Shoppers may be demanding cleaner food labels, but they will also not allow compromise on taste, flavour or the overall eating experience. And as the market’s perception of a new product can greatly affect a brand’s reputation, it’s vital for companies to identify and develop solutions for quality pain points within the product development pipeline.
It’s not only important that each short-listed ingredient performs correctly, but also that each element that goes into the mix is ‘clean’ in terms of contaminants. To meet both these goals, today’s food labs and processors need powerful yet streamlined analytical technologies that they can use to screen and monitor ingredients for quality as well as for heavy metals, pesticides and mycotoxins.
Mark Macbeath, food safety product leader, and Wes Shadow, global market manager for PerkinElmer examine a few best practices and approaches to keep in mind.
Consistent contaminant screening
Grains in bakery and snack foods provide a healthy and functional ingredient to develop novel formulations, as well as being clean label-friendly, so it’s critical to ensure they are safe.
Mycotoxins, for example, bring risks to both consumer health and confidence and present a particular concern as they can infect grain crops both before and after harvest. To limit the levels of toxic residues, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has set action levels of 20 parts per billion (ppb) for mycotoxins in several foods, with EU regulation limits reaching 2ppb.
However, consistently monitoring these contaminants at such low levels can be difficult without proper training and instrumentation.
To make first-pass testing easier at the grain elevator to the lab bench and for small-scale labs, many in the industry are utilising rapid lateral flow testing strips given their intuitive methodology and reliability.
The cost-effective lateral flow strip tests require little user training and the simplicity of the design contributes to the speed of testing, making them the ideal solution for ingredient intake monitoring. This helps processors ensure they are sourcing quality ingredients from trusted suppliers or determine where further testing needs to be done.
For larger processors and contract labs, looking to screen a higher number of samples while also reducing the analytical cost per sample, end-to-end automated ELISA workflows provide high-throughput solutions for economical and accurate screening down to 1 ppb in grains.
For instances where confirmatory analysis is required, advanced LC/MS/MS technologies provide a sensitive tool to screen multiple mycotoxins simultaneously at high parts per trillion (ppt) concentrations.
Clean label without compromises
When trying to create clean label products, manufacturers will typically look to reduce the overall number of ingredients in the product and remove any ingredients that could be perceived by consumers to be artificial. But it’s not as simple as swapping an artificial ingredient for a ‘natural’ ingredient, as all constituents serve a function within a product. This can make moving towards cleaner labels a time-consuming and complex process for processors of all sizes.
Using innovative rheology-based quality analysis technologies can help solve this issue. Across the industry, these technologies are quickly becoming the go-to tools for food development due to their ability to quickly provide food scientists with insights into ingredient selection strategies and process optimization.
Devices, such as performance analysers, for example, are used to observe the changes in viscosity in response to temperature, shear, and time. These solutions provide the ideal vehicle to evaluate flours, bake mixes, and new formulations. Moreover, specialized dough rheometers provide higher torque ranges, meaning they can be applied for dry and crumbly doughs such as pastry, cracker, noodle, pasta, and even masa corn flour-based doughs.
Additionally, ingredients in product formulations go through many storing, cooking and packaging processes, which can also affect their performance. Processors within the food market can also harness high-temperature performance analysers which allow pasting and viscosity analysis of ingredients at temperatures beyond the boiling point of water. This can help developers gather information on the magnitude and the specific effect of high temperature conditions on the functionality and rheology of different ingredients at various stages of processing.
Using these types of methods, processors can ensure that any formulation changes won’t adversely alter the functionality of the product. This way, bakery and snack processors can move towards Clean Label more easily while continuing to offer high-quality and tasty foods.
Food for thought
For food manufacturers, the main challenge the clean label trend presents is adapting their products alongside evolving consumer demands. There’s a real need to satisfy an ever-diverse range of diets, trends and lifestyle choices while assuring consumers that ingredients are simple, recognizable, safe and high performing.
Partnering with solutions providers that bring the right formulation expertise and technology can help ensure that ingredient narrowing and new recipe formulation is effective and efficient.
Besides, as these trends establish themselves as key drivers of consumer demand and behaviour, regulations will only continue to evolve and tighten. For processors looking to get ahead of the industry, efficient and accurate screening and monitoring technologies that are designed with compliance in mind will also help to assure high-quality, safer and ‘clean’ products.