Today's food markets are calling for fresher and minimally processed products. The EUREKA project E! 1975 EUROAGRI GREENTEC, coordinated by Portugal's CAMPOTEC and with partners in Portugal and Spain, is working to improve the conservation of consumer friendly vegetables. New technologies, including edible film wraps, and new methods for processing under modified atmospheres are being applied in combination with more traditional preservation techniques to improve the quality of ready-to-use products.
Fresher, healthier and less processed food products are now at the top of the list in worldwide consumer markets. Many preservation processes still largely depend on effective packaging, including canning and wrapping, as well as aseptic and 'sous vide' processing. In the fresh vegetable sector, where perishability is a major limiting factor, innovative food packaging plays a crucial role in extending shelf life while maintaining a low level of pre-sale manipulation.
Partners in the In EUROAGRI GREENTEC project are working to find ways to improve the way we conserve consumer friendly vegetables. José Burnay at EUROAGRI GREENTEC coordinator CAMPOTEC explains. "We are looking at edible wrappings, combined with new techniques for processing under modified atmospheres. The goal is reduced browning and extended shelf life for mixed pre-cut vegetables."
"We are looking at edible wrappings, combined with new techniques for processing under modified atmospheres. The goal is reduced browning and extended shelf life for mixed pre-cut vegetables."
The first step, says Burnay, was to select the appropriate vegetable types. These included varieties of onions, carrots, potatoes, turnips, cabbage and lettuce. Other crucial factors included storage stability, rheological; chemical; microbiological and aesthetic parameters. The project is also addressing new quality standards for storage and logistics systems for minimally processed cut vegetables.
Burnay says EUROAGRI GREENTEC partners are targeting industrial-scale production. "We have evaluated the evolution of selected products in co-operation with the Instituto Suprior de Agronomia and the Instituto Nacional Investigação Agrária, as well as with the Instituto del Frio and the Cryovac company, a world leader in packaging materials and systems for preserving perishable foods."
Nowadays, packaging plays an increasingly important role in the whole food chain, from the farmer's field to the consumer's table. Food packaging technologies have developed strongly during recent decades, mainly due to increased demands on product safety, shelf life extension, cost-efficiency, environmental issues, and consumer convenience.
The packaging sector as a whole now represents an important global industry, accounting for about 2% of the gross national product of the developed countries. Turnover is about €345 million worldwide, of which Europe makes up about a third and of which 50% is down to packaging of food. Today's forecasts suggest the sector will only continue to grow in size and importance.
"This project has allowed us to build up a new line of minimally processed pre-cut vegetables," says Burnay. "With our 'Prontíssimos' brand, we are now launching new operations and tackling new markets for our company." Beginning in 2002, he says, CAMPOTEC turnover from pre-cut vegetables was €500 000. By 2006, that figure had risen to €3.25 million. "For next year we are targeting 20% growth," says Burnay. "We are now moving on to processing fruit and will launch a new product this year, sliced fresh apples, packed in small polybags for kids."
Burnay says EUROAGRI GREENTEC has been an important step forward in the consolidation of his company's longer term strategy, aimed at providing improved food quality and safety and promoting healthier products and eating habits among consumers.
"CAMPOTEC made the right move in deciding to work with EUREKA. The knowledge exchange between project partners has been tremendous, bringing real benefits to everyone involved."
"CAMPOTEC made the right move in deciding to work with EUREKA," Burnay says. "The knowledge exchange between project partners has been tremendous, bringing real benefits to everyone involved."
EUROAGRI GREENTEC partners now intend to pursue their investigations and hope to participate in further innovation projects in conjunction with the Portuguese EUREKA office. "We are already discussing the possibility of finding new partners to co-operate with us," say Burnay. "We are all aware that co-operation and innovation are now the only way to go forward, to make a difference to consumers and to survive in business in a more a more competitive world."