Dr. Monique Lacroix of INRS-Institut Armand-Frappier in Laval, Quebec and Dr. Tony Savard of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s Food Research Development Centre (FRDC), have launched a project to evaluate the effectiveness of an alternative to blanching process to frozen vegetables, together with Bonduelle: partially drying fruits and vegetables, and then spraying and coating them with antimicrobial protection before freezing.
Currently, vegetables are blanched – treated with heat – before they are frozen. This ensures food safety and minimizes freezer burn, but also affects their taste, texture, and nutritional value.
“If we can improve the taste and texture of frozen vegetables without impacting food safety, we could possibly open additional markets,” explains Louis Falardeau, Director of Research and Development at Bonduelle North America, one of the world’s leading processors of fruits and vegetables.
According to canadianfoodinnovators.ca, the specialists are working with red peppers, onions and cranberries, which are more fragile to blanching, and have developed an edible antimicrobial coating to be applied using a simple shaker and sprayer system. Tests will be performed to determine how it can best be uniformly applied, how well it will cling to the produce, and how effective it is at keeping Listeria and other pathogens like Salmonella and E.coli, as well as spoilage microorganisms, at bay.
“The ready-to-eat market is a big one – for example, we could use frozen vegetables in fresh salads if we don’t have to heat them before serving,” adds Falardeau.
To date, Dr. Lacroix’s team has found the coating to be effective in a laboratory setting. The next step, led by Dr. Savard, will be pilot testing in a commercial setting at the Food Research Development Centre in St-Hyacinthe, followed by performance and sensory evaluation to ensure the coated fruits and vegetables also have a pleasing taste.
This innovation will provide some additional benefits, such as:
Food safety: This will improve the taste and texture of frozen fruits and vegetables without compromising food safety.
Health: Better tasting frozen produce could lead to increased consumption by consumers – the health benefits of eating fruits and vegetables as part of a balanced diet are well-known.
Markets: New market or product opportunities could result from not having to heat-treat fruits and vegetables before freezing.
This technology will open up new product development options for Canadian fruit and vegetable processors that weren’t previously possible, resulting in product with enhanced flavor and nutrition.