED process offers productivity and cost benefits; often costing less to install and operate, and delivering much higher yields than comparable technologies. For example, with conventional technology, it is very difficult to de-shell cocoa beans. The beans are roasted and crushed, after which the mixture goes through several purification stages to remove the shell. When cocoa beans are processed using the TORBED technology, the shell can be removed in seconds.

The versatility of the technology is such that it is being used or tested across a number of applications, including the pasteurization of spices and the de-hydration of vegetables incorporated in convenience foods.

Putting safety in a positive light

Irradiation is a form of electromagnetic radiation like visible, infra-red or ultraviolet light. It is capable of killing micro-organisms while causing minimal change to the food substance.

Different doses are required depending on the organism and food-stuffs concerned. Irradiation is applicable to most foods and medium dose applications will reduce spoilage by bacteria, moulds and yeasts and will destroy the pathogenic bacteria in meats, the main source of E.coli O157.H7. Low dose applications include: inhibiting sprouting; delaying physiological processes to increase shelf-life and insect disinfestation.

Irradiation has the advantage that it can be used on fresh and frozen meat with generally good results. Sensory evaluation at Kansas State University found low dose irradiation has only minimal effects on flavor, texture, aroma and color in a variety of beef products. Much of the negative publicity associated with irradiation comes from its name and suggested links with radioactivity. However, irradiation does not make food radioactive and the World Health Organisation has concluded that there is no evidence of any extra health risk associated with the process.

Moreover, irradiation has the benefit of being clean, applicable to packaged produce including frozen goods and has minimal effect on the nutritional content of food. Proteins and carbohydrates are unaffected by irradiation. Levels of vitamins A, C, E, K and B12 may be slightly reduced but less so than when food is heat treated.

Taste of success

Ultimately the value of any technology will be judged by consumer acceptance of the food it produces. "Unless the product is tasty people will not eat it," says Dr Mark Kierstan, Chief Executive Officer of The Leatherhead Food Research Association, a UK trade body. "However food must also be safe, affordable, convenient and of good quality. The industry must seize the appropriate technology to achieve all these goals."