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INNOVATIVE MICROWAVE TECHNOLOGIES FOR IMPROVING THE QUALITY AND SHELF LIFE OF INGREDIENTS AND FOODS G.P. Leone1,*, G. Gherardi2, F. D¶Imperio3,**, V. Rosito3, F. Vitali1
ENEA, Italian National Agency for New Technology, Energy and Sustainable Economic Development ± 1 Res. Centre of Casaccia, 00060 S. Maria di Galeria (ROMA), IT, Bologna, Via Martiri di Monte Sole, 4 - 40129 Bologna, IT. 3 Emitech S.r.L., 70056 Molfetta (BA), IT.
* email@example.com **
Res. Centre of
Abstract ± The project ³Technologies and microwave innovative processes to improve quality and shelf life of ingredients and foods´ is funded by the MSE (Ministry of Economic Development)
project in the Industria 2015 call for - New technologies ³Made in Italy´. The partners of the Project are seven micro and small Italian enterprises (Emitech, Steeltech, Pastificio Benagiano, Puma Conserva, Imepa, Gigliola Perrotta, Tecnoalimenti) and two national research institutions: ENEA (Research Centres of Casaccia e Bologna) and University of Molise. The industrial partners intend to achieve an improvement of their traditional production lines through the introduction of microwave technology in the disinfection, stabilization and drying processes of foodstuffs.
INTRODUCTION ± Microwave (MW) heating for pasteurization and sterilization are preferable to conventional heating primarily due
to its velocity in reaching the desired process temperature: the treatment ensures the benefits of high temperature-short time processing whereby bacterial destruction is achieved, whilst thermal degradation of the desired components is reduced. MWpasteurization and sterilization have been studied for many types of foods, including milk and milk products [1, 2], fruit juices [3, 4], peanut-based beverages , olive fruits  and it has been showed how the use of MW constitutes an effective technology to stabilize food products decreasing enzyme activities . The use of MW in food drying, often in combination with an air-drying system, has become common because it prevents the decline in final organoleptic and nutritional quality and ensures rapid and efficient distribution of heat in the material and then allows an acceleration of humidity decreasing. This methodology has been successfully used for drying banana slices , pumpkin slices , potato cubes , apple and strawberry , fruits and vegetables  or pasta . In spite of numerous applications on a laboratory scale at the moment no significant results from industrial application of MW or combined heating (convective plus MW) are available regarding the sanitization, stabilization and drying processes of traditional Italian foodstuffs such as vegetables, dried fruits and pasta. In our project, we propose the introduction of MW heating processes in order to reduce the microbial population achieving a better product stabilization, with reduction of thermal damages. The Project aims at ensuring the microbial food safety (enzyme inactivation, destruction of microorganisms and disinfestations) and the drying of the product using MW. Our goals are: a) 100% efficacy on all microorganisms in every life stage; b) very short (few minutes) treatment times and possibility to use the food soon after processing; c) absence of toxic residues; d) absence of organoleptic and nutritional modifications; e) low environmental impact; f) energy efficiency due to selectivity of heating and electromagnetic isotropicity into the reverberation chamber.
Work Breakdown Structure of the Project
WBS A - Development of the stabilization and drying MW oven
WBS B - Production of vegetables, fruits, food ingredients, pasta through the use of innovative MW technology
WBS C - Evaluation and characterization of MW-treated products
Fig.1: MW-oven for dielectric measurements (ENEA, R.C. of Bologna)
PROJECT DESCRIPTION ± The Project aims to the setting up of a disinfection and drying MW prototype for the treatment of different Made in Italy food types. To achieve a significant microorganisms reduction, different parameters such as their thermal resistance or the composition of the medium surrounding of the microorganisms, especially its pH, water activity (aw), concentration and type of food components, will be considered. Depending on the different characteristics of the foodstuffs (dry and fresh pasta, flour, fruits and cereals, vegetables and spices), different MW-treatment schedules will be applied to ensure a significant microorganisms reduction without causing changes in organoleptic and nutritional properties of food. In the first part of the program are carried out work-packages dedicated to the experimental evaluation of the lethal temperature of biological forms infesting the foodstuffs for each type of product commercialized by the companies involved in the Project. The difficulty with MW heating is the large number of factors that affect the heat transfer behaviour such as the thickness, geometry, and dielectric properties of the food: considering that an obstacle is the lack of data on the dielectric properties (dielectric constant and electrical conductivity) of the Made in Italy food of the Project, the experimental methodologies for their dielectric parameters evaluation with respect to the work condition of the considered process will be implemented (fig.1). This characterization is necessary for the electromagnetic and thermal simulation programs and allows to the industrial Project partners to set up the design of the reverberating chamber of the MWpilot plant for disinfection (fig.2) and drying processes. In designing of pilot plants will be made specific attention to the shape of reverberation chambers and to the control system of the process parameters in order to ensure uniformity heating of foodstuff. To achieve uniform heating, the product is kept in constant movement within the microwave cavity and metallic blades, called stirrers, randomly reflect the electromagnetic field. The project aim is to realize a continuous system made of a metallic and screened chamber with transporters connected to the existing plants. We will attempt to optimize the reflecting module in order to allow the conveyance module to act as a MW-stirrer. In order to overcome possible excessive heating, which may result in physical damages to the product such as scorching, off-colour and non-uniform temperature distribution, process control in combination with good microwave design is the key behind a successful MW application.
Our prototype will be equipped with appropriate temperature (fig.3) and humidity sensors in order to monitor the process target variables (exposure time, product end temperature and moisture levels, plant capacity) and to control the chamber irradiation. The MW energy will be generated externally to the reflecting chamber through MW generators numerically and powerfully suitable to reach the desired temperature on the basis of the production objectives. A PLC, through the surface temperature maps recovered by the infrared thermography and the inner ones recorded by optical fibre sensors, will allow the automatic management of the process varying the magnetron power according to the temperature/time curves. The distribution of the electromagnetic field in the chamber will be planned and studied by the calculator in order to obtain a good power distribution in the volume of the food to be treated. For this purpose specific calculation codes for the electromagnetic temperature analysis, will be developed. Specific sanitizing and drying schedules for different kinds of foodstuffs will be available in order to ensure the integrity of chemical and physical characteristics and the highest level of food safety. A MW prototype will be designed and realized in order to carry out a controlled heating of foodstuffs. This system will be used during the initial phase of the research project to evaluate the feasibility of the method and it will be used for the validation of the implemented calculation codes. In order to validate the theoretical model, test samples inoculated with pathogens and/or enzymes will be analyzed for the evaluation of death curves and enzymatic activity. Hence, the efficacy of MW treatment for food safety will be monitored by biological indicators. After having ensured an adequate disinfection level or final moisture level, degradation curves of the main nutrients (colorants, vitamins, proteins, volatiles) will be elaborated in order to evaluate the final nutritional and organoleptic quality of the MW treated food. For the final phase of the study, a database containing the dielectric, thermal and mechanical product characteristics will be available. Operational parameters for scaling-up of pilot plants in the production lines of the industrial partners involved in the Project will also be defined and the market potential of products treated with MW will be evaluated. Finally, the impact of the introduction of a new technology in terms of saving space, energy and material consumption will be assessed. Data concerning carbon dioxide emissions will be used to evaluate the improvement of disinfection and drying process in terms of environmental impact.
Fig.2: MW disinfection plant produced by Emitech S.r.l.
Conclusions ± The innovative drying and stabilization method based on MW use, aims to obtain a complete insect control in food products, reduction of enzymatic activity, elimination of microbial content and control of the end product water content. Innovative MW equipment will be designed and realized, ensuring the reduction in time and space requirements for the processes. The main goals of the project are to increase food safety and stability of specific Made in Italy products, to improve their quality (organoleptic and nutritional properties) and, finally, to reduce thermal damage and deteriorating effects associated with traditional methods (Maillard reaction).
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Fig.3: Detail of the temperature detection sensor