Food processing has always been deeply correlated with us whether it is done at home or industrial scale. Food processing, by definition, is the act of transforming agricultural products into directly edible foods.
When talking about food processing, it is commonly associated with heat. At home, this means boiling, steaming, frying, or other heating methods. Industrially, this means blanching, pasteurization, sterilization, and other thermal processing.
These processes are efficient and vital in destroying unwanted microorganisms that might harm our health.
Unfortunately, this processing also contributes to unwanted changes in food matrixes, such as flavor, color, vitamins and protein. Besides, the intensifying consumers’ demands on minimally processed safe food also pushed the need for alternative technology in food processing.
Thermal processing is also not doable for fresh fruits and vegetables, raw meat and raw seafood.
To tackle these obstacles, food processing without the utilization of heat is of popular demand.
Pulsed light (PL) is a versatile emerging technology that comprises short light pulses with high intensity to kill unwanted microorganisms in food.
As of currently, PL has a huge potential to increase food quality by destroying harmful microorganisms such as Listeria monocytogenes (a microorganism found in Enoki Mushroom imported from Korea back in 2020).
This technology allows rapid disinfection and is effective in killing microorganisms. PL technology has been approved by U.S Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for food processing since 1996 (21CFR179.41).
FDA recommends PL technology to be employed to targets with a pulse duration of less than 2 milliseconds and pulse frequency of 1-20 pulses per second.
However, this novel technology is not yet regulated by the National Agency for Drug and Food Control (BPOM).
PL technology involves applying intense light in the form of short pulses to the desired target. These targets include food contact surfaces, solid food and liquid food to destroy the microorganisms contained therein.
The lethal effects of this technology credited to its broad-spectrum UV content with a short duration of pulses.
The light pulses produced in this technology are short but acquire a high intensity and are estimated to be up to 20,000 times the intensity of sunlight at sea level.
Even though PL technology is still scarcely utilized in food industries, they serve various benefits including significant reduction of microorganisms, low environmental impact, no residual compounds, possesses a low operational cost, and produces a low amount of waste.
Regardless of these benefits, PL technology also possesses drawbacks that might hinder food industries from applying this technology.
Various physical properties including opacity, viscosity, and turbidity can affect the effectiveness of PL technology. In addition, a high investment cost and lamps that do not endure for a long time also contribute to the drawbacks of this technology.
Pulsed light technology has been adopted by industries in the U.S, EU countries and China.
The next question to this article would then be, “is it applicable to the industries in Indonesia?”
It all depends back on the perspective of each of the food industries. Would they see this technology as troublesome or an opportunity for better and safer food?
The writer is a graduate student from IPB Master of Food Technology and a researcher at Emmerich Research Center