Changing consumer habits featured at food processors conference

Richard Bogren  |  2/27/2017 4:13:50 PM

(02/27/17) BATON ROUGE, La. – As consumers abandon frozen foods for fresh foods, the food distribution chain is changing, said Larry Bell, CEO of Sustainably Fresh Systems in Pacific Grove, California.

Speaking at the 2017 Louisiana Food Processors Conference, Bell explained how packaging from his company uses an ultra-low oxygen and high carbon dioxide atmosphere to extend freshness and marketability of fresh foods, particularly meat and seafood.

The two-day conference was sponsored by the LSU AgCenter School of Nutrition and Food Sciences, Louisiana Sea Grant, the Gulf Coast section of the Institute of Food Technologists and the Louisiana Food Processors Association.

The system at Bell’s company prevents oxidation of fats and maintains color of the products, he said. But the system must be monitored continuously.

“You have to chill — and chill well — every piece you use with this technology,” he said.

On the other end of the spectrum, experts are working to improve the quality and efficacy of shelf-stable foods.

Processors have various choices for selecting antimicrobial packaging, said Claire Sand with Packaging Technology and Research, a packaging design company.

Packaging is considered a food additive, and must meet several health and safety requirements, Sand said.

New packaging concepts include degradation sensors that can measure product quality and be an improved indicator of shelf life. And new water vapor barrier technology helps prevent freezer burn in packaged meals.

The concept of improving shelf-stable products is becoming more important in an age when more consumers are less likely to cook at home and prefer being able to open one package to produce a complete meal, said Louise Wicker, director of the LSU AgCenter School of Nutrition and Food sciences.

“It’s important the food industry meets the needs of consumers in the areas of taste, cost, convenience and health,” Wicker said. “Shelf-stable foods are necessary for low-income consumers and anyone who is interested in easier, healthier cooking at home.”

On the health side of food processing, the focus is on preventing foodborne illnesses rather than responding to events, said AgCenter food safety specialist Achyut Adhikari.

“One in six U.S. citizens suffers foodborne illness each year, and 3,000 die,” Adhikari said in a presentation about meeting the requirements of the federal Food Safety Modernization Act.

The main idea is to prevent contamination from the farm to the table, he said. Producers and processors must have at least one person trained in prevention control to meet the emerging standards.

“Imports must meet the same level of public health requirements,” Adhikari said.

Gabby Sanchez Brambila, a descriptive panel manager with Sensory Spectrum in Kannapolis, North Carolina, talked about using sensory analysis in product development and food processing.

Sensory measures add value to a product, and consumer panels can help find ways to change products to meet consumer preferences, Brambila said.

Flavor pairings “match food ingredients to make the product taste better,” she said. “Foods that share similar compounds taste better when they are together.”

Brambila said Louisiana food processors have to be aware that products that sell well in the state may not meet with similar success in other parts of the country.

“When we talk about flavor pairing, we talk about how you were raised. So you have to think about where you are selling your product,” she said. “The consumer wants what he likes.”

The AgCenter sensory analysis laboratory is available for local companies to test their products with consumers, said AgCenter food scientist Witoon Prinyawiwatkul.

A good survey can lead to predicting purchase decisions. “People can tell the difference in various food formulations,” Prinyawiwatkul said.

Greg Jacob, vice president and general manager of Allpax in Covington, Louisiana, presented information on the Shaka technology, a process for cooking foods in their packages. Pureed foods, thick sauces, pasta combinations and seafood such as shrimp are examples of shelf-stable products that can be processed, he said.

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Ben Mitchell, assistant executive director of the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board, explains the difference in how seafood must be labeled if it comes from Louisiana waters or other Gulf Coast states during the Louisiana Food Processors Conference on Feb. 16. Photo by Rick Bogren/LSU AgCenter

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Louise Wicker, director of the LSU AgCenter School of Nutrition and Food Sciences, addresses the audience at the Louisiana Food Processors Conference on Feb. 16. Photo by Rick Bogren/LSU AgCenter

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