Safety and good nutrition are two concepts that are directly linked. Each year, approximately one in ten people, roughly 600 million individuals worldwide experience, become ill after consuming contaminated foods. Young children, particularly those under five, are especially vulnerable, representing 40% of the overall cases and 125,000 of the approximately 420,000 yearly deaths resulting from inadequate sanitation in food production and manufacturing. As a result, food safety is vital for the general public’s safety and the national health systems, economies and trade agreements.
To ensure optimal food safety levels, producers employ a significant amount of technological know-how that can help them discover which items are potentially contaminated, how the problem occurred and what can be done to minimize and eventually eliminate it in the future. Since technology helps every industry area nowadays, it should come as no surprise that it is also successfully employed in the food sector.
Here are some of the most important innovations currently improving quality standards within the food industry.
This complex scientific process involves measuring and analyzing matter and electromagnetic radiation interactions. These techniques play a significant role in food safety nowadays, and several fields of this science are successfully utilized in food testing. Among them are atomic, fluorescence, UV-visible and infrared spectroscopy. The main advantage of this method is that products can be tested without damaging the food or producing waste.
This is particularly important considering that food loss is an essential aspect of climate change, as well as increased costs. As such, spectral imaging is the best answer for improving food safety levels for companies that look to enhance their reputation, show that they are doing their part to protect the environment, and grow their business by ensuring they don’t waste their revenue.
Among the sub-fields included in food analysis are:
- Fluorescence spectroscopy: This type of measurement uses a spectrometer to identify and classify the different food components and any possible adulterants. Food producers highly appreciate this process, owing to its efficiency and accuracy, even when you use only a small sample.
- UV/VIS/NIR: An analytical technique that can demarcate the absorbance and transmittance of both solids and liquids, this type of imaging can help determine a product’s origin and important food characteristics. For instance, it can show whether a product that is sold as fresh had been frozen before, as well as if any harmful substances were used to change the texture, color or smell of a product so that it can be presented for sale even when it is past its expiration date. These features make it an essential part of combating fraud in the food industry.
- Fourier-transform: This infrared method uses powerful spectrometers to determine the compositional analysis of foodstuffs. If there are any concerns regarding the safety of a particular method, testing in this manner can help identify if there’s any cause for concern and provide several parameters at the same time.
- NIR: Using the near-infrared region, ranging from roughly 700 to 2500 nanometers, this procedure is commonly used to test grain due to its ability to leave the sample intact. The analysis measures moisture levels and protein, among several other components.
- Dedicated IR: Just like the previous method is used mainly to determine grain properties, this one is employed for milk and other dairy products. It makes establishing the lactose, fat and solids much easier and does everything in as little as half a minute.
Storage is of particular importance in the world of food safety. Depending on how foods are deposited, their shelf life is improved, and they remain edible for longer. Improper storage solutions damage the foods, contributing to spoilage and altered taste. When a food item has gone bad, it represents a potential safety hazard. It is also, unfortunately, one of the most common causes of food ending in landfills instead of plates.
Over the year, the technology used during the storing process has improved, and there are now several different options available, such as:
- Supercritical carbon dioxide: SC–CO2 is one of the newest technologies in nonthermal technology, said to drastically reduce spoilage and destroy microorganisms and other pathogens. The enzymes directly responsible for vegetable and fruit deterioration are also inactivated. Its additional benefits include that it is entirely non-flammable and largely inert. However, others have expressed concern over whether or not the substance is toxic.
- Cold plasma: Another nonthermal processing method, cold plasma, can be used on fruits and vegetables and animal products to eliminate all potential pathogens.
- HHP: Also known as high hydrostatic pressure, this process guarantees improved food safety by maintaining the optimal nutritional attributes of all fresh produce and foodstuffs.
It would be unfair to discuss food safety without mentioning food science itself. This interdisciplinary science blends biology, technology, agriculture, environmentalism, biochemistry and microbiology to ensure the general public receives only the best and most high-quality products. It incorporates the sub-field of food technology, concerned with designing new and improved food products.
Throughout the years, developments in this area have created powder milk, freeze drying, decaffeination, the use of ethylene as a plant hormone, ultra-high temperature processing that sterilizes liquid foods, as well as the widely used food delivery. Food microbiology is essential to examine the possible causes of spoilage and promote the development of probiotics in fermented foods such as yogurt, sourdough, cured meats and fermented vegetables such as sauerkraut and kimchi.
Molecular gastronomy takes a scientific, chemistry-based approach to studying the properties of foods, including their molecular structure and viscosity. Some of the most famous dishes that resulted from this type of processing include Baumé eggs, left to solidify by being immersed in alcohol for a month and Vaquelin, microwaved orange and cranberry juice mixed with eggs.
Plant-based substitutes for meat products have also become increasingly popular as food scientists seek to make them as close as possible to the taste and texture of the real thing. Shear cell tech and extrusion are the most common technologies in this field. Researchers also seek ways to remove the risks for those dealing with food intolerances or allergies.
Although it may not seem like it at first glance, a significant amount of science goes into bringing food to people’s tables. Using these methods makes food safer while at the same time bringing new and creative products to the market.