Inside I.F.T. '11

by Jeff Gelski
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A difficult disappearing act

Industry at I.F.T. seeks ways to reduce sodium

NEW ORLEANS — Culinary creations, sensory studies and ingredient innovations all may provide answers in sodium reduction, judging by exposition booths and scientific sessions at the Institute of Food Technologists’ annual meeting and food exposition. Despite all the knowledge unveiled June 12-14 in New Orleans, reducing the use of sodium and salt remains a top industry challenge.

“Salt is magic,” said Leslie J. Stein, senior research associate at the Monell Center, Philadelphia. “It’s like this ‘uber’ seasoning.”

Salt enhances other flavors, suppresses bitterness and brings out sweetness, said Janice Johnson, applications technical service leader for Cargill, Minneapolis. It also offers functional benefits and microbial management, she said.

“It does everything,” Dr. Stein said.

The food and beverage industry still has reason to reduce its use of sodium. While Americans on average consume nearly 3,400 mg of sodium per day, the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends a reduction to less than 2,300 mg per day. A further reduction to 1,500 mg per day should be sought for people 51 and older and those of any age who are African American or have hypertension, diabetes or chronic kidney disease.

For culinary creations, chefs are obsessed about working with salt, said Chris Loss, director of menu research and development for the Culinary Institute of America, during a June 13 session.

Chefs seek to find what time is best to season dishes in the cooking process, which may allow for sodium reduction, he said. Chefs have discovered seasoning mashed potatoes both internally and on the surface may achieve a 40% sodium reduction. After reducing salt, chefs may use fruits and vegetables, both high in potassium, to enhance flavors, Dr. Loss said.

The “ma la” flavor principle, which involves a numbing sensation combined with heat, is another way to enhance flavors when reducing sodium, Dr. Loss said. A chili pepper provides the heat, and chefs also may use a Sichuan flavor called a huajiao.

Chefs like to say their flavoring efforts distract the palate from the fact there is less sodium, Dr. Loss said.

Flavors to provide distraction were part of complete sodium reduction systems in products at the Spicetec Flavors and Seasonings booth. An Alfredo sauce with 30% less sodium featured a cheesy note as a flavor enhancer. Potato chips with 20% less sodium featured a garden vegetable seasoning blend.

Sensory studies are taking place at Monell. Researchers have discovered one taste receptor that recognizes sweet and umami taste, Dr. Stein said, while other taste receptors recognize bitter taste. Studying taste receptors may lead to the development of sodium enhancers, but researchers probably will not be able to develop a pure salt substitute, Dr. Stein said at a June 14 session.

Besides sensory challenges, taking salt out of products potentially may lead to food safety problems, Cargill’s Dr. Johnson said at the June 13 session. To avoid microbial issues, companies may make alterations, such as in water activity or atmosphere, she said.

Companies should know where sodium is in their products, Dr. Johnson said. In meat, sodium may be found in preservatives or emulsifiers. In baked foods, leavening agents may be an opportunity for sodium reduction.

“Where can you pluck from?” Dr. Johnson said. “Where can you pull from?”

At the June 14 I.F.T. session, Beth Roche, global director, sensory and product guidance, for The Campbell Soup Co., Camden, N.J., said her company has found different products require different solutions for reducing sodium. For example, reducing sodium in bread requires a different approach than reducing sodium in a pasta sauce or a vegetable juice.

Campbell is studying whether consumers may become acclimated to reduced sodium soups over time, Ms. Roche said. Campbell already has noticed its product developers become acclimated to low sodium soups. When the developers go back and try the full sodium soups, they may find them too salty, Ms. Roche said.

Campbell through home-use testing now seeks to find if the same situation holds true for consumers, who are eating soups and evaluating them multiple times over a specific time period. The consumers do not know they actually are eating the same soup every time, Ms. Roche said. Campbell thus may find if the consumers’ liking of the soup may increase over time.

The Campbell study is in line with an April 2010 report from the Institute of Medicine that said reduction in the sodium content of foods should be carried out gradually and monitored carefully.

New tools to assist in sodium reduction were found on the I.F.T. exposition floor.

Cargill introduced FlakeSelect, a portfolio of products designed to reduce sodium in snacks, baked foods and processed foods. The portfolio also allows for reformulation with sea salt. FlakeSelect uses Cargill’s patent-pending compacting technology to combine salt and other ingredients. The compacting process applies pressure to the ingredients to create an agglomerated, or clustered, thin flake with beneficial properties, including uniform consistency, low bulk density, high solubility and a large surface area.

FlakeSelect is available in the four varieties of KCl (potassium chloride), KCl/salt, KCl/sea salt and sea salt. Each of the four varieties is available in specific cuts, including extra coarse, coarse, fine flake and flour.

ICL Performance Products LP, St. Louis, introduced Salona, a sea salt derived from the Dead Sea that allows for a 25% to 50% replacement of sodium chloride, according to the company (see Page 64).

Morton Salt, Chicago, has expanded its sodium reduction efforts by distributing KaliSel, a brand of potassium chloride, in North America. K+S Kali GmbH, Kassel, Germany, produces KaliSel. It may be used as a replacement for salt as a taste enhancer, processing agent, stabilizer, gelling agent or preservative, according to Morton Salt.

Innovation honored by the I.F.T.

NEW ORLEANS — The E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Co., Ecolab Inc., Loders Croklaan North America and the Summit Resource Group all earned 2011 I.F.T. Food Expo Innovation Awards during the Institute of Food Technologists annual meeting and expo June 12-14 in New Orleans.

A panel of nine jurors representing industry and academia with expertise in research and product

development, processing and packaging technology, and food safety selected the four companies from a pool of 53 qualified entries. Only companies exhibiting at the 2011 I.F.T. Food Expo were eligible for the competition. Judging criteria included degree of innovation, technical advancement, benefits to food manufacturers and consumers and scientific merit.

DuPont’s Teijin Films was honored for its Mylar Cook Ovenable Pouch, which provides a “no-touch” cooking solution for frozen or refrigerated raw proteins. The patented rollstock thermoforming film may be cooked in conventional, convection, or microwave ovens at temperatures up to 425° F. The packaging reduces cooking time by up to 30%, saving energy use in home, restaurant, or institutional kitchens, according to the company.

Ecolab was honored for its Zero Trans Fat Oil Cleaning Program, which interacts with the zero-trans-fat oil soils by breaking down the polymerized soil residues and then emulsifying the oil. The technology works at ambient temperature, reducing energy costs associated with heating hot water. It also is designed to cling to vertical surfaces and stay wet on the surfaces long enough to clean hard-to-reach areas, such as catwalks, fryer hood vents, walls and ceilings.

Loders Croklaan North America’s SansTrans VLS30 and VLS40 shortenings, which may reduce saturated fat content and calories in bakery and snack foods, garnered the company an innovation honor. Both shortenings contain a fat-sparing emulsifier package that allows a reduction in use of up to 15% fat in applications that currently use an all-purpose shortening. Saturated fat is reduced up to 30% and fat content plus calories from fat is reduced by 15%. The products’ modest fat reduction does not alter the taste and texture of finished products.

Summit Resource Group earned an award for its NC-518 Calcium for Bone Health. The ingredient is produced through a patented manufacturing technology to enhance the availability of trace minerals and zinc in the calcium. A patented laser micronization process electrostatically enhances the zinc delivery system, thus allowing the calcium to absorb in the bloodstream and support bone health. Human clinical studies have demonstrated increased bone density.

“Now in its fifth year, the Food Expo Innovation Awards are a showcase for the ongoing ingenuity in our profession and, in some cases, the results of collaborative work among, industry, academia, and government,” said John Ruff, I.F.T. president-elect, during the awards ceremony.

Mintel: Functional foods ‘on life support’

NEW ORLEANS — Functional foods are not necessarily dead or alive but may be more accurately described as “being on life support,” Mintel analyst David Jago said at the Institute of Food Technologist meeting on June 14.

Mr. Jago and colleague Lynn Dornblaser said the value of the U.S. functional foods market is at $15.4 billion, which represents 30% value growth from 2004-09. But Mr. Jago said along with the recession, growth in functional foods slowed, consumers were less likely to experiment with these products due to the cost, and consumers bought fewer high-priced products less frequently.

Overall, the Mintel analysts said consumers don’t really believe functional products are either effective or ineffective, and only one in five consumers see a benefit from the products. In addition, 68% of U.S. consumers believe functional beverages should be tested by the F.D.A. to make sure they actually do what they claim.

Ms. Dornblaser said in the future there will be more activity in the functional foods market with relaxation and beauty from within products as well as products for senior citizens. She said it’s best to keep communication clear, and the best-selling functional products are successful due to a combination with other aspects such as taste, convenience, familiarity and everyday application and not necessarily the functional claim and benefit alone.

Allergen labeling guidance needed

NEW ORLEANS — A panel of speakers at the Institute of Food Technologists annual meeting and food expo agreed there is a need for regulatory guidance regarding the labeling of allergens on food and beverage products. Specifically, threshold levels need to be considered rather than the zero tolerance approach that is in effect today.

Under current Food and Drug Administration requirements, even trace amounts of a possible allergen in a product are enough to warrant a warning label that says it contains the substance. Researchers have found that in many cases, though, the levels are so miniscule that very few, if any, people would have a reaction to it, even if they have the allergy.

“The public health sector has not established a regular threshold, so there is a de facto zero threshold,” said Benjamin Remington, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Nebraska’s Food Allergy Research and Resource Program. “With no guidance, there’s overuse of precautionary labeling.”

Mr. Remington presented data on 450 peanut-allergic individuals in which the lowest dose observed to cause a mild reaction — 0.4 mg of whole peanut — affected four people in the group. None reacted at 0.1 mg of whole peanut, he said.

Mr. Remington and others on the panel agreed that establishing a minimum limit for labeling would eliminate the confusion and inconsistency in current food warning labels. Consumers would know that a product with an allergy warning has enough of the substance to potentially cause a reaction, rather than having to decipher language such as “may contain.” Thresholds also would decrease the number of food recalls linked to possible exposure to trace amounts of a known allergen.

Brent Kobielush, manager of toxicology for General Mills, Inc., said many consumers avoid purchasing products that contain or may contain an allergen, even if it affects only one person in a family. Overuse of allergy labeling means their limited choices may be further restricted unnecessarily.

Steve Gendel, food allergen coordinator for the F.D.A., said there is a government working group gathering data on allergen risks to determine if minimum amounts for labeling should be established. In the meantime, however, he stressed that full avoidance is the only way to prevent a reaction.

Creating a definition of sustainable nutrition

NEW ORLEANS — The complexity of developing a sustainable food production model that preserves resources but also nourishes consumers was discussed during the Institute of Food Technologists annual meeting and food expo. Feeding an estimated 9 billion people by the year 2050 will require a sustainable food system that makes the most of limited resources while protecting the world’s fragile ecosystem, according to the session’s speakers.

“What we do in the next 10 years will set the stage for the next 50 years,” said Andrew Henderson, professor and area director, Center for Agriculture and Rural Sustainability at the University of Arkansas.

Among the challenges to a sustainable world food system include limited land availability, soil health, water scarcity, an uncertain supply and dependence on energy, climate change and greenhouse gas emissions.

“We are going to have to produce 50% to 100% more fuel, food and fiber from the same land over the next 50 years,” Dr. Henderson said. “We need to do this while preserving the world’s biodiversity. If not, our very system of being will be endangered.”

Jennifer Wilkins, a professor with the division of nutritional sciences at Cornell University, said “a whole diet approach” to sustainability looks at how much land is required to produce food based on different dietary scenarios. Communities, she said, consider their “foodprint” — the amount of land required to support one person on a specific diet in a specific geographic region for one year. Local food systems, said Ms. Wilkins, are more economically viable, requiring less transportation and energy.

She added that a sustainable food system considers which foods are essential, which foods are luxuries, and how food is transported, processed and packaged. A sustainable food system limits waste.

“The key is balancing nutrition and environmental costs,” said Adam Drewnowski, a researcher at the University of Washington Center for Obesity Research. “Energy dense foods ... are often more cost effective, but not efficient.”

German E. coli outbreak may lead to changes

NEW ORLEANS — New regulations, improved surveillance and disease prevention strategies, particularly pertaining to produce, likely will emerge in the European Union and throughout the world following the recent E. coli outbreak in Germany, Patrick Wall, the former chair of the European Food Safety Authority, said at a press briefing during the Institute of Food Technologists annual meeting and food expo.

More than 3,000 people have become ill and 37 people have died, to date, following a rare E. coli outbreak that originated from German-grown bean sprouts.

“Once you have an outbreak like this it exposes weakness,” Dr. Wall said. “There’s not time to fix them when an event is happening, and no one wants to give you resources when nothing is happening.”

Dr. Wall is currently an associate professor at University College Dublin’s School of Public Health and was the first chief executive of the Irish Food Safety Authority.

He said there are usually six potential causes of food-borne illness outbreaks: contaminated ingredients, inadequate storage and refrigeration, insufficient cooking, cross contamination from raw products to cooked products, inadequate hygiene facilities for staff, and poorly trained and supervised staff.

When a disease outbreak does occur, virus confirmation typically takes four or five days. During the recent German outbreak, confirming the source took more than two weeks, fanning speculation and fear that resulted in the boycott and destruction of some produce in Europe.

Officials currently don’t know the root cause of the outbreak, Dr. Wall said. He emphasized changes will need to be made in Germany and throughout the world following the outbreak.

Pathogens, or disease-causing agents, may come into contact with produce, or they may actually be grown into fruits and vegetables through tainted water or soil.

“People think if you wash vegetables your produce is safe,” Dr. Wall said. “But if they are grown in contaminated water, you can’t wash off (the disease).”

The issue is further complicated by today’s food globalization. While produce, meat and dairy may come from a local farm, the livestock may have received vitamins or medication from one part of the world, and the fertilizer used to grow crops from another.

“The journey from farm to fork is not a straight line,” Dr. Wall said. “When you eat a meal you are eating off a global plate. We need consistent science throughout the world that is compatible with commerce.”

Robert Gravani, president of the Institute of Food Technologists, who joined Dr. Wall at the news conference, said “the best strategies are prevention strategies” for ensuring safety of the food supply, especially produce.

“It’s very important that farmers have a food safety plan in place,” said Dr. Gravani, who is also a professor of food science and the director of the National Good Agricultural Practices Program at Cornell University. He said a farm-based food safety plan includes regulations that ensure clean irrigation water, manure and compost heated to pathogen-destroying temperatures, and ensuring livestock is kept separate from crops and harvested food.

Most large retailers in the United States require their produce suppliers to have farm-food safety plans in place, Dr. Gravani said. In addition, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration plans to issue new produce safety guidelines later this year.

Chronic inflammation: The next opportunity?

NEW ORLEANS — Addressing the complications caused by chronic inflammation associated with high blood pressure, heart disease and cancer, and the possible alleviation of the condition through the development of food and beverage products that target the condition were explored in an education session during the Institute of Food Technologists annual meeting and food expo. The bottom line of the session was there is an opportunity in this health and wellness category, but more consumer research as well as scientific research needs to be done.

“If I spoke to you about what consumers understand about chronic inflammation, this would be a very short presentation,” said Barbara Katz, president of the market research firm HealthFocus International.

Ms. Katz said while consumers may not know much about chronic inflammation and its effects, they do understand, and many are dealing with, the causes, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and heart disease. The challenge facing any businesses considering developing applications for this market is HealthFocus has found most consumers, regardless of what their actual health state may be, believe they lead a healthy or very healthy lifestyle and they may not see a reason to buy a product that alleviates a condition they do not believe they have.

Guy Johnson, of Johnson Nutrition Solutions, L.L.C., said there is so much science accumulating around the issue of chronic inflammation that the development of products to alleviate the condition is inevitable.

Foods that have anti-inflammatory properties include fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes. Britt Burton-Freeman, a researcher with the Institute of Food Safety and Health, said a low-fat diet featuring foods with anti-inflammatory properties will reduce inflammation in people who develop chronic illnesses such as heart disease or cancer.

Extracting the anti-inflammatory properties and incorporating them into processed food and beverage applications is a work in progress, said Mario Ferruzzi, a researcher with Purdue University. He said maintaining stability and bioavailability through the manufacturing and consumer preparation processes may prove challenging. More work needs to be done, he said, to assess the best ways to ensure consistent delivery of the phytochemicals that have anti-inflammatory properties.

ConAgra Mills unveils food safety system for flour

NEW ORLEANS — ConAgra Mills launched the SafeGuard Treatment & Delivery System for ready-to-eat flour at the Institute of Food Technologists’ annual meeting and food expo on June 12-14 in New Orleans. The integrated production and distribution process preserves gluten functionality and taste while mitigating microbiological risk associated with raw flour.

“Food safety is something you have to attack head on,” said Bill Stoufer, president of Omaha-based ConAgra Mills. “It’s not going away.”

While most flour-based products undergo a validated kill step at the point of production, such as baking or cooking, certain products rely on the consumer to perform that step. Thus, consumers may consume flour-containing foods, including cookie dough and frozen pizza, when they are raw or undercooked, which may be unsafe.

The SafeGuard system integrates milling, processing, post-treatment handling and delivery to extend ready-to-eat flour safety assurance from ConAgra Mills’ plants to customers’ plants, according to ConAgra Mills. In the delivery step, tanker washing and sanitation systems are validated and verified. ConAgra Mills has a new fleet of flour tankers that have fewer hatches, aerators, penetrators and hoppers to reduce potential microbiological hot spots.

According to a ConAgra Mills’ study that included 1,032 consumers in August 2010, 14% of consumers said they would never buy a retail brand if that brand underwent a recall, 30% said they would never buy a retail brand again if they believed it caused food poisoning, and 53% said they would never return to a restaurant if they contracted food poisoning there.

In the SafeGuard system, pathogen reduction may be customized based on specific product requirements. The pathogen treatment maintains absorption, starch quality, gluten vitality and enzyme activity.

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