French Government/Industry Partnership Targets Ultraclean Food Processing
BY Lisa A. Coleman
Paris, France–The food industry and the French government have initiated a broad new research program to design an ultraclean factory, develop new materials, manufacturing processes, ultraclean conveying and several other contamination-free food-processing methods.
The partnership of French manufacturers, the Ministries of Agriculture and Research and other government agencies, “UNIR” (Ultrapropre, Nutrition, Industrie, Recherche), will study new and better ways to manufacture uniform food products from variable raw materials and how to avoid food contamination. According to UNIR project technical coordinator Pierre Feillet of the French agricultural research institute INRA (Montpeillier, France), his country`s food industry is concerned with “those good organisms that give flavor, aroma, and texture; improve health; and are easy to use; while eliminating the bad organisms which make us ill.”
UNIR includes 24 research programs ranging from rapid methods of microbiological detection to contamination-free conveying; microbial ecology to air and product purification; and workroom cleansing and packaging systems. Nine firms–Bongrain, Cedilac, Fleury Michon, Heudebert, Pernot-Ricard, Socopa, Soparind Fromarsac, Soprat, and Vandamme–are working together with several French research agencies: INRA, Centre National du Machinisme Agricole, du Genie Rural, des Eaux et des Forets (CEMAGREF), the Centre National d`Etudes Veterinaires et Alimentaires/Etudes et Recherches pout l`Alimentation Collective (CNEVA-ERPAC), the Institut Pasteur and others.
UNIR is organized into three research levels: core research with a budget of about $9 million (FF45 million); partnerships with a budget of $9.5 million (FF47 million); as well as specific projects for a handful of manufacturers. Some of the UNIR programs receive financial aid from the French Ministry of Research. These programs target such areas as the design of an ultra-clean factory, air purification, microorganism sensors, surface cleaning, fouling sensors, slicing, drying methods, cold system monitoring, meat process engineering, a rapid method of microbiological detection, predictive microbiology, and validation systems for pilot production lines.
Because UNIR`s core research will define the design of the ultra-clean factory–workrooms partitioned into zones and hygiene levels ranging from ambient conditions to total asepsis–ultraclean equipment design and plants that limit fouling and facilitate cleaning and maintenance will also be a program goal.
The partnerships will also work on decontamination and package sealing, which involves continuous-process sterilization of packaging material and equipment surfaces, in addition to continuous monitoring of packaging seals–something which is not possible today. The ultra-clean conveying program will define conveyor design methods which do not bring contamination to the production line.
In addition, UNIR will study and research ultraclean air systems to identify new ways of purifying air and monitoring levels of microbial contamination. Surface cleaning research will explore fast methods of fouling control and the detection and characterization of microorganisms, especially pathogens.
Other UNIR programs are designed to develop new materials and a greater understanding of the manufacturing process. These programs include ultraclean depanning of bread, ham, etc.; contamination-free slicing; aseptic packaging of solids and liquids in controlled atmospheres; aseptic unpackaging of materials for second-stage processing; sterilization of viscous and pastry products; high-pressure sterilization of solid ingredients, predictive microbiology and modeling the growth of microorganisms in food and cold chain sensors for frozen foods. Also being studied are ultra-clean slaughtering and deboning processes, sterilization of solids, and new methods of fruit cleansing that will not hurt the fruit.n
Editor`s Note: For more information on UNIR, please contact the French Technology Press Office in Chicago, IL (312) 222-1235, fax (312) 222-1237.