16th March 2023 Product update: Nimisha Suraj
Project Aims to Predict the Risks of Microbial Contamination in Plant-based Foods
A collaborative effort between public and private sector stakeholders with the aim of conducting research into potential causes of microbial contamination, food safety risks, and quality risks in plant-based food products has been announced.
Research and development giant NIZO Food Research is the coordinator for this multi-year project, with other collaborators in the research space including Wageningen University and Research and the HAS Green Academy; In the food and beverage space, project collaborators include Ripple Foods, The Coca-Cola Company, SPX FLOW, Tetra Pak, Bel, Arla Foods, Yili, HP Hood LLC, Friesland Campina, and Cosun.
The project aims to conduct in-depth research into the types of microbial contaminants and toxins which could potentially be found in over 80 different types of plant-based food products – the data collected could then be used to create predictive models for microbial contamination, verification of risk identification and even to define strategies for long-term prevention of microbial spoilage and safety issues.
“Safe food is critical for public health, but we also need to minimize product recalls to prevent downgrading or destruction of valuable foods. New developments in food production and the protein transition raise fresh and unknown challenges that can hamper these objectives. We are delighted to see the level of support and commitment of private and public organizations to tackling this issue together, which will have a positive impact on future innovations of plant-based foods worldwide,” says Dr. Robyn Eijlander, Project Manager and Microbiology expert at NIZO.
With plant-based food products rapidly becoming part of the food and beverage landscape, it is of paramount importance that these healthy plant-based alternatives are safe, of high quality, and reliable as well. Due to the fact that most plant-based products are created using ingredients that have not been as thoroughly studied as their animal-based counterparts, there exists a knowledge gap in regard to the microbial and chemical contamination risks these little-known ingredients might carry. Risks range from heat-resistant spore-forming bacteria to virus contamination.
Changes caused due to processing, harvesting, and even sourcing could potentially lead to contamination risks for the final product, which is where in-depth research and trials need to be conducted to alleviate this information gap. Such information could, in the long run, also help in the construction and design of manufacturing facilities, formulation, and even storage conditions of plant-based products.
A recent incident of food recalls of a plant-based food product is the recall of Simply Plant-Based Infant Formula by the FDA in February 2023, which was recalled due to potential contamination due to Cronobacter sakazakii; this case has raised alarm, particularly due the fact that the affected population was of a highly vulnerable sector, i.e., infants, and the contamination by Cronobacter, an organism that is seldom associated with cases of food contamination – alarmingly, Cronobacter is known to cause meningitis, sepsis, irritability and even jaundice in infants and adults. Such cases of recall push home the fact that in-depth research has to be conducted in order to close information gaps in regard to plant-based products, as doing so otherwise could mean potentially life-threatening consequences in the long run.
The multi-year project spearheaded by NIZO Food Research has received financial funding from the organization Topsector Agri & Food.
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Date Published: 16th March 2023
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