Trends in food consumption are raising the importance of process purity, presenting both a challenge and an opportunity for food manufacturers.
Vertical integration from breeding or planting to final packaging is the surest route to meeting the need for purity. This is playing out with nutritional products that address human health issues like heart and brain health. Nonthermal and gentle processes can enhance nutritional value, but to deliver the full potential of grains, fruits and vegetables, processors must arrest the destructive effect of oxidation and other degradation that begins at harvest.
Bacterial growth is the issue with animal-based protein, and while food processors devote considerable time and resources to combating microbes in manufacturing, engagement should begin as early as with plant-based nutrition. Ideally, that effort commences pre-slaughter or harvest.
Aquaculture is the animal twin of organic crops. It has surpassed wild-caught seafood as a source of human nutrition, and its importance will only grow as animal-protein demand increases to feed an exploding world population.
Whether farmed or caught wild, seafood processing lags other animal protein processes in efficiency. Depending on the species, it’s estimated that 30 percent or more of a processed fish is waste, entering byproduct streams as fish meal or lower-value uses.
Skin, scales, heads and tails have nutritional value, but along with internal organs they are shunted into rendering.
Norwegians are leaders in aquaculture, and one Norwegian processor set its sights in 2002 on maximizing the value of the salmon it harvests from pens in deep fjords on the country’s western shores. After years of fits and starts, managers at Hofseth BioCare say they have solved the process integrity puzzle.
Two-thirds of the fish processed by Hofseth become high-quality salmon products, such as the frozen fillets sold under the Kirkland label at Costco. The remaining third is immediately iced and transported for further processing. An enzyme-based hydrolysis process that the firm developed segregates the off-cuts into three value streams: a soluble protein fraction, an oil fraction from insoluble protein, and a bone fraction used for nutritional supplements such as CalGo, Hofseth’s marine calcium tablets for elderly adults experiencing bone-mass loss. The final step is spray drying in Hofseth’s Berkak, Norway, facility 135 miles away.
Bacterial contamination during the process was the biggest hurdle that had to be overcome, according to Jon Olav Odegard, the firm’s chief financial officer. Specialty equipment, mostly pharmaceutical-grade, was customized for the process, and nutraceutical products began reaching the market two years ago.
Working with consistently high-quality raw materials is critical for a tightly controlled process, the firm maintains. Other firms attempting to unlock the potential of animal and plant proteins would agree.
An example is Burcon Nutrascience Corp., a Vancouver, British Columbia, company that struggled for more than a decade to produce canola protein isolates using a chemical-free extraction process. Burcon initially worked with canola meal byproducts from rapeseed processors, but their oil extraction methods ran at temperatures that deactivated enzymes and compromised the quality of the meal.
A similar conundrum confronted an Italian biological chemist who isolated the polyphenol hydroxytrosol, found in abundance in the byproducts of olive oil extraction. He procured the first production machine that separated the stone from the olive’s meat and put it to work processing olives from his own California olive grove. Extravagant health claims drew a warning letter from FDA four years ago, and the company’s website has since gone dark, but it serves as an example of the lengths nutraceutical producers go to for process purity.
Zero contamination is the lofty goal for many new food sources under development, such as DHA omega-3 from algae. Celebrated for its contribution to brain health, DHA from algal oil would find a receptive audience among aging baby boomers worried about memory loss and other neurological disorders—provided the extraction process is pure.