The EU-funded project involves 16 partners from various universities, research institutes and industries, and aims to improve the quality of the fermented foods by reducing or eliminating their biogenic amine content.
Biogenic amines are toxic metabolites produced predominantly by lactic acid bacteria, and can result in food intoxication with symptoms like headache, palpations, diarrhoea and vomiting.
Food manufacturers are challenged to produce food and beverages in which the levels of biogenic amines are reduced or eliminated.
The project titled, Controlling Biogenic Amines in Traditional Food Fermentations in Regional Europe, is coordinated by Professor Juke Lolkema from the University of Groningen in the Netherlands. It will run from 2008 until 2011, and is part of the EU’s 7th Framework Programme for research.
Danish company Chr Hansen is participating in the project and Fergal Rattray, application manager for cheese at Chr Hansen and responsible for the company’s participation in the project, said the granting of funding “underscores the importance of this research not only to our company, but also to the EC”.
Chr. Hansen’s Application Technology Center in Hoersholm, Denmark will run pilot-scale cheese trials, while full scale wine trials will be conducted at wineries with the collaboration of other partners within the project.
“The project has both an analytical component aiming at identifying biogenic amine producers in the food chain and the conditions that result in biogenic amine production, as well as a controlling component aiming at a significantly reduction or even elimination of biogenic amines in the food products,” said Annicka Bunte, application manager for wine at Chr Hansen, and coordinator of the wine activities of the project.
Talking to FoodNavigator.com, Bunte added: “This will be achieved by formulating best practice guides, development of tools, and the utilisation of new starter lactic acid bacteria.”
The production of biogenic amines is highly strain specific, explained Rattray, and only a small proportion of lactic acid bacteria can produce the compounds. But foods that depend on natural fermentation are more susceptible to biogenic amines, he said.
Rattray also stressed that the level of biogenic amines is critical in order to determines whether they are a problem in the finished product, since relatively low levels do not pose health problems.
Bunte added that different approaches are available to reduce or eliminate the compounds from fermented products. “For example, adding non-biogenic amine-producing starter cultures is one possible solution to control the BA production.
“But other ways could include avoidance the conditions where BAs are produced - once these conditions are known - if this is possible, or possibly to apply curative methods of some kind.”
Bunte said it would be difficult to predict how long it could be before the results of the project are transferred to finished products on supermarket shelves.
“What I can say is that within the wine industry, the issue of biogenic amines has been discussed extensively for a couple of years now, and authorities and industry organisations are looking into the issue in order to establish possible future legal limits,” she said.
Rattray added that a large element of the project is building knowledge, and determining guidelines on reducing or eliminating the toxic metabolites. Much of this knowledge will be published in peer-reviewed journals, he said.
“Three-quarters of the project will be looking at fundamental issues of biogenic amine-producing strains. This is mostly done by the university partners,” said Rattray.
“One-quarter is more applied research to food fermentation and will be done by Chr Hansen and other industrial partners in the project.”