Innovative process will reduce energy consumption and improve product quality in the food industry
Canadians will eat better and will enjoy a healthier environment thanks to a new canning process for jars and cans. This innovative research is taking place at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s Food Research and Development Centre in Saint-Hyacinthe.
The research project uses a technology that reduces energy consumption in the canning of products containing fruit, vegetable and/or meat pieces, such as sauces and soups.
The advantages include a 30-per-cent reduction in energy consumption during the heating process and a 17- per-cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Above all, food quality is improved. Food retains its flavour and has a crunchier texture and brighter colour. Vitamins and nutrients are preserved. The process will also reduce production costs for food processors.
In the food processing industry, canning is the process that consumes the most energy and leads to the creation of greenhouse gases. To ensure food safety, the contents of a can must be heated to a very high temperature (121 C) for a minimum of three minutes.
The new process, developed by centre researcher Dr. Michèle Marcotte and her team, is designed to replace the current high-temperature method with a two-stage system. The first stage involves acidifying foods to a pH of less than 4.6. The acidification makes it possible to reduce the subsequent pasteurization temperature, while ensuring product safety.
"This project reflects leadership in innovation and dedication to the highest standards of food safety and quality that truly characterize the vision of the Agricultural Policy Framework," said Lyle Vanclief, Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food. "By combining research, innovation and environmental sustainability, we are recognizing the high expectations of today’s consumers."
The Agricultural Policy Framework, which involves a collaborative effort by the federal and provincial governments and industry, aims to make Canada the world leader in food safety and quality, environmentally responsible production and innovation.
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Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada
New Ag Can(ning) system cuts energy use/greenhouse gas emissions and improves food quality
If canned cranberies appear on your plate to accompany your Thanksgiving turkey this weekend, or maybe heating up a little store-bought gravy to complement the mashed potatoes, spare a thought for Nicolas Appert, who developed the canning process that first made food "convenient".
The idea of canning first came from Napoleon who wanted to ensure his troops were well fed as they traveled from countryside to countryside. Nicolas Appert, a French engineer, in 1795, took "Little Corporal’s" idea one step further by inventing the canning process that we know today.
Today the canning industry produces about 200 billion cans worldwide every year. In Canada, roughly $2.5 billion worth of easy-open canned and preserved foods are shipped annually, but the process behind the product retains some environmental and economic disadvantages.
It remains among the most energy intensive of all food processing technologies. The contents of every one of the cans is heated under steam pressure to a temperature of 121 degrees centigrade for a minimum of three minutes. This process is needed to prevent the growth of Clostridium botulinum bacteria. It’s how the food is made and kept safe for consumption, but that sterilization requires vast amounts of energy, and the production of that energy creates a significant volume of greenhouse gases.
In the world of Kyoto and climate change, leaders and researchers are looking hard for ways to improve the planet, while reducing the damage that food production is doing to the environment. Led by Dr. Michèle Marcotte, a team of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) scientists at the department’s Food Research & Development Centre, in Saint-Hyacinthe, Quebec, may have developed a process that will make an important contribution.
The new process is based on replacing the extreme high temperature method currently used in the canning industry, with a low temperature pasteurization system. As a result, energy use during the canning process is cut by 30 per cent; greenhouse gas emissions are reduced by 17 per cent. The process also involves acidifying foods to a pH of less than 4.6. The acidification makes it possible to reduce the subsequent pasteurization temperature, while ensuring product safety.
The benefits don’t end there. By reducing the food’s exposure to high temperatures, the AAFC method also improves its nutritional quality by preserving the vitamins and anti-oxidants that would be destroyed by the heat used in conventional canning systems. Food retains its flavour and has a crunchier texture and brighter colour. Some of the foods being studied include, sauces, gravies and soups.
Dr. Marcotte’s group is one year into a three-year study of the new system, using a pilot canning plant at the Saint-Hyacinthe centre. The plan is that they will pass along their results to food processors at the end of the project, but based on the findings to date, one company has already adopted the new technology.
In the 207 years since Appert patented the original canning process there have been major improvements in technology. The instructions on a can of veal carried by a 19th century arctic exploration group read: "Cut around the top, near the outer edge with a chisel and hammer." At a global level, the Saint-Hyacinthe group’s work promises a food quality and environmental advance that puts existing processing systems in the hammer and chisel innovation league.
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