Development of a framework for the design of "minimum" and "low input" processing strategies, which guarantee food quality and safety
Organic processing standards prohibit the use of chemical many preservatives and other food additives, which are widely used in the processing of conventional foods. However, there are frequent discussions as to the underlying rationales and criteria used to allow some (e.g. salt, sugar, nitrate) but not other processing methods and additives, especially when new processing technologies (e.g. ozone, microbial inocula) or additives (e.g. essential oils) have to be assessed for conformity with organic processing standards. There is also evidence that consumers of “low input” and organic foods have specific expectations with respect to quality characteristics of processed food. These may relate to the degree of processing, concern about specific additives, nutritional composition, integrity or whole food concepts, the degree of convenience, the level of energy use and transportation distances, but also food safety.
There can also be conflicts between the desire to “minimally process” in order to avoid negative effects on the nutritional and sensory quality, and considerations of shelf life and food safety. For example, when chlorine is not used as a disinfection agent, shelf life of ready-to-eat salad products is relatively short and enteric pathogen contamination problems can occur for example in the production of bean sprouts.
It is therefore essential to develop a framework/code of practice, which can be used to determine whether novel processing strategies are compatible with:
- Organic processing standards and/or principles and
- Consumer demands and expectations (those determined under Subproject 1, which may or may not match organic processing standards and principles)
Where changes in general processing legislation and/or organic farming standards result in food safety risks (e.g. the non-use of chlorine use as a sanitising agent), it is also essential to identify alternative strategies which are compatible with legislation/standards and minimize food safety risks for the consumer.
Where novel processing methods are proposed which improve the nutritional value (e.g. milk processing methods, which increase the Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA) content of foods, the claims made for such “functional foods” need to be verified. Also it needs to be confirmed that novel processing methods conform to other criteria of organic processing standards and principles and expectations of consumers (e.g. sensory quality).
Subproject 5 will address these issues through 3 workpackages:
Workpackage 5.1 Development of a consolidated framework/Code of practice for the evaluation of "minimum” and “added value” processing strategies in organic and “low input” food production and processing with respect to food quality and safety
Workpackage 5.2 Case study 1: Assessment of chlorine replacement strategies for fresh cut vegetable
Workpackage 5.3 Case study 2: Assessment of processing technologies that may improve the nutritional composition of dairy products
The integration of workpackages within subproject 5 and the integration of subproject 5 with subprojects 2, 3, 4 and 6 are shown in Figure 2.3 and Figure 2.4.