How is UV light being used in food processing technology?
Adrienne Lay, United Kingdom
UV light in food industry is used for disinfection, e.g. water or air. But irradiation of food with high-energy, ionising radiation is a used physical treatment of food. It can be used to prolong the shelf life of food products and/or to reduce health hazards associated with certain products due to the presence of pathogenic microorganisms.
The treatment may be applied for different purposes, such as:
- Prevention of germination and sprouting of potatoes, onions and garlic
- Disinfestation by killing or sterilising insects, which infest grains, dried fruit, vegetables or nuts.
- Retardation of ripening and ageing of fruit and vegetables.
- Prolongation of the shelf life and prevention of food-borne diseases by reducing the number of viable microorganisms in meat, poultry and seafood.
- Reduction of microorganisms in spices and herbs
In practice, the use of this technique is rather limited although it is authorised in many countries.
Regulations for the use of the irradiation process in the EU are not harmonised. The member states still discuss, which foodstuffs should be allowed to be treated by ionising radiation. The member states are working on a strategy, which is proposed for drawing up a positive list. Food irradiation may only be authorised if there is a reasonable technological need, it presents no health hazard and is carried out under the conditions proposed, it is of benefit to the consumer, it is not used as a substitute for hygiene and health practices or for good manufacturing or agricultural practice.
Until now food irradiation in the EU is only authorised for herbs and spices. But national authorisations of Member States, which allow the irradiation of certain foods, can be maintained until the completed positive list enters into force. Irradiation is allowed in France (e.g. shrimps), Belgium (e.g. frog legs), Netherlands (e.g. poultry), Italy (e.g. potatoes), and Great Britain (e.g. onions).