Laatu is a breakthrough inactivation solution based on low energy electrons to sterilize dried food without compromising its quality. The Kündig Group is one of the first in the world to make practical use of the system by Bühler AG.
Food safety standards are higher today than ever before – but so are consumer expectations: safe food, free from microbial pathogens, insecticides and chemical preservatives, and everything as fresh as possible. Contamination by harmful microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, or parasites can cause serious illnesses for the consumer and lasting damage to the reputation of the corresponding manufacturers. In addition, considerable economic losses often must be accepted through recall campaigns and lost sales.
Today food processors are facing challenges to ensure the food safety, meanwhile consumers are asking for minimally processed foods. Conventional technologies used for food decontamination, such as steam, chemicals and irradiation are associated with drawbacks and thus food processors are constantly looking for alternative solutions. New environmentally friendly solutions that can deliver an efficient microbial inactivation when at the same time preserve the quality of food, are expected to be in high demand.
Bühler AG has developed a new inactivation solution, Laatu that aims to answer the challenges set by food processors. Laatu is based on low energy electrons that can improve the microbial safety of food and feed without destroying the quality whilst ensuring sustainable and environmentally friendly food processing.
The low energy electron beam technology was introduced to Bühler by COMET Group. The technology had already been used by TetraPak for surface sterilization of packing material, which motivated Buhler to test the solution for the food decontamination. Today the innovative solution has been successfully validated for decontamination of spices and Kündig has been the first partner to have the solution in their facility in Ritschenhausen.
To find out more about the technological aspects of Laatu, we talked to Heidi Kotilainen, Regulatory Affairs and Food Quality Manager at Bühler Group.
What is new and different about Latu compared to common sterilization processes?
“Conventional methods today applied for microbial inactivation (steam, chemicals, and irradiation) are associated with several drawbacks. They all provide effective decontamination, but may alter the sensory, nutritional and functional properties of foods, pose risks to the workers and the environment, and may need outsourcing. […]. As a non-thermal treatment and limited to surface, Laatu provides an effective but gentle decontamination. Due to the electrons’ low energies, it can preserve both nutritional, functional and organoleptic (i.e. taste, smell, appearance) properties.”
Electron beam technology itself is nothing entirely new. Why is it gaining so much popularity as well as importance in the last couple of years?
“Food processors are continuously looking for new solutions next to conventional methods. Conventional electron beams (up to 10MeV) require a heavy shielding and thus the treatment must be outsourced to an external food irradiation facility. This might not always be easily accessible to food processors because of logistics and transport costs.
Low energy electrons operate with energies up to 300keV. This allows a significantly smaller footprint of the equipment that can be implemented anywhere in the processing line. […]. Also, due to the low energies of the electrons only the surface of the food material is treated. Conventional electron beams operate with significantly higher energies and penetrate through the whole food material, which may negatively impact the nutrient, functional, and sensory attributes of the food.”
The Comet Group is considered a pioneer in electron beam technology for several years now. How did the partnership with Bühler originally come about?
“In 2012 Bühler started evaluating potential novel inactivation technologies aiming to answer the challenges set by food processors: a technology that can improve the microbial safety of food and feed without destroying the quality and ensure sustainable and environmentally friendly food processing. 18 existing physical technologies were screened based on their suitability for microbial inactivation in low-moisture foods, food quality preservation, and scale-up potential. TetraPak had brought an in-line surface sterilization of packaging material by low energy electron beam to the market. This was made possible by new compact low energy electron beam lamps brought to the market together with COMET. Since the scalability of the technology had already been proven by TetraPak, we saw an opportunity to use the same principle in a compact machine for dry food decontamination.
Looking into the future: What will the food industry look like in ten years? Especially with regard to technologies such as Laatu.
“Food safety and food security will become more important in the future due to globalization, more complex food value chains, urbanization and changes in consumer habits. Climate change is also predicted to impact food safety, where temperature changes alter food safety risks associated with production, storage and distribution of food. All these factors together with population growth create new challenges for global food safety and security. Food producers and handlers have a responsibility to ensure that food is safe to eat. […]. Today food processors are facing challenges with the conventional methods to ensure the food safety, meanwhile consumers are asking for minimally processed foods. Also, safe and nutritious foods need to be provided with processing that has preserves nature and has minimal resource consumption.”
With our BIOSTERIL brand, Kündig is a pioneer in natural germ reduction. Being a partner in the development of this new technology and actively testing it in the field is a great honor for us. The Kündig Group is one of the first in the world to apply the system in practice. It is a chance to be at the forefront of innovation in the food industry.