Most major food safety authorities around the world are aware of acrylamide and its potential health danger to consumers and it has now become a growing concern for snack food manufacturers.
Snack food producers are challenged with finding ways to reduce acrylamide formation during frying without making fundamental changes to their manufacturing process, and without compromising on taste or quality.
To meet this challenge, food processors looked to equipment suppliers, such as Heat and Control, to work with them to develop equipment solutions for potatoes.
A global collaboration
In one such collaboration, Australia-, US- and the UK-based Heat and Control teams worked with a European snack processor and a Swedish tech company ScandiNova to bring to market a solution that has enhanced the cooking process. It made the reduction of acrylamide possible and provided potato processers with a host of valuable additional benefits including improved yield and product quality, increased line efficiency and reduced operational cost.
It came about after research and development, the result of which was an equipment solution that would apply Pulsed Electric Field (PEF) processing to potatoes prior to manufacturing in order to reduce acrylamide. This solution became the E-FLO system, by Heat and Control.
The science of PEF
PEF is a unique non-thermal method of inactivating microorganisms, including many common food pathogens, without heating the product to the usual pasteurisation temperatures.
The destruction or inactivation of the microorganism is achieved by the breakdown of the microorganism’s cell membranes during exposure to electric fields.
PEF has previously been used in the food industry with juices, wine and olives as a means for sterilisation, preservation and for retaining nutritional values.
Heat and Control’s innovation was by the use of this method in a new application and for a different purpose.
For potatoes processors, the use of PEF treatment delivers cell disintegration, in place of the preheater operation. In this application, pulsed electrical fields create micro-pores in cell membranes, which enable the loss of primarily of liquid contents such as asparagine and reducing sugars but not starch loss. Structural and textural changes are also realised, reducing wear on cutting blades, increasing line yield and reducing water usage.
The benefits of this processing method have seen food processors across various industries incorporate this technology into their processing lines.
A January 2020 report by Technavio stated the global food industry PEF systems market is poised to grow to more than $325 million during 2020-2024, progressing at a CAGR of about 24 per cent during the forecast period.
Developing E-FLO to deliver PEF
Partnering with ScandiNova, a provider of solid-state, high-power pulse modulators and RF systems, Heat and Control developed the patent-protected E-FLO Electroporation System to deliver the PEF process to the new product of whole potatoes and with the overall goal of reducing acrylamide levels in potato chips.
The technology worked by sending PEF through the cell walls of the potatoes to perforate cell membranes with microscopic holes.
This allowed sugars and asparagine to be released from the vegetable before it was cooked, thereby reducing the harmful acrylamide.
Peeled and washed potatoes are supplied in measured quantities by upstream equipment and delivered to the E-FLO infeed chute.
The rotating E-FLO wheel transports the potatoes through the processing area as a compact, packed bed through a water bath.
Processing takes place in a water bath so that the electrical pulses can influence the product as desired. After a short exposure to the electric field pulses, to perforate the cell walls, the potatoes are lifted and discharged from the water bath by the continuing rotation of the wheel into the discharge chute. The potato then continues down the production line where greater amounts of sugars and asparagine can be removed during the slicing and washing stages.
In the case of the European snack processor, E-FLO saw excellent results with a reduction of acrylamide in its potato chips. As have other E-FLO installations, with some processors experiencing a reduction of acrylamide (in most cases) by over 50 per cent in their potato chips.
The E-FLO had met the original goal of reducing acrylamide while ensuring no degradation to the original taste and texture of the product. To the delight of the Heat and Control design team, the technology was able to offer other benefits.
Lower processing costs
In addition to reduced acrylamide formation, the use of PEF technology in the E-FLO system was shown to also provide yield savings with faster processing of the potatoes, cutting improvements for a longer blade life and lower oil content in the final product.
Aside from reducing acrylamide and creating a healthier product, other benefits of using electroporation included increased line efficiency and reduced operation cost. In addition to a return on capital investment due to increased yields processors enjoyed the following benefits:
• Reduced acrylamide allowed them to meet EU legislation.
• Reduced preparation time, water and energy usage.
• Less blanching – electroporation allows the tissue of potatoes to become more permeable removing the need for blanching before cooking. With less blanching, starch loss was avoided and yield was increased
• Reduced wear and tear of slicing blades – slicing thousands of potatoes daily results in dull slicer blades. PEF processing softens the tissue of the potato, allowing blades to slice between the cells of the potato rather than through them. This lessens the pressure and friction on tools, which equates to less down time and longer equipment life.
• Reduced oil use – slicing between the cells of the potato also produces a smoother chip surface. A smoother surface means the chip absorbs less oil, which significantly reduces oil expenditure in the long run.
• Health benefits – PEF treatment typically reduces fat content of the final potato by two to three per cent. This is due to increased starch content in the outer cell layers of the potato slices and smoother surface after cutting, which enhances the oil drip-off effect after frying.
This creates a more desirable, crunchier and premium product.
Today, the European snack processor continues to use the E-FLO to produce its potato chips with less acrylamide and meet EU regulations. The E-FLO Electroporation system is an example of innovative technology made in Australia with the help of global partners.
The right partner
Reduction of acrylamide is an important issue and one that industry is beginning to embrace on a global scale, regardless of regulation.
Potato processing is a significant investment and the key to success is choosing a supplier who can work with a company to meet their objectives.
The right partner can create a line that meets performance, quality, and efficiency targets from the outset.
Importantly, the total cost of ownership, rather than the individual cost of single pieces of equipment, should be considered.