New tech: electron beams to zap food contaminants

Posted by Nicole Eckersley on 10th August 2010

A collaborative agreement between CSIRO and two German organisations is providing Australian food companies with access to a new processing technology which uses low-energy electron beams rather than heat or chemicals to decontaminate food.

The agreement – with the internationally respected Fraunhofer Institute for Electron Beam and Plasma Technology and service company, EVONTA-Service GmbH – aims to further scientific research into ‘low-energy electron beam processing’.

“This is an emerging technology that uses electrons to decontaminate the surfaces of foods like powders and fresh produce,” says CSIRO scientist, Dr Kai Knoerzer.

“It helps retain foods’ fresh flavour, odour and nutrients, which can be damaged by traditional heat treatment or by applying chemicals.

“As a result of this international partnership, CSIRO will lead the development and application of low-energy electron beam processing in the Australian food industry.

“Through CSIRO, industry can access this technology, which presents some very exciting opportunities. The collaboration is an important one for scientific research in Australia and we look forward to commercial outcomes for more food companies.”

The first food producer to have benefitted from the collaboration is Stahmann Farms, Australia’s largest grower, processor and exporter of pecan nuts and a major processor of macadamias.

The company’s Product Manager, Paul Deeth, said Stahmann Farms approached CSIRO for help to meet strict new food safety guidelines in Europe, the US and Asia.

“We had worked with CSIRO before and we felt they were the only people who could help us to get our product to market safer and fresher by utilising their expertise in innovative processing,” Deeth said.

The Fraunhofer Institute is part of the Fraunhofer Association, which has 59 research centres across Germany and offices in Europe, the US, Asia and the Middle East. Fraunhofer is responsible for inventions such as a virtually fat-free sausage and MP3 technology.

EVONTA-Service GmbH owns electron beam facilities and works extensively in the conventional and organic seed dressing industry in Germany and other parts of Europe.

The Queensland Department of Employment, Economic Development and Innovation assisted Stahmann Farms and CSIRO with a grant from its Smart Futures Fund to conduct the research.