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Project full title: Innovative non-thermal processing technologies to improve the quality and safety of ready-to-eat (RTE) meals

Project acronym: HighQ RTE

Type of instrument: Specific Targeted Research Projects (STREP), PCRD6

Reference number: FP6-2004-FOOD 23140

List of participants:

Partner 1: University of Bologna – Dept. of Agro-Food Protection and Valorisation UNIBO, coordinator
Partner 2: Orma S.r.l. ORMA
Partner 3: Vilnius University, Institute of materials science and applied research VU
Partner 4: Universidad Politécnica de Valencia UPV
Partner 5: Saligus AB SA
Partner 6: Swedish Institute for Food and Biotechnology SIK
Partner 7: Institute of Food Research IFR
Partner 8: Laboratoire National de Métrologie et d’Essais LNE
Partner 9: Instituto del Frío CSIC
Partner 10: UAB Palink UAB

Coordinator : Prof. M. Elisabetta Guerzoni
University of Bologna - Department of Agro-Food Protection and Valorization
phone: +39 051 209 65 73
fax: +39 051 209 65 74

Strategic objectives addressed:

- Develop novel technologies, to be used alone or in combination with traditional ones, to improve the safety as well as eating and nutritional quality and shelf-life of ready-to-eat meals, ready-to-eat salads and semi-prepared foods.
- Address the safety and quality of minimally processed fruits and vegetables (ready to eat salads) obtained from raw materials coming from different geographic origin.
- Develop sustainable production systems and appropriate manufacturing processes also on the basis of quantitative risk assessment procedures through the total food chain and taking into account qualitative and nutritional considerations.
- Reduce the occurrence of undesirable and potentially harmful molecules arisen from strong heat processes in ready-to-eat foods and semi-prepared foodstuffs.
- Satisfy the consumer demands for increased choice of differentiated and new products with lower level of some specific ingredients (salt, sugar, saturated fats, etc.)

Project abstract:

The project aims to improve the safety and quality of three representative categories of European ready-to-eat foods: ready-to-eat salads, fluid foods, and ready-to-eat vegetable based meals.

In fact several papers reported that European ready-to-eat foods, and particularly Refrigerated Processed Foods of Extended Durability (REPFEDs), are frequently contaminated with pathogenic species. In order to enhance the safety of the three categories of foods, and at the same time prevent the heat-induced chemico-physical and nutritional changes, non-thermal novel processes will be developed and applied.
For ready-to-eat vegetable and fruit salads, procedures based on Photosensitization (PHOTO) will be set up in order to drastically reduce the contamination level of naturally occurring and inoculated pathogenic species in vegetable raw materials and packaging.
For fluid foods (soups, egg/milk based creamy emulsion, low acid fruit juices) Pulsed Electric Fields technologies (PEF) and semi-continuous High Pressure Homogenization (HPH) will be compared both in terms of pathogenic species inactivation and changes of the properties of proteins as well as food microstructure and rheology. The ability of the latter technology to activate naturally occurring or exogenous enzymes will be exploited in order to generate new bioactive natural food components.

For ready-to-eat meals (of vegetable origin) low-medium levels of Hydrostatic Pressure (HHP) will be applied to meals packaged under CO2 atmosphere (LMPCO) in comparison and in addition to traditional mild heat processes.

The optimisation of the formulation of the fluid or solid food systems to be subjected to the various technologies will be performed taking into consideration nutritional aspects (salt, lipid contents), the possible chemico-physical and structural changes induced by the processes and the specific requirements of the various processes technologies (PEF, PHOTO, HPH, HHP, LMPCO) in terms of physical state and rheology (appropriate viscosity, particles presence and size etc). For the various combinations products-processes also the optimisation of the formulation of the meals will be performed in relation to chemical, nutritional, microstructural and functional changes induced by the exposure to the various processes.

For each technology, modelling of the death kinetics of naturally occurring microbial population and deliberately inoculated pathogenic species and their evolution during storage will be performed in order to obtain deterministic and probabilistic models of bacterial survival and regrowth that will be the basis of quantitative risk assessment procedures.

The results of the risk assessment will allow the definition of the lethality levels required for the species of interest and of the treatment doses for the various processes as a function of the desired shelf-life and quality level. For the various combinations products-processes also the meal formulation optimisation will be performed in relation to chemical, nutritional, microstructural and functional changes induced by the exposure to the various processes.

Project duration: 3 years
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