The ground-breaking FieldFOOD project will demonstrate the successful and real-scale introduction of Pulsed Electric Field (PEF) technology in the processing of plant based foods. Therefore, the use of PEF in producing fruit juice, tomato products, wine, cider and olive oil will be analysed and optimised. To these ends flexible and portable low-cost pulse generators will be designed. The results of the project will also be of interest for the food sector as a whole and for the pharmaceutical and biotechnological sector.
Short, high voltage electrical pulses are used to perforate cell membranes. Electroporation can be used to permeabilize biological membranes including to inactivate microorganisms, enhance raw material properties for subsequent processing or to modify the food structure. PEF treatment has similar effects in foods as conventional heating, but is gentler to the food matrix without a lasting thermal load. It can complement or replace existing traditional food processing technologies.
Electroporation kills microbes by perforating their cell membranes. Thus food safety can be achieved, while the food quality and nutritional value are retained. The PEF treatment keeps vitamins, antioxidants and pigments intact and increases shelf life. Increased shelf life impacts favourably on supply-chain logistics from factory to retailer. It provides opportunities for export and wastage reduction.
PEF treatment can also be used to modify the structure of food by breaking down the cell membrane barriers in plant or animal tissue. It leads to tissue softening, easier and lower energy cutting and increased process speed and capacity. This results in more efficient product handling and manufacturing, a higher quality product and exciting new product development.
PEF improves food quality and food safety, optimizes process efficiency, reduces energy costs and stimulates the introduction of new products. This makes the technology especially fit for small and medium sized food processing companies in the European Union. It will help the companies to fulfil the demand of consumers for fresh, nutritional quality foods and novel foods which contribute to health and wellbeing.
Pulsed electric field technology will make food processing companies more competitive in the national and international food market and will provide opportunities for growth, diversification and job creation. Furthermore, the European Union is currently the global market leader in wine and olive oil. The introduction of PEF will secure this position and enhance the competitiveness of European wine, juice, fruit product and olive oil producers
The last two decades scientists have done a lot of research into the use of PEF for foods, with promising results. However, the lack of industrial-scale equipment and the high costs involved have limited the commercial use of PEF technology in the food industry. Besides, most of the research was not aimed at looking into specific applications. To eliminate these bottlenecks the European FieldFOOD project has been established.