Food technology has made tremendous strides during the last century and to day there are many modern and sophisticated processes that can process and preserve foods in prime condition. Recently there was some controversy regarding the ability of food technological practices to deliver a product as fresh as the field harvested produce and the inescapable conclusion is that technology can ensure high quality and safety but the consumer has to sacrifice the freshness as a trade off for longevity of the foods. Though frozen foods are often cited as an almost perfect technology that can preserve the freshness, here again some changes do take place that differentiates them from really fresh foods. Recently another technology has emerged that promises to help processing industry to further boost the "freshness" credentials to some extent. The new modified atmospheric processing attempts to reduce quality loss during processing without the use of chemicals.
"Working through hermetically-sealed gloves in the glove box in an atmosphere of less than one per cent oxygen, researchers were able to dice fruit andvegetables without the enzymatic browning caused by cutting in an oxygen-rich environment. The technique was also used to chop, puree or juice fruit and vegetables. "There has been limited research carried out in this area but depending on the application, modified atmosphere processing may reduce browning or discoloration of a product by significantly reducing exposure to oxygen," said Potter. When fresh produce is cut, it starts to brown quickly due to tissue damage, PPO (polyphenol oxidase) enzymes oxidise with exposure to oxygen causing browning. "If the oxygen is removed this reaction can be reduced or delayed maintaining the fresh cut colour of the produce for longer without the use of sulphur dioxide," said Potter. In addition to processing foodstuffs within the glove box, researchers are also studying the effects of bagging and sealing foods in the same low-oxygen environment. After bagging and sealing, the product can be withdrawn through a port which is also atmospherically controlled".
Though the claims by the developers are based on limited studies carried out on a small scale, the new technique seems to be holding promise for the industry to dramatically improve the quality of processed foods in the coming years. It may be recalled that high pressure processing technology developed some time back was restricted in its use because of logistical problems in evolving a continuous process, though there are reports that continuous plants are now being offered. Similarly processing continuously under modified atmosphere calls for development of engineering skills of high order and if such plants are eventually evolved, the new technology may have some takers.