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Virtual conference explores shelf-life innovation


October 26, 2011
By Bakers Journal

October 26, 2011, Simcoe, ON – The Controlling Shelf-Life 2011 virtual conference shone a spotlight on innovative solutions to many common packaging and product shelf-life problems facing the food and beverage industry.

The conference, held on Oct. 20, was organized by FoodProductionDaily.com and FoodQualityNews.com and featured three editorial webinars and two sessions hosted by sponsors. In between sessions, attendees had the opportunity to network with other participants and ask questions of the various expert speakers.

During the first session, Wouter de Heij, co-founder and CEO of TOP b.v., explored innovation and new opportunities in high pressure processing (HPP). HPP uses very high levels of pressure to kill certain microorganisms and enzymes in food products.

In juices, his area of expertise, de Heij said high pressure processing can triple shelf-life. He reported that freshly squeezed juice products have a shelf-life of six to eight days, while their HPP processed counterparts have a shelf-life of approximately 21 days.

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Although HPP shows a lot of promise in extending shelf-life, de Heij pointed to pricing as a challenge keeping the technique from wider application. At the moment, HPP is cost-prohibitive, as the process can be expensive and many brands are unable or unwilling to pass the higher production costs on to consumers. de Heij said innovation will be key to making HPP more widely available.

Next on the schedule was DuPont’s Dr. David Voisin, a marketing specialist in food and beverage packaging, with a talk on package integrity. This sponsored session highlighted how to use DuPont’s Surlyn and Bynel resins, as well as various other materials, to reduce package leaks and protect your brand’s reputation.

During a seminar on active packaging, Dr. Kay Cooksey highlighted the possibilities in using materials that can reduce the levels of oxygen and various microbes inside a package. Cooksey, the cryovac/sealed air endowed chair in packaging science at South Carolina’s Clemson University, explained that active packaging changes the conditions inside a package to extend shelf-life, while also enhancing sensory properties and/or improving food safety.

Active packaging may include purge absorbers, moisture absorbers or emitters, oxygen scavengers or emitters, carbon dioxide absorbers or emitters, or antimicrobials.

When designing an active package, Cooksey said there are many factors to consider, including: surface to volume ratios; whether the packaged products are destined for retail, foodservice or bulk shipping applications; the amount of headspace between a product and the packaging; the quantity of dissolved oxygen in the product; and how much permeation the package’s seals allow for.

The next talk, sponsored by Mutlisorb Technologies, concentrated on quality retention and shelf-life extension. Kay E. Krause, Multisorb’s marketing communications group coordinator, and David Payne, a product development specialist, explored ways to use active packaging technologies to maintain freshness, prolong shelf-life and reduce the need for artificial ingredients and additives in products.

The session explored challenges in using active packaging to maximize the shelf-life of assorted food products, and offered up possible solutions. A major focus of the session was how to use oxygen absorbing packaging to maximize shelf-life without sacrificing the quality characteristics of a product.

Flavour and aroma, which can be lost through oxidation during storage, are at their best in fresh foods. Even vacuum or gas flushing down to just 0.1 per cent oxygen in a package cannot completely prevent the foods inside from oxidizing. The solution? Including an oxygen absorber in the package.

Active packages can also be designed to inhibit microbial growth. The presenters noted that a number of spoilage organisms are aerobic, meaning incorporating an oxygen absorber into the package can slow their growth. Moreover, these oxygen absorbers slow the oxidation of vitamins and antioxidants, which can be lost during product storage and distribution.

In the final session of the day, Dr. Gail Betts explored ways to take the bugs out of the supply chain. Betts, the manager for microbiological safety and spoilage in Campden BRI’s microbiology department, noted that predictive models can assess the likely growth of target micro-organisms in food products. These models can also predict likely shelf-life and product safety.

The models usually take into account three or four factors. Some of the more common factors they look at include: storage temperature; pH; water activity; process temperature; and preservative and nitrite levels. Models can be used to evaluate everything from low salt or reduced fat products to acid preserved and chilled foods.

Betts says predictive models can be useful during new product development, product reformulation or recipe changes, and when trouble shooting issues with the shelf-life of existing products.

Full presentations from the virtual conference, including handouts from each session, are available now at www.controlling-shelf-life.com.