In the first part of our special edition on dry decontamination technology, FoodProductionDaily.com looks at the prospects, challenges and developments in the PL field for food processing and packaging players.
Dr Cecile Lacoste, project manager at the Centre Technique de la Conservation de Produits Agricole (CTCPA), said much of the PL technology has already been developed and was waiting for industry to recognize the huge potential it offers in order to spur faster and more widespread commercial adoption.
Pulsed light systems expose food or packaging surfaces to intense bursts of white light, which have a lethal effect on micro-organisms such as bacteria, spores, yeast and moulds.
While there are a number of commercial applications, particularly in packaging lines – with companies such as Claranor and Montena already well-established – Dr Lacoste said she believed PL would achieve wider acceptance in the medium term.
She was particularly referring to its use on foods such as eggs and meat and said systems, currently in the pipeline, could be brought to market within two years if industry interest was keen enough.
“Once the first few systems are installed commercially, word will spread among companies,” she added. “I think we will see real growth in take up of the technology within two or three years as it has great potential.”
As well as applications to sterilise food and packaging, PL can also be used to decontaminate clear liquids, said the expert. This means that not only can it be used for some beverage products but also across a raft of sectors to cleanse waste water in food processing plants, doing away with the need to used chemicals.
“We believe this application has huge potential benefits for the food processing industry given the focus companies are putting on reducing their water usage,” added Dr Lacoste.
She said that it is also cost effective and forecast that the technology could be cheaper to use than chemicals within a few years.
Take up of the technology could also have been curbed by the global recession in 2008, making industry player more cautious in investing in a novel technology, suggested Dr Lacoste.
The regular surfaces offered by packaging and closures means that PL has been more widely adopted in this sector - with regular developments coming through.
French company Claranor has been successfully developing systems deploying the technology for the decontamination of closures and cups since 2004.
Morgane Busnel, marketing manager, said it had focussed more on packaging because of the challenges presented by using the technique on foods. The irregular surfaces of foodstuffs made it more difficult to ensure full exposure to PL blasts.
There have also been questions over whether products treated with pulsed light should be subject to the Novel Food Regulation, with companies faced with submitting dossiers to prove that the process had not altered the food’s structure in a fundamental way, she added
Busnel stressed, however, that the company was open to developing PL systems for food, citing a project it was currently involved in with a leading European beverage producer to decontaminate sugar syrup.
However, the majority of their attention remained on packaging – initially beverage and, in the last two years, expanding into dairy.
Its PL techniques were currently able to realise microbial reductions of between 3 and 5 log on bacteria and moulds, said Busnel
“This means our technology now complies with industrial requirements for packaging for refrigerated products in the dairy sector such as drinking yoghurts and milk, as well as fresh juices,” she explained.
The company is now seeking to enhance the technology for use in aseptic processing, she said.
“In order to do this we need to be able to deliver reductions of six log,” she added. “It would mean it could be used in the production of shelf stable products such as UHT milk and fruit juices.”
She said it could also be used in flavoured waters and could allow the development of “more authentic” products with reduced levels of preservatives.
Claranor has partnered with the French industry innovation institute to reach the goal and is confident the technology will be realised within the next two years.