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Engineering Considerations to Assure the Safe Design of Food Products and Processes


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) an estimated 76 million cases of foodborne disease occur each year in the United States. As the number and variety of manufactured food products increases, and consumers demand fresher, more natural, less processed products, food processors are faced with the challenge of demonstrating that these products are safely designed. The numbers and types of foodborne pathogenic microorganisms that must be controlled by the design will depend on the raw materials used, the product character, processing conditions, usage and storage conditions. The multi-dimensional and dynamic space formed by these factors increases the complexity for food manufacturers to assure that food products are safe by design. Therefore, there is a need in the food industry for robust experimental tools that allow a systematic validation of process steps where control or elimination of microorganisms is achieved. Moreover, as food processors attempt to move away from time-consuming methods (e.g. microbial challenge tests) to determine the safety of foods, there is a need for mechanistic quantitative methods to predict the fate of microorganisms in the food under relevant conditions. Recognizing this, the current research project focuses on two major areas with the following objectives: (1) to develop time-temperature integrators based on thermostable enzymes for validation of thermal processes in the food industry, and (2) to develop and validate predictive models to determine the fate of pathogenic microorganisms in meat and poultry products.

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NON-TECHNICAL SUMMARY: The increasing demand for manufactured food products that are perceived by consumers as more natural and less processed, poses a big challenge for food processors that need to prove that these products are safely designed. Safe-by-design principles in food product development involve the interaction of many factors that create a multi-dimensional, dynamic and complex space. Processors require robust quantitative tools and models for validation of processes to demonstrate the products will not pose a risk for consumers. This project addresses these needs by developing both experimental and modeling tools for validation of thermal processes of a wide range of foods and determination of the fate of pathogenic microorganisms in meat and poultry products.
APPROACH: The first area addresses the need for validation tools, with particular emphasis on thermally processed foods. Validation of thermal processes poses a particular challenge to food processors especially with respect to inaccessible locations within food products and processing equipment where direct temperature measurements are infeasible. We propose here the strategic use of thermally stable enzymes with appropriate biocatalytic properties to develop time-temperature integrators (TTIs) that can provide accurate process lethality values with associated ease-of-use for rapid implementation in food processing applications. These TTIs will meet the following desired characteristics: <ul>
<li>(i) sufficient heat resistance in the range of 120degC to 140degC to meet commercial requirements for sterilization, <li>(ii) temperature sensitivity (z-value) close to 10degC to mimic the inactivation kinetics of Clostridium botulinum spores, <li>(iii) a simple/rapid test for quantification of residual enzymatic activity, and <li>(iv) long shelf-life under typical storage conditions. The second area addresses the need for quantitative methods to predict the fate of microorganisms in foods, with particular emphasis in meat and poultry products.</ul> We propose here the development and validation of predictive models to determine the fate of relevant foodborne pathogens in meat and poultry products to support HACCP decisions at small and very small establishments. To meet this general objective we will accomplish three main tasks: <ul>
<li>(i) generation of growth, survival or inactivation data for relevant strains of foodborne pathogens associated with meat and poultry products, <li>(ii) development or usage of existing (as appropriate) primary, secondary and tertiary models to describe the behavior of foodborne pathogens in meat and poultry products based on the data generated in the laboratory, and <li>(iii) validation of the models in real meat and poultry matrices under conditions representing actual environments found in small and very small processing facilities and subsequent supply chain.</ul>
PROGRESS: 2006/11 TO 2012/09
Dr. Alejandro Amezquita was hired as an assistant professor (food and bioprocessing engineering) in the Department of Food Science on November 1, 2006. This NC06866 project was written by Dr. Amezquita and submitted in July 2007. He was a very productive faculty member during his first year in the department and was doing an excellent job, but due to major visa problems that continued to be insurmountable, he resigned December 1, 2007 and returned to England to work with his former employer. Therefore, the project will have to be terminated since Dr. Amezquita is no longer an assistant professor in our department.
IMPACT: 2006/11 TO 2012/09
This project had just started the past few months. There are no outcome/impacts to report since the investigator resigned as of Dec. 1, 2007.

Amezquita, Alejandro
North Carolina State University
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