Most herbs, spices and dry vegetable ingredients comprise a large group of powdered foods.
The use of spice mixes, aroma components and functional ingredients has increased in the food industry, especially in functional foods, ready-to-eat meals, and highly spiced cuisine. They are mostly untreated, dried and/or mechanically processed plant material.
Microorganisms present in dried herbs & spices cannot grow or multiply due to its low water activity (aw). Nevertheless, these microorganisms are still viable and retain the potential to multiply when the product is rehydrated. Many of these viable microorganisms can be human pathogens, as Salmonella. Thus, it is also important to decontaminate food powders efficiently, especially if these powders are to be incorporated into a more complex preparation (food matrix) with higher aw.
The decontamination of dried products is difficult, and this correlates with the presence of spores adapted to low water contents.
Since herbs & spices products are utilized in several food commodities and can drastically reduce the shelf-life of finished foods (or even cause foodborne diseases because of the presence of pathogenic bacteria) because of its usually high initial microbial load, acceptable maximum values for bacterial contamination are recommended. Therefore, different sanitation methods have been developed to reduce these microbial loads.
Nevertheless, current methods for the decontamination of herbs & spices such as irradiation, fumigation with ethylene oxide and steam treatment present the following limitations:
None acceptance by consumers and need for authorized facilities (irradiation).
Modifications in sensorial and physicochemical characteristics of foods (changes in antioxidant properties, formation of low volatile compounds with bad flavours, alterations of aroma and odour, loss of volatile compounds, etc.).
Carcinogen and mutagen properties (ethylene oxide).
Interaction of irradiation with packaging material and food.
Considering these limitations regarding the final quality of the treated product, it becomes necessary to develop alternative processing technologies to decontaminate herbs & spices by maintaining the intrinsic quality of the raw materials.
To solve the present limitations related to the use of the current technologies, this project will focus on four novel technologies: High pressure CO2+ultrasound (HPCD+US), cold plasma (CP), and electromagnetic energy (microwave (MW) and infrared irradiation (IR)).
In addition, the presentation of each product may play an important role in the efficacy of the treatments and the selection of the proper operating parameters. Hence, three different formats of products will be studied, which are representative of the commercial herbs & spices: herb, powder and seed.
As a consequence, GREENFOODEC will set up novel and advanced decontamination technologies, overcoming existing limitations for high quality preservation and microbial decontamination of herbs & spices.
Although GREENFOODEC will focus initially on the herbs & spices sector, it will also contribute to develop and implement new applications at the crossroads between different technologies and disciplines. This cooperation will generate knowledge ready to be used in other sectors and will be a good seed to extrapolate the generated knowledge and developed strategies to other dried products with similar contamination problems.
GreenFooDec Advisory Board (GAB)
GreenFooDec project has implemented an external advisory board (GAB) with the aim of contributing to the project implementation and to the exploitation activities oriented to the market uptake of its results. This international and multidisciplinary team is composed by members with several profiles, that come from academia, spices food industry, technolgy manufacturers and representatives from the administration (spices and herbs official product control in borders).
The research leading to these results has received funding from the European Union's Seventh Framework Programme managed by REA-Research Executive Agency
(FP7/2007-2013) under grant agreement n° 285838.
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