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Innovative Non-Thermal Process Technologies to Improve the Quality and Safety of Ready-to-Eat (RTE) Meals


The HighQ-RTE project aims to improve the safety and quality of ready-to-eat (RTE) salads, fluid foods, and RTE vegetable based meals, three representative categories of European RTE foods. Indeed, it has been reported that European RTE foods are frequently contaminated with pathogenic organisms. In order to enhance the safety of these foods, and at the same time prevent the heat-induced physicochemical and nutritional changes, novel, non-thermal processes will be developed and optimised. Photosensitization will reduce the contamination level of pathogens in RTE vegetable and fruit salads raw materials and packaging. <P>
Pulsed Electric Fields technologies and/or semi-continuous High Pressure Homogenization (in egg and/or dairy based products and ingredients) will be compared in terms of pathogens inactivation, microbiological quality and changes of the properties of proteins as well as food microstructure and rheology for fluid foods. The ability of the latter technology to activate naturally occurring or exogenous enzymes will be exploited in order to generate new bioactive natural food components. <P>
High Hydrostatic Pressure will be applied to RTE meals of vegetable origin packaged under CO2 atmosphere in comparison and in addition to traditional mild heat treatments. The optimisation of the formulation of the meals and the treatment specifications will be performed taking into consideration nutritional aspects (salt, lipid contents), the possible physicochemical and structural changes induced by the processes and the specific requirements of the various process technologies in terms of physical state and rheology (appropriate viscosity, particles presence and size etc.) In addition, the kinetics of inactivation and re-growth of pathogens will be evaluated by deliberately inoculating pathogens and will be incorporated into a quantitative risk assessment to determine the appropriate treatments required in relation to the shelf-life of each product.

Institute of Food Research, UK
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