Our top six new innovative food technologies

By Pamela Tyers

30 August 2017

Five years ago we blogged about our top five emerging food technologies for helping industry create a safer food supply chain. And now we’re excited to share our new top six food technologies; we’ve got next gen updates for our old technology and some brand new tech to share!

New food technologies not only create value for Australian food companies, but they also help to generate new and great tasting safe foods while maintaining as many of the ‘fresh-like’ characteristics consumers expect.

1. Shockingly tender meat

Based on pulses of mechanical pressure, shockwaves can be generated either by detonating explosives (as did the first system of this type developed during the 90s) or electrical discharges under water.

Shockwaves for food treatment are transmitted through water (except we don’t detonate explosives to create the shockwave!), where they hit a material with different acoustic properties to the water a mechanical stress occurs, disrupting the structure of the food. This can tenderise lower-value meat cuts. This process can also enhance the extraction of bioactives from plant materials and modify the structure of grains to improve milling yield. Our food innovation centre has the only commercial-scale shockwave machine for food, outside Germany.

Our project leader Tomas Bolumar with our new shockwave kit.

Our project leader Tomas Bolumar with our new shockwave kit.

2. Forward osmosis for food

Many foods and beverages go through a concentration step during processing (like your favourite fruit juices, milk and other dairy products) that makes them last long enough to be shipped and stored or used as an ingredient in another product. However, heat, vacuum and pressure used in this step can reduce the quality of some food and beverage products and use a lot of energy.

We have teamed up with US membrane technology specialist company, Porifera, to develop a relatively new technology that uses membranes to concentrate liquids that is considerably gentler and uses less energy. As forward osmosis doesn’t use heat, proteins remain intact and components such as vitamins, flavours and aromas are retained, meaning food products can have better quality attributes. We also have the first commercial unit for the Australian food industry at our food innovation centre in Werribee, Melbourne.

The first commercial forward osmosis unit for the Australian food industry.

The first commercial forward osmosis unit for the Australian food industry.

3. Mega ultrasound technology

We reported last time on ultrasound (not the baby kind, unless you have a burrito baby after eating too much Mexican food) – sound waves at a frequency so high that people can’t hear them. Using this ultrasound technology we developed applications in de-foaming, food texturisation and extraction of bio-products. But it is cutting-edge sound waves at the megahertz scale that we’ve patented for the world’s first megasonic food separation application at commercial scale. It’s helping industry extract more oil from processing edible oils such as olive, coconut and soybean.

4. Super dry tech

Drying to preserve seasonal foods or foods with a short shelf-life is an effective way of providing food and its nutrients all year round. Drying is a significant global industry – many of the foods we love come from this industry: dried fruit and vegetables, coffee, powdered foods and pasta.

Drying is an energy intensive process because it uses high temperatures or long drying times, which can mean thermal degradation in the food and inferior product quality.

We’ve invented an ultrasound-based drying technology that uses sound waves, low temperatures and reduced drying times to dry food products far more gently with less energy. It’s still at the research stage and not yet used commercially, but the results are showing promise for better product quality such as retention of antioxidants, vitamin C and other nutritional components.

Our patented ultrasound-assisted drying technology.

Our patented ultrasound-assisted drying technology.

5. High pressure thermal processing

Pasteurising food using high temperatures, although making them safe to eat, can change the natural taste, colour, texture and nutritional value.

Researchers have looked into high pressure processing with added heat, called high pressure thermal processing (HPTP), and we’ve invented a world-first innovation – a canister that adds mild heat to existing high pressure processing machines. This innovation is suitable for making some products microbiologically safe using far less heat compared to conventional food preservation technologies. We’re in the process of commercialising our ‘Meals By Design’ innovation, which has all the goodness, colour, texture and taste characteristics of a freshly prepared meal using the HPTP technology. Our food innovation centre in Melbourne contains one of only a very few pilot-scale, high pressure thermal processing vessels in the world.

Meals By Design are being commercialised using high pressure thermal processing

Our Meals By Design are being commercialised using high pressure thermal processing.

6. Antenna microwave

Last time we talked about using a microwave tunnel to disinfest fresh fruit from insect pests. Now, we’ve invented a microwave technology that heats food evenly, unlike conventional microwave systems. We all know from our microwave ovens at home that they heat food unevenly. That’s not much of a problem from a food safety perspective because we usually eat the food we’ve heated straightaway. The problem with uneven cooking for commercial food products that are transported and stored is that microorganisms may still lurk in the less cooked areas. We invented a microwave technology that heats evenly, which could be used for food pasteurisation requirements, and other applications where even heating is required.

Our antenna microwave tech in development

Our antenna microwave tech in development.