Microwave experts revolutionise global food processing
Scottish food companies are benefiting from a revolutionary new food processing method which has the potential to transform global food manufacturing. The new microwave technology is not only highly energy efficient, it is able to extend the shelf life of food without destroying nutrients and changing taste.
A novel collaboration combining both commercial and academic expertise to explore the application of microwave technologies to the food and drink sector, has already transformed the way some small Scottish food and drink companies are developing their businesses. The project draws on the technical expertise of Queen Margaret University researchers in dietetics, nutritional and biological sciences and is led by the commercial firm Advanced Microwave Technologies Ltd (AMT). The ability to add shelf life to their products while preserving flavour and nutrients has resulted, for some, in major business expansion plans and a new supply route to the global export market.
The technology is the brainchild of Dr Yuriy Zadyraka and Douglas Armstrong from AMT, which is emerging as one of the world’s most innovative users of microwave technology. With expertise in nutritional analysis, the initial product validation work was undertaken by Queen Margaret University which helped AMT establish a route to market in the food and drink sector. Trials involving commercial food businesses helped researchers prove that the new technology is a very gentle process of pasteurisation and can extend the shelf life of food and drink without destroying nutrients and antioxidants and without altering taste.
Douglas Armstrong, Director of AMT explains: “We have developed a unique way of using microwaves to heat liquids, suspensions and semi solids on a continuous basis. It was initially developed for use in the waste industry however, we were keen to explore its use within the food and drinks industry. Following an introduction by Interface*, we began working with a team of Queen Margaret University experts.”
Douglas continued: “We conducted a trial with fresh raspberry juice and discovered that we could very gently pasteurize the juice and retain all of the goodness of the fresh product. ‘Get Juiced’ a small Scottish supplier of high quality fresh fruit drinks, then approached Queen Margaret University with a problem. With only an eight day shelf life on its fresh orange juice, the company was looking to extend shelf life but maintain the integrity of its product as a healthy, nutritious, flavoursome, fresh juice. By putting the juice through AMT’s gentle pasteurisation process, the product life was extended from eight days to four weeks. In addition, research has shown that the AMT process kills micro-organisms more efficiently than conventional thermal processing but doesn’t diminish any of the antioxidants or nutritional content of the product. Importantly, for the company, the gentle heating process did not affect the taste of the juice.”
Processing trials with other food products have generated not only promising results in relation to taste, but are offering significant technical benefits. QMU and AMT have looked at how the system can be used to reduce salt in certain foods whilst also retaining full flavour and extending shelf life.
Douglas said: “Results from this work are extremely encouraging and we are looking forward to producing the research report next month. This important work will allow manufacturers to capitalise not only on the economic benefits of the system, but on its ability to produce healthier foods.”
The work carried out by AMT and QMU has sparked enormous interest in the food industry. AMT is now in discussions with a large number of major companies and has rapidly progressed from trials to confirmed orders with a number of organisations.
Miriam Smith, Business Development Executive at Queen Margaret University, said: “This has been a very exciting collaboration with AMT. Following successful results from their commercial trials, manufacturers are now accepting that the AMT machine is a game changing piece of technology with companies transforming their processing and reaping the rewards.”
Miriam continued: “In terms of the Scottish and UK food market, one of the most significant areas of this collaboration is the potential that AMT technology offers in terms of developing healthy food products which are produced in a more energy efficient way. Unfortunately, Scotland has a reputation for unhealthy foods which are high in fat and salt. This project has the potential to change food processing for the better, and as a result, assist in improving the image, quality and health of Scottish food.”
Kim Gilchrist, Research Development Manager at Queen Margaret University “We are delighted to be assisting SMEs such as AMT in novel research projects. The potential impact in the application of microwave technologies to revolutionise the food and drink industry is incredibly exciting.”
Kim continued: “In this challenging economic climate, commercial organisations, particularly SMEs, need all the help they can get. Many businesses seem unaware that world class expertise, knowledge and research facilities are available within Scotland's universities. In line with the Scottish government agendas, Queen Margaret University is totally committed to supporting the development of Scotland’s food and drink. Within our flagships of ‘Health and Rehabilitation’ and ‘Sustainable Business’ we have access to experts in food, nutrition, biological science, business development and marketing. In addition, we can offer specialist laboratories for testing and importantly, we have knowledge and access to funding for commercial development. Businesses, both large and small, need to make the most of this resource, and we look forward to further innovative collaborations with other Scottish and national food organisations.”
Queen Margaret University welcomes enquiries from organisations which may be interested in a demonstration of the AMT machine. If your business needs to find a solution to a problem or needs help with business development please contact Miriam Smith, Business Development Executive at QMU’s Business Innovation Zone on E: MSmith3@qmu.ac.uk , T: 0131 474 0000.
‘Get Juiced’ Case Study (SME based in Stirling)
Get Juiced, a small, forward thinking freshly squeezed juice and smoothie business, knew it could produce fresh drinks of the highest quality but it was struggling to identify a processing technology that could support an increase in product demand and business growth. Its biggest obstacle was the very limited shelf life of its fresh products. Its main product, freshly squeezed orange juice, had a shelf life of only eight days.
This gave the company very little room for manoeuvre with only eight days to get it to retail, sell to the end customer and have it consumed before the product was past its best. As a direct result of this problem, customers were hard to secure. The company tried various methods of processing but this always resulted in a poorer product with an inferior taste. In effect, existing pasteurisation technologies proved detrimental to the taste of the fresh product. Integral to the company was the need to retain the fresh quality of the product, its superior taste (in comparison to other orange juices) as well as its colour and texture. The company approached Queen Margaret University and began trials with AMT. The orange juice was put through the AMT machine and to the company’s amazement the product tasted exactly the same.
Paddy Ryan, Business Relationship Manager at Get Juiced said: “We just couldn’t believe what we were seeing at Queen Margaret University. When we first saw the AMT machine in action, it was pasteurising scrambled egg. Then, while we were there, it quickly moved on to our orange juice which it pasteurised in just a matter of minutes. We sampled the juice after it went through the machine, and were astounded that it looked and tasted exactly the same. In fact, the product tasted so fresh, it was almost impossible to believe that anything had been done to it. After all our other failed attempts, we couldn’t believe we had found such a simple solution. The other advantage of the AMT machine was that it could clearly handle liquids and foods of different textures. If it could pasteurise a substance like scrambled egg and then quickly move to a liquid like orange juice, it would be able to handle all of our different fruit juices with their varying consistencies.”
“If we had only known that the answer to our problems lay within Queen Margaret University, we would have progressed things so much earlier.”
Following research trials, Get Juiced purchased an AMT machine for its factory in Stirling. As soon as it was put into use, production more than doubled overnight.
Paddy said: “With a new shelf life of 28 days we had a flood of interest from retail. People had always loved our unprocessed freshly squeezed drinks but earlier on, like all fresh juice drinks, demand was limited by shelf life. Now the interest in our freshly squeezed product with its extended shelf life is overwhelming and we have big expansion plans for 2013.”
During the summer of 2012 Get Juiced was producing 2,000 litres of fresh juice each week. Following installation of the AMT machine the company’s production levels has increased to 5,000 plus litres per week.
Paddy said: “Our retail business was fairly limited and the supermarket chains simply were not interested in listing our products with the smaller shelf-life but this has now completely changed; so much so we have doubled our staffing levels from 11 to 25 people to deal with the increased production and product demand.”
Finding the right solution to its problem has allowed Get Juiced to action major expansion plans. Investment is imminent for an even bigger AMT machine and whilst there was always confidence that this would be in the pipeline, Paddy did not envisage just how quickly it would have to be realised. The company has secured a contract with a major supermarket to supply all of its Scottish stores, and is soon to supply the same retailer on a UK wide basis.
Paddy said; “We always believed it could happen and now it has. It all started at QMU and we are eternally grateful that we made the connection with the University and AMT. It has helped us identify a great balance between the use of cutting edge technology and a simple quality product. This combination is allowing us to stay true to one of our core values – that of producing the best 100% freshly squeezed fruit juice in Scotland.”
It’s onwards and upwards for Get Juiced as it progresses its aim of being Scotland’s market leader in the fresh fruit drinks segment.
NOTES TO EDITOR
Interface is the organisations which connects businesses with specialist expertise, knowledge and facilities in Scotland’s universities and research institutions. Interface provides a free and impartial service to give businesses the best possible solution for their business.
Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh
Queen Margaret specialises in professional education and research that informs the development of policy and practice in health, drama & creative arts, media & social science and business & enterprise. The expert knowledge developed at Queen Margaret touches people's everyday lives.
For further media information please contact Lynne Russell, Press and PR Officer, Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh, tel: 0131 474 0000, mob: 07711 011239, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org