Woolworths Group is backing a new Australian plastic recycling start-up using science to reduce the need for new plastic to be produced. Read more
Australian minister for Agriculture and Northern Australia, David Littleproud, has welcomed the launch of CSIRO’s Trusted Agrifoods Export Mission, which supports industry’s goal of reaching $100 billion in farm-gate value by 2030. Read more
The CSIRO Tuckerbox, a digital lunchbox launched by Australia’s national science agency, aims to inspire healthy and sustainable food choices and what people might be eating in the future. Read more
A year on from the largest outbreak of avian influenza ever seen in Australia, Victorian poultry farms are benefiting from important biosecurity lessons learnt during the response to the potentially disastrous episode. Read more
Charles Sturt University’s Graham Centre for Agricultural Innovation is researching the characteristics of fast-growing wheat, which can be sown in winter to help farmers in south eastern Australia adjust to a changing climate. Read more
The CSIRO, Australia’s national science agency, has developed a DNA test to determine a fish’s age, improving management of wild fish populations for conservation or harvest. This will help maintain sustainability in fishery supply chains. Read more
The 2021 Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering (ATSE) awards recognised new ways to flavour meat-free products and smarter farming systems which thrive in drought. Read more
Research conducted by the CSIRO, University of Melbourne and Curtin University has shown that DNA testing Australian honey can reveal where it was produced and its main floral sources. Read more
foodpro is looking forward to uniting the industry 25-28 July 2021 at Sydney Showground. Read more
In a joint venture between agricultural seed provider Pacific Seeds and CSIRO, a three-year $250,000 research project will aim to better tailor canola hybrids and crop management to regional Australia’s variable growing conditions. Read more
A New South Wales mixed farming business, previously described as “heavily in drought and practically a dustbowl”, has produced a record breaking canola harvest of 7.16 tonnes/hectare.
Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO has announced the formation of a new company to take a methane-busting seaweed to market, with $13 million secured from five investors.
FutureFeed Pty Ltd will commercialise a livestock feed additive made from the seaweed Asparagopsis, which has been shown to reduce methane emissions in beef and dairy cattle by more than 80 per cent in research trials in Australia and the USA.
AGP Sustainable Real Assets-Sparklabs Cultiv8 Joint Venture, GrainCorp, Harvest Road, Woolworths and CSIRO have committed to investing in the company.
Minister for Industry, Science and Technology Karen Andrews said it was great to see Australian companies getting behind an Aussie innovation with immense global potential.
“This is a game-changer – not only for livestock production, but also for our environment – with the potential to create an entirely new industry, while supporting jobs in the Australian agriculture sector,” Minister Andrews said.
“This is an example of what can be achieved when industry and researchers work together to solve real-world problems.
“It also highlights the ongoing jobs and economic opportunities that can come from ensuring our world-leading research is commercialised.”
The newly established FutureFeed company will develop a full value chain for the livestock feed supplement, from seaweed cultivation and production through to processing and feed manufacture in order to supply beef and dairy industries globally.
The company expects to see commercial volumes of the feed additive supplied into the Australian beef and dairy market by mid-2021, with international markets to follow.
When Asparagopsis is fed as a supplement to cattle, it not only reduces methane emissions but also supports productivity. The supplement has been developed and trialled over more than five years by CSIRO in collaboration with Meat & Livestock Australia and James Cook University.
CSIRO Chief Executive Dr Larry Marshall said FutureFeed is science solving the seemingly unsolvable – reducing the emissions but not the profits.
“FutureFeed enables agriculture and the environment to be partners not competitors, helps overcome negative perceptions of the cattle industry, and gives Australian farmers an advantage in the global marketplace as first adopters of this Aussie innovation,” Dr Marshall said.
“FutureFeed is addressing some of the greatest challenges we face, including food security, sustainable production and climate change, by turning science into a real product in the hands of business so they can turn it into jobs and economic growth.
“By earning equity in FutureFeed, CSIRO can continue to invest in great science for the future of industry.”
RIGHT: ASPARAGOPSIS GROWING IN TANKS.
CSIRO scientists estimate that if the feed additive were to be adopted by 10 per cent of beef feedlots and dairy industries globally, this could reduce livestock industry greenhouse gas emissions by approximately 120 megatonnes per year, equivalent to taking around 50 million cars off the road for a year.
The company will be exploring market options for greenhouse gas abatement payments for livestock producers that adopt the supplement.
FutureFeed Pty Ltd has been formed after a competitive investment process designed to ensure a mix of investors with expertise across the livestock value chain encompassing aquaculture, feed supply, beef production and processing, and retai
Tracking community outbreaks of COVID-19 through wastewater can happen faster, using more cost-effective tests, according to new research published by the Australian national science agency, CSIRO.
The new research builds on the world’s first peer-reviewed proof-of-concept trial run in Brisbane by CSIRO and The University of Queensland which tested untreated sewage and found fragments of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
Scientists have now refined their methods of concentrating and recovering the virus from wastewater samples, which can indicate the presence of COVID-19 carriers in the community, regardless of whether they show symptoms.
Seven methods were tested in the latest study, confirming the most cost-effective and rapid virus recovery process which extracts virus information from wastewater, so it can be tested, with each sample now taking between 15 to 30 minutes to process.
Worldwide wastewater monitoring could save up to $1.47 billion for national monitoring programs depending on frequency of sampling and population, according to research. Wastewater monitoring has been shown to be significantly cheaper and faster than clinical screening for COVID-19, but would be used as an added diagnostic measure.
CSIRO chief executive Dr Larry Marshall said that as COVID-19 restrictions begin to ease, science has found a way to help individual communities avoid a second wave of the pandemic.
“This unique monitoring breakthrough will ensure each suburb gets the medical support it needs so all of us, as a nation, can stay healthier,” Marshall said.
CSIRO researcher Dr Warish Ahmed led the findings published in The Science of the Total Environment, which evaluated the concentration, recovery and detection of SARS-CoV-2 RNA (its genetic code).
“We will keep refining the virus concentration and detection methods to provide more sensitive and accurate results of the viral load in wastewater,” Dr Ahmed said.
“This will provide information on the prevalence of COVID-19 in the community so public health officials can have as much information as possible to manage an outbreak in a timely manner.”
The results will be shared with a new global scientific collaboration, COVID-19 WBE Collaborative, which brings together more than 50 global experts in water-based epidemiology (WBE) to share testing methods and data on wastewater-based surveillance for the current and future disease outbreaks.
The wastewater testing is conducted on untreated sewage, collected as it enters a water treatment plant to provide community-level results.
Based on our knowledge of the persistence of SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater, drinking water is very well protected against all viruses, including the new COVID-19.
Australians will be enjoying more Aussie-grown prawns this Christmas thanks to a new prawn health check developed by Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO.
The new test uses CSIRO’s ‘Shrimp MultiPath’ technology, commercialised by Brisbane start-up company Genics, which spun-out of CSIRO to tackle the global challenge of food security and quality.
It comes as the domestic prawn farming industry recovers from losses from pathogens over the last three years.
The technology can detect 13 commercially significant prawn diseases, including white spot syndrome, which wiped out many prawn populations in 2016, and Infectious Hypodermal and Haematopoietic Necrosis Virus (IHHNV).
Improved management of IHHNV using Shrimp MultiPath technology increased production by 3.7 tonnes per hectare, or $67,000 farm gate value. Consequently, a 50-hectare Australian prawn farm could see their revenues increase by more than $3 million per season.
Prawn farms are located across northern NSW and in QLD, with around 750 hectares of prawn ponds. An increase of 3.7 tonnes per hectare could boost the yield of farmed prawns by around 50 per cent.
CSIRO Chief Executive Dr Larry Marshall congratulated Genics on translating breakthrough research into marketplace benefit.
“It’s great to see CSIRO science being accelerated out of the lab and into a start-up that could tackle our global food security challenge, a very clear public benefit – while also giving Aussies more prawns to enjoy with family and friends,” Dr Marshall said.
“Australian seafood is globally prized, so innovation that protects our biosecurity and boosts our domestic economy is a great example of science creating new opportunities.”
Genics CEO and former CSIRO scientist Dr Melony Sellars said the technology comes at an opportune time for the domestic prawn farming industry after losses from pathogens over the last three years.
“Australia already has some of the best prawns you can buy. However, the good news for Australian consumers ahead of Christmas is that we’re helping to grow more prawns, and make them even better,” Dr Sellars said.
“Our tests quickly help prawn farmers make informed management decisions, and for consumers this means more, high quality, locally grown Australian prawns.”
Australia consumes all of its domestically produced prawns, and foreign imports are required to meet the shortfall in consumer demand.
Dr Sellars said the tests will allow farmers to better manage their prawn stocks as they grow, helping them to minimise stock losses and significantly boost their production levels, which could reduce Australia’s reliance on imported prawns.
Three years ago the southeast Queensland prawn industry – responsible for around 40 per cent of Australia’s farmed prawns – was shut down by the foreign incursion of white spot syndrome virus, a pathogen that is harmless to humans but lethal to prawns.
“Shrimp MultiPath tests against white spot, as well as other international pathogens that we don’t currently have in Australia,” Dr Sellars said.
“This technology can also be used as a detection system by biosecurity agencies to prevent the spread of any potential future incursions that could harm our industry.”
CSIRO aquaculture program Research Director Dr Mat Cook said Genics will benefit prawn farmers and consumers alike.
“CSIRO works with industries to secure their long-term sustainability, and commercialising this technology is a significant step towards protecting Australia’s farmed prawn industry and putting even more Australian farmed prawns on family plates,” Dr Cook said.
“The launch of Genics is a terrific example of delivering on CSIRO’s strategy to create positive outcomes for Australia across the spectrum of consumers, industry, biosecurity and environment.”
Genics is now delivering Shrimp MultiPath to prawn farmers in Australia and overseas, together with other prawn health diagnostic services.
The Genics team developed the Shrimp MultiPath technology drawing on CSIRO’s aquaculture expertise, and are alumni of the national sci-tech accelerator, ON Accelerate, powered by CSIRO.
There is a range of new technologies that are set to take the food and beverage industry by storm. We list what we believe will be the next big five technologies that will change the way food and bev does business.
Being developed by Australia’s own CSIRO, shockwave technology is at proof-of-concept stage. The idea of shockwave technology for meat applications first came around in 1997 when scientists decided to put pre-packaged meat under water and detonate explosives to see if they could tenderise meat.
Shockwave technology is where high pressures are applied for a short time – micro seconds – to meat. In previous studies, 100gms of explosives, placed underwater, were used to tenderise meat. Scientists thought, ‘this is great, but how can we commercialise something with explosives?’
In 2001, dielectric discharge came into being, which helped recreate the shockwave. The technology uses two electrodes to generate a similar effect to the explosives. The scientists put voltage through the electrodes and the resulting arc causes very high pressure under water.
The CSIRO thinks it might cause tissue disintegration, which can accelerate the tenderisation of meat.
When it comes to modelling and pressure, scientists aimed to understand shockwave distribution in the treatment chamber and to identify the area of maximum impact. There was a tenderisation effect that was measured objectively using a Warner Bratzler shear test, where the peak force required to cut through treated meat samples is recorded. The CSIRO is now working towards optimising this effect.
VOW in Sydney and Brisbane-based Heuros are two Australian companies who are delving into the lab-grown meat space. Using stem cells from animals, the two Australian firms join a growing number of enterprises around the world that are looking to make meat-based protein without using abattoirs. While progress has been relatively quick, none of the companies have been able to make lab-grown meat a commercial reality due to the costs of producing it. Apparently the growing of the meat is not an issue, but scaling up production is. However, once that issue is solved, the next one will be trying to persuade consumers how ‘natural’ the meat’s taste and texture can be. Watch this space.
Not to be confused with its biodegradable cousin, compostable packaging is being worked on by an array of companies in the food and beverage space. The winner of this year’s Packaging Innovation category at the Food & Beverage Industry Awards was PA Packaging Solutions’ home compostable packaging that breaks down completely after 26 weeks in a home compost bin. The issue with biodegradable claims is that all items can wear that label, after all, every product is biodegradable – it’s just a matter of how long it takes; 1 year or a 1000. Compostable packaging is aiming to target the greenie in all of us. There are a couple of issues, one being the bigger a piece of compostable packaging becomes, the more compromised it is – ie, it has issues holding the weight of the contents.
Not only is technology processing our food and drink faster, and getting it to market quicker, it will soon be able to customise individual food needs of consumers. In an era where allergies and intolerance to certain ingredients are growing, there will soon be a demand for foods that meet the requirements of individuals within a family as opposed to the whole family group. It will be a challenging prospect but already companies like Sunbasket and Platejoy are tapping into the healthy/organic arena with their offerings.
Not strictly food and beverage-only related, but something that will be happening more as the world becomes more and more digitally connected. Whether it is a local café, or a multi-national food outlet like Starbucks or McDonalds, data is currency. AI will be the key driver as food manufacturers and the outlets they sell to try and find out more about the consumers of their products. Is the Venti big in Sydney’s western suburbs, or is it the Trenta? Where are most Big Mac’s consumed? Perth or Adelaide.
And while some may think that it has a feel of Big Brother about it, there is also an upside. It should lead to less food waste and packaging as certain sectors of the community can be targeted and their specific needs met without oversupplying a particular outlet.
African swine fever (ASF) is a fatal pig disease. And it’s on Australia’s doorstep with confirmation of outbreaks in Timor-Leste, 680 kilometres from northern Australia.
The disease is found in sub-Saharan Africa and has been detected in countries in Eastern Europe, including Russia and Ukraine. This year we have seen the disease sweep down through Asia and towards Australia.
ASF kills about 80 per cent of the pigs it infects and there is no vaccine or cure. Some estimate a quarter of the world’s pigs will be dead by the end of this year from ASF.
The consequences cannot be understated as pork and other red meat prices are already seeing an increase in Europe and Asia. There is also talk of a global protein shortage for 2020 as a result of ASF.
Australia, which has a $5.3 billion pork industry and 2700 producers, continues to be free from the disease. The CSIRO is working with the Australian government and industry to keep it that way.
ASF on our doorstep
The Department of Agriculture has implemented tight biosecurity measures. This maintains strict controls over imported products, which could be contaminated with the ASF virus. It also has heightened surveillance and increased screening for banned pork products.
Recently, Australia deported a Vietnamese tourist after border officials found 10 kilograms of banned food products in her luggage. This included a large amount of raw pork. She was the first tourist to have her visa cancelled and be expelled from the country over breached biosecurity laws.
In September 2019, researchers at our Australian Animal Health Laboratory (AAHL) tested pork products, seized at international airports and at international mail processing centres, for ASF virus. AAHL is Australia’s leading high-containment laboratory for exotic and emerging animal diseases. It has unique facilities and expertise to manage the biosecurity risks of testing samples for the virus.
The results from AAHL’s testing last month showed 48 per cent of seized products were contaminated with ASF virus fragments. This is an increase from 15 per cent in the testing AAHL undertook earlier this year.
Detection of these virus fragments does not necessarily mean they can cause infection. But it does highlight the need for Australia’s strict biosecurity measures. Authorities are now using these results to refine and strengthen Australia’s border measures.
ASF is harmless for humans but spreads rapidly
ASF is harmless for humans but spreads rapidly among domestic pigs and wild boars through direct contact or exposure to contaminated feed and water. For instance, farmers can unwittingly carry the virus on their shoes, clothing, vehicles, and machinery. It can survive in fresh and processed pork products. It is even resistant to some disinfectants.
With no vaccine available, controlling the spread of the virus can be difficult. This is especially so in countries dominated by small-scale farmers who may lack the necessary resources and expertise to protect their herds.
For example, swill feeding—giving pigs kitchen and table waste in which the virus can persist—is a common practice throughout Asia. This is a major factor contributing to the spread of ASF. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to enforce a ban on this practice. Especially across so many small holder farms in resource-poor countries affected by the disease.
But, action is being taken.
Australia’s domestic biosecurity network
many Australian agencies are working together to manage surveillance and monitoring as the risk of ASF entering Australia is on the rise.
In addition to testing, these agencies continue to strengthen our national biosecurity network. The CSIRO is working with quarantine services, agriculture and human health organisations to build awareness, assessment, resilience, preparedness and response.
Our researchers are working on understanding how ASF infects pigs as well as looking at novel approaches to producing a vaccine. With no vaccine currently available, outbreaks of ASF are difficult and costly to contain and eradicate.
In the policy space, a round table meeting at Parliament House was recently held. Along with other leaders, scientists and governments, the CSIRO shared the work currently being undertaken and the actions needed to keep ASF out of Australia.
Plans are underway for a simulation exercise later this year. This will test Australia’s disease response capabilities to make sure the country is as prepared as it can be.
Helping our international neighbours
AAHL has an important role to play in the Asia-Pacific region. Its international team work with partner agencies and Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to provide expertise, training and laboratory skills to rapidly identify disease.
This support enhances the region’s capacity to manage emergency disease outbreaks. It also assists Australia’s pre-border security through better threat assessment and management of viruses circulating in neighbouring countries.
It also provides regional expertise to the World Organisation for Animal Health and the Food and Agriculture Organization (a specialised agency of the United Nations) for emergency preparedness missions to the number of countries at risk of virus.
We can all help
Fortunately, Australia’s pig industry is better equipped to manage the necessary biosecurity measures. And producers are willing to put strict controls in place to keep the disease at bay. Hobby farmers must also be careful to follow the rules.
Nobody wants to see images of dying pigs and farmers struggling to make ends meet on our screens. Everybody can play a role in good biosecurity.
Be aware of the risks and, most importantly, please don’t import illegal meat products or feed pigs with food scraps.
In what’s believed will be a world first in agriculture, researchers from Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO, will use popular gaming platforms, sensor technologies and next-generation data interaction techniques to help prawn farmers make decisions in a bid to boost productivity.
Water conditions in prawn ponds can quickly change from healthy to threatening in a matter of hours, but current methods for monitoring water quality are labour intensive and cause significant delays between the measurements and being able to see important trends in the data.
Speaking at D61+ Live in Sydney, Australia’s premier science, technology and innovation event, CSIRO Postdoctoral Fellow Dr Mingze Xi said they have developed technology that will give farmers near real-time understanding of key water quality parameters like dissolved oxygen and pH levels.
“This is done using state-of-the-art wearable and hands-free technologies that they use while they’re walking around and managing the ponds,” Xi said.
“Prawn farmers tell us that they don’t actually farm prawns, they farm water quality.
READ MORE: Dominos launches augmented reality app
“This could give them the information they need to better manage animal health and feed inputs, for example, and even share the visuals in real time with managers in the office or external experts for fast input.”
The technology draws on CSIRO’s domain expertise in agriculture and the capabilities of its data and digital specialist arm, Data61. It was developed by CSIRO’s Digiscape Future Science Platform and uses the power of Data61’s Senaps platform, which helps businesses connect data in a range of different formats, integrate complex analytics and turn it into useful intelligence that can make a difference.
Pacific Reef Fisheries, a prawn farm operator in Ayr near Townsville in northern Queensland, is working with CSIRO to provide real world conditions for testing the system.
Environmental manager Kristian Mulholland said augmented reality in the aquaculture industry had the potential to transform productivity in the industry.
“Augmented reality technology could be a huge game changer for our industry to make water quality monitoring so much quicker and easier, all in real time, and bringing a visual aspect of data display to efficiently make more accurate management decisions,” he said.
“We could gain huge productivity improvements using this technology, and we’re incredibly excited to be a part of its development.”
CSIRO has chosen prawn farming as the first agricultural industry to test this technology, with a view to expanding into other sectors shortly.
“We can see this technology becoming a normal part of farm operations no matter what you farm, as all types of farming become more reliant on gathering and understanding data from sensor technologies,” Xi said.
In addition to augmented reality technology, cutting edge projects across artificial intelligence, privacy, security and blockchain, will be on show at CSIRO’s D61+ Live in Sydney on 2 and 3 October 2019.
Australia’s newest plant-based meat startup, v2food, has been launched via an innovative partnership between CSIRO, Main Sequence Ventures and Jack Cowin’s Competitive Foods Australia.
v2food is a sustainable, plant-based alternative to meat. It looks like meat, cooks like meat and tastes like meat. It was formed by CSIRO’s Innovation Fund, managed by Main Sequence Ventures, a part of the Australian Government’s National Innovation and Science Agenda (NISA), in 2018.
Competitive Foods Australia, the company behind Hungry Jack’s, also contributed seed funding to help launch the startup. With the backing of both government and industry, v2food had all the right ingredients for success from day one. The company is led by former Masterfoods and PepsiCo research director, Nick Hazell.
The company’s rapid growth, from foundation to national launch in eight months, is a result of the team’s access to CSIRO’s expansive network of expertise.
CSIRO provided research and development resources to v2food on a research-for-equity arrangement. While a one-man-team at the beginning, Hazell had access to hundreds of the best scientific minds to help perfect the product.
“Making meat alternatives from plants is not a new idea but at v2food we’ve taken it a step further,” said Hazell. “We are on a journey to make plant-based food both taste better and be more sustainable. The protein substitutes available to date simply don’t taste as good as meat and they are not affordable.
“We’ve drawn upon the best food, nutrition and sustainability science from CSIRO to develop a sustainable and nutritious product, with an unmatched texture and flavour.
The goal is for our product to be a delicious alternative to meat, accessible to every Australian,” said Hazell.
Recognising that there is a need for a ‘version 2’ of the food system, v2food’s range of plant-based meat products taste great and is suited for all consumers.
Made from legumes, the company’s ‘mince’ looks and tastes like quality meat and contains added fibre and nutrients.
“We seem to have the right resources for success,” chairman and CEO of Competitive Foods Australia Jack Cowin said. “With CSIRO’s outstanding research and technology capabilities, the passion of the v2food team led by Nick Hazell and Competitive Foods Australia’s ability to help build and commercialise businesses, we believe that we have the ingredients for a successful venture.
“We’ve seen a huge opportunity for plant-based proteins and the category is set to explode. I’ve eaten beef all my life but I’ve tasted the v2food and it tastes as good as beef.
“Therefore, we can’t wait to take v2food to consumers with some fantastic new products,” he said.
v2food has been collaborating with the grain and meat industries to add plant-based meat to the Australian agricultural story. CSIRO projects this new industry to be worth more than $6 billion by 2030 in Australia. This provides a big opportunity for existing meat and grain producers. It is estimated that by 2050 the world’s population will need twice the amount of food we consume today.
Australia doesn’t currently have the capability to process legumes for plant-based meat alternatives. v2food, with the help of CSIRO, is working on developing this capability to create an all Australian value chain.
v2food will begin to appear in restaurants and cafes throughout the remainder of the year and aims to have a leading presence in-store and in cafes around Australia by early 2020.
The CSIRO’s Ciara McDonnell talks about new technologies that are having an impact on the food industry.
When people think of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, or CSIRO as it is affectionately known, most have images of boffins in white coats working in laboratories with Petri dishes, beakers and Bunsen burners busily inventing new gizmos and gadgets for an array of industries. And while this is accurate to a degree, it also is a multi-faceted institution that has more than 5,000 dedicated staff spread around 57 sites throughout the continent.
It has more than 690 patents including the one that encapsulates its most famous invention, wifi, and covers many research spectrums including mining, manufacturing and food. Most recent figures state that it returns about $4.5 billion to the Australian economy annually, and partners with more than 1200 SMEs per year. It’s a very busy place, and one that attracted Irish research scientist Ciara McDonnell to Australia.
McDonnell works at one of the three food sites CSIRO has set up throughout Australia. They’re at Werribee in Melbourne, North Ryde Sydney and Coopers Plains, Queensland, where she is based.
McDonnell spoke at a seminar at the recent FoodTech Expo held in Queensland. She talked about four food technologies that could have a lasting impact on the food industry.
Various Business Units in CSIRO welcome collaboration, and the Agriculture and Food Unit is no different.
“Coopers Plains is home to one of our food pilot plants that we share with the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries,” she said. “At that pilot plant, CSIRO have an emphasis on meat processing, so we have a suite of conventional pilot scale meat processing equipment. This can enable food processors to conduct trials at reduced batch sizes until the process is ready for scale-up. Then we assist companies with that scale up to ensure the best route to commercialisation.
“When we do any kind of R&D, we do take a multidisciplinary approach. We have a lot of expertise in house and we understand the importance of each aspect – from safety, nutrition, processing, food chemistry and more.’
Future trends are very important in the institution’s work because CSIRO want to conduct research with impact for current and future markets. And what are some of the pressing issues in the food and beverage space at the moment?
“We can certainly say that environment, sustainability, health, clean label and minimal waste are some of the top food trends that we drive towards,” said McDonnell. “CSIRO sees itself as bridging the gap between academic research and commercialisation into industry. We have access to a large suite of innovative processing technologies ranging from pulse electric fields, advanced spray and convection drying, high pressure processing, – the list goes on. In addition, we look after pilot scale conventional processing technologies as well.”
One way of gauging where a technology is at in terms of its development towards commercialisation is the Technology Readiness Level (TRL). This can be 1 or 2, which means it is at the beginning of its research level up to 9 or 10 where it is being commercialised.
High-pressure processing (HPP), which it is now commercialised for many food applications, was on the CSIRO radar almost 20 years ago. What exactly is HPP?
“HPP can offer an alternative to heat pasteurisation by inactivating microorganisms. A pre-packaged product is placed into a liquid-filled chamber where it gets treated, but there’s no re-opening of the pack, so no recontamination,” said McDonnell. “Pressure is applied instantaneously and uniformly so it is evenly transmitted throughout the product, usually at about 600 megapascals (MPa), or 6,000 bar, for a few minutes. The effectiveness of the process is dependent on the product type and its different properties like pH and water activity.
What makes HPP so attractive is that the high pressure affects non-covalent bonds only. This means that small molecules that give consumers health benefits, micro-nutrients, colour to the product and the flavour molecules, are unaffected. HPP offers a means of maintaining the fresh-like characteristics of the product – better colour, extended shelf life – it fits with the clean label and fewer additives trend that is now part of the food and beverage landscape. Currently, it is estimated that there are more than 2 million tonnes of HPP products produced per year globally. It is estimated that the industry will be worth about $80 billion by 2025. It is broadening into new product sectors, with its main application being shelf-life extension of refrigerated products.
However, McDonnell points out there is a catch. The technology doesn’t inactivate bacterial spores, whereas thermal pasteurisation can.
“So for those foods – low acid food, mainly with a pH greater than 4.6 – it will not work at reducing spore-forming bacteria” said McDonnell. “Any manufacturer that is interested in making products where spore control is required would have to limit the shelf-life, add preservatives, or the alternative is to heat the product, which could result in reduced flavour and nutritional value.”
McDonnell’s colleagues then started to experiment with a combination of heat and pressure, or, high pressure thermal processing (HPTP). They simultaneously applied moderate heat and pressure, and reduced the spore load with less overall thermal load than would typically be required to pasteurise or sterilise a product. What they found was that if they applied HPTP at 550 MPa for one minute at 87.5°C, they could achieve the same inactivation of Clostridium botulinum spores as a thermal-only process of 10 minutes at 90°C. They refer to this phenomena as HPTP synergy.
“You have less thermal load, so you are maintaining the nutritional molecules value, while achieving a significant increase in Clostridium botulinum inactivation” said McDonnell.
But there was another catch. As mentioned, the CSIRO sees itself as bridging the gap between research and commercialisation. And it knows that companies that have invested in HPP, have units without heating ability, and this limits the scope of products it could potentially process; in fact, there are no HPP machines available at commercial scale that have heating capability.
“In order to commercialise the HPTP, we need some processing adaptation,” said McDonnell. “CSIRO developed an insulated HPP canister that, after a pre-heating step, can be inserted into a conventional (cold) HPP unit to deliver a HPTP process. This is something that is going to be licensed by CSIRO and it will allow HPP units to be adapted with a simple drop-in solution.”
Another technology finding its feet within the food industry is ultrasound processing. It has commercial applications in several processes in the food sector including emulsion breaking and separation, mixing, , homogenising and degassing products.
How does it work? Ultrasound pressures can be created in gas or liquid media at frequencies in the range of 20 to 100 kHz with traditional transducer devices. As the soundwave travels, it oscillates above and below atmospheric pressure. When this occurs in a liquid, any microscopic gas bubble, which can be dissolved gas as well as water vapour, present in that medium will go through the cycles where it expands and contracts until it reaches an unstable size. It then goes through a final cycle, this causes the bubble to implode on itself. This is known as cavitation. It is not visible to the eye, but it is a very destructive microscopic mechanism. There are other effects caused by ultrasound, such as microstreaming, caused by the sound waves as well as the cavitation, that can be used for a range of applications. During the last decade CSIRO has created applications with frequencies from 400 kHz to 2 MHz, where smaller and larger amount of bubbles are created. In such cases, very mild cavitation occurs, if any, as bubbles do not reach their unstable state and transition back into compression.
CSIRO has filed a patent application based on the innovative application of ultrasound to dry foods far more gently with less energy consumption for sustainable manufacture of premium food products & ingredients.
The ultrasound-assisted drying technology has been shown to be highly effective in intensifying low temperature drying (from 40°C to below freezing) of various food materials (e.g., fruits, coffee, and meat products) resulting in up to 57 per cent reduction in drying time (i.e., corresponds to 54 per cent reduction in energy consumption) with better product quality by minimising thermal degradation.
The technology can be applied to enhance the drying processes of other heat sensitive non-food materials (e.g., bio-pharmaceuticals, medicinal crop, petfoods, etc.), providing further commercialisation opportunities across a broader sector. The patent also covers a novel use of the system in pretreatment processes for improved drying efficiency.
CSIRO is currently partnering with equipment manufacturers to develop and build a pre-commercial pilot prototype of the system to help prove its scalability and commercial viability.
CSIRO has also patented a process that enables oil recovery during both aqueous based edible oil extraction processes and oil refining by application of high frequencies beyond 400 kHz, also known as megasonics. The megasonic equipment is now commercially used in the palm oil industry to recover 200,000 litres extra crude oil per annum in a traditional palm oil plant or an additional 1 per cent oil loss reduction (saving about USD 500,000 per annum). The process consists of passing pre-macerated oil palm fruit through the megasonic unit to enable oil removal from the vegetable biomass, thereby enhancing oil recovery after the centrifugation step. The technology has also been proven to aid the olive oil process. A megasonic treated olive paste can provide an additional 4 per cent oil recovery at 3 tonnes of olive paste per hour, with a payback time of 3 years in a middle sized olive oil plant. Another use of the technology is in avoiding oil losses during the refining process by treating the emulsified oil with megasonic waves before gum removal. The technology has enabled reducing up to half of the oil trapped in gums, obtained as a refining process by-product.
Pulsed Electric Fields
Another innovative processing application is pulsed electric fields (PEF) processing, which is based on placing the food between two oppositely charged electrodes.
“If you imagine a bacterial cell filled with charged ions – positive and negative – and we apply very short pulses of very high voltage so we don’t generate heat. Typically, we apply several thousands volts for a few microseconds – this results in the ions moving towards the oppositely charged electrode until they permeate the cell membrane of the bacterial cell,” said McDonnell. “Just like HPP, it is a way of targeting those micro-organisms without affecting any molecules that contribute to flavour, colour and nutritional value of a product.”
The technology is high on the TRL scale as it has already been commercialised for fruit juice use. It can extend shelf-life significantly for preservative-free juices, while preserving nutrients. In addition, it has helped companies achieve up to 6% increase in extraction yield.
‘’We’ve looked at other applications, like non-thermal milk pasteurisation and improving the texture and quality of meat.”
Shockwave technology is the most novel of all those discussed by McDonnell because it is at proof-of-concept stage. It is the CSIRO’s newest investment, with the government entity having acquired a second commercial prototype, the first outside of Europe.
The idea of shockwave technology first came for meat applications around 1997 when scientists decided to put pre-packaged meat under water and detonate explosives to see if they could tenderise meat.
“When I spoke about HPP I was talking about static application of hundreds of megapascals,” said McDonnell. “With shockwave technology, high pressures are applied for a shorter time – micro seconds. In previous studies, 100gms of explosives, placed underwater, were used to tenderise meat. Scientists thought, ‘this is great, but how can we commercialise something with explosives?’ For that reason the speed at which the idea progressed has been slow because, as you imagine with explosives, there were a lot of safety concerns.”
In 2001, dielectric discharge came into being, which helped recreate the shockwave. The technology uses two electrodes to generate a similar effect to the explosives. The scientists put voltage through the electrodes and the resulting arc causes very high pressure under water.
“We have acquired a commercial prototype from Germany, which can allow for continuous processing by a conveyor system. We can place a product on it, allowing it to go into the water tank, exposing it to shockwaves and come out at the other side,” said McDonnell. “At the moment, we have a lot of concepts to prove with the technology.
“We think it might cause tissue disintegration so we could accelerate the tenderisation of meat. The first application we are studying it for is meat processing through an Australian Meat Processor Corporation-funded project.”
McDonnell said that when it came to modelling and pressure, the scientists aimed to understand shockwave distribution in the treatment chamber and to identify the area of maximum impact.
“We used the information from the modelling and conducted trials with meat. We had a tenderisation effect which was measured objectively using a Warner Bratzler shear test, where the peak force required to cut through treated meat samples is recorded,” she said. “And now we are working towards optimising this effect.”
McDonnell is hopeful that a lot of these technologies will come to fruition. Some will take longer than others to be realised, but that is the nature of science and discovery.
“There is a future for some of these novel technologies as they provide an opportunity for clean labelling, either by changing the food structure or inactivating microbes,” she said. “Certain applications have already been commercialised and there are good opportunities for all these technologies to be taken up by the food industry. Who knows what else is to come from TRL 1 when new ideas are generated at research? They all certainly fit with the trends we are aware of, and they could help with regard with things like having less waste. It could allow us to have more food for increased food demand. Also, with globalisation we need extended shelf life to reach new markets so it will really help us on the supply chain and yield, as well as having healthier products and more efficient and sustainable processes.”