Manufacturers Seeking Natural Ways to Extend Foods' Shelf Life

Keeping food fresh, safe and appealing is the ultimate goal of any food manufacturer, but there are new challenges now that clean, free-from ingredients and minimal processing are in such high demand.

By Lauren R. Hartman, Product Development Editor

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working dough siteWith the trend toward clean labels, consumers are carefully checking ingredient lists to find the fewest or safest-sounding ingredients and the least amount of "processing." One of the most difficult challenges in that regard is to find natural ways to extend shelf life.

Shelf life isn't just a way to track days or weeks on a store shelf; it involves microbial activity, mold/yeast development, lipid oxidation, flavor, aroma and color as well as usability at home. A food's shelf life relies on such factors as the type of process and formulation involved, the packaging used and storage conditions. But in the end, shelf life extension involves additives.

"Shelf life extension is a multifaceted need," observes Angie Singer, sales and marketing director at Delavau Food Partners (www.delavaufood.com), Philadelphia. "It’s more than a matter of inhibiting mold growth; it’s a priority to maintain texture and mouthfeel as well as achieve a clean label. It's challenging to reformulate for a clean label while retaining the necessary shelf life and maintaining the eating experience customers know and love."

In many ways, shelf life is synonymous with food safety. The two goals are intertwined in the IsoStat Products Group from Newly Weds Foods (www.newlywedsfoods.com), Chicago. Rosemary extracts, vinegar and lemon juice, as well as sodium citrate, potassium citrate and sodium diacetate form the basis of a handful of products that improve levels of food safety by extending shelf life and otherwise controlling the oxidation and spoilage of several categories of food.

Jerry Erdmann, principal scientist at DuPont Nutrition & Health (www.dupont.com), New Century, Kan., finds the challenges facing extended shelf life are the removal of historical approaches or hurdles used to control spoilage and reduce oxidation. "Chemical preservatives have a history of success, and significant scientific data supports their effectiveness," he says. "They're cost-effective, easy to use and forgiving when incorporated into the product.

"Alternative antimicrobials or antioxidant products are still relatively new in the market, with much less historical understanding," he continues. "It's important that customers understand the use, cost, flavor impact, effectiveness and shelf life expectation of finished products using chemical alternatives." It's also critical, he says, that manufacturers do their due diligence to assure the desired antimicrobial properly addresses their concerns. "The changing or removal of fats from a food system will change how the antimicrobials and antioxidants function," Erdmann notes. For example, "Going to more unsaturated fats increases the potential risk of oxidation."

Maintaining meat's color

Many consumers base their meat purchases on a product’s color. An indicator of freshness and wholesomeness is a bright red hue, whereas discolored meat often gets discounted or is wasted, though it might still be safe to eat. "For consumers, discoloration determines whether or not a meat product is still safe to eat," says Paul Janthial, food & beverage business unit director at France's Naturex (www.naturex.com). "As even highly processed meat products such as sausages are now subject to clean and clear label trends, manufacturers need to find ways to keep the color appeal of these products while losing the artificial additives."

Rosemary is gaining ground in the market as a safe, effective alternative to synthetic shelf life extenders such as BHA, BHT and the antioxidant TBHQ. Naturex provides a range of natural antioxidants obtained from rosemary, acerola, celery, Swiss chard, pomegranate and green tea. "They can enhance microbiological stability to keep foods safe for consumption or enhance organoleptic stability to keep colors and flavors intense and prevent off-notes," Janthial explains. "Each ingredient must be backed by exhaustive shelf life studies conducted on each application type. The antioxidants in these extracts protect the color, flavor and aspect of the finished product while keeping the label clear of unfriendly additives."

Naturex's XtraBlend is a new acerola cherry powder and onion blend that boosts shelf life of meat products by as much as five days in chilled products and can also preserve color. Xtrablend OA antioxidant uses acerola powder in ascorbic acid and onion extract in polyphenols to protect color without impacting meat's overall taste. In tests on fresh, refrigerated pork sausages, Xtrablend OA performed similarly to conventional BHA/BHT antioxidants, helping the sausages keep their color while exhibiting a low oxidation rate.

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