Danisco global business director for bioprotection Nathalie Brosse was speaking to FoodNavigator-USA.com after the Refrigerated Food Association (RFA) warned about the food safety implications of using exclusively natural preservatives in chilled food.
While some beverages and meat products still presented a challenge to firms looking to avoid synthetic preservatives, natural alternatives were increasingly matching synthetics in terms of efficiency and cost in use, claimed Brosse.
“We’re seeing double-digit growth here and all the evidence suggests we can sustain that for the immediate future. Surveys show something like 70 percent of consumers in the US want products with natural preservatives."
While retailers such as Whole Foods Market had led the trend by adding a whole raft of legal preservatives including BHA, BHT, calcium sorbate, potassium benzoate, potassium sorbate, sodium benzoate and sorbic acid on its list of 'unacceptable ingredients', many leading manufacturers were now following suit, she said.
"All of our customers are looking for natural products where possible. It has really become the mainstream now.”
But customers were not just buying natural anti-microbials to ‘clean up’ labels, she added. “Some natural mold inhibitors such as Natamax deliver a much cleaner, fresher flavor and a longer shelf-life in products such as bread and tortillas than foods using sorbate for example. You can really smell sorbate in pan bread.”
As for cost, natural protective solutions were generally more expensive per kilo, but could prove surprisingly cost competitive on a cost-in-use basis because they could often be used at very low dosages, she claimed.
“Natamax [a natural antimicrobial containing natamycin used on the surface of neutral pH products such as baked goods, cheeses and sausages to tackle mold] is a good example, you can use it in very small dosages and achieve good results.”
Meat and drink…
As for refrigerated foods, NovaGARD natural anti-microbial blends and MicroGARD fermentates (labeled as cultured dextrose) were” very efficient” at controlling pathogens from Listeria monocytogenes, E. coli O157, Salmonella and Staphylococcus in everything from deli salads to fresh soups and cooked meats, she claimed.
“There are still challenges replacing synthetic preservatives in some meats and beverages, but we have actually made a lot of progress matching the performance of benzoate [used in acidic foods such as salad dressings, carbonated drinks and fruit juices] and sorbate [which prevents the growth of mold, yeast, and fungi] with natural alternatives."
Bacterial fermentates such as nisin were highly effective against gram-positive pathogens such as listeria monocytogenes and Clostridium botulinum said Brosse, and ideal for preserving ‘delicate’ products such as liquid egg, while plant-based antioxidants such as rosemary extracts, tocopherols and green tea extracts were established alternatives to synthetics such as BHA and BHT.
“We’re also planning to launch new fermentates for dairy and culinary applications later this year.”
Meanwhile, R&D teams at Danisco were investing a lot of money into screening new fermentates, fruit extracts, plant extracts and essential oils to assess their efficacy as anti-microbials or anti-oxidants, she added.
“Marine based anti-microbial ingredients are also looking very promising, but we’re only at the preliminary stages of research in this area.”
Responding to concerns raised by RFA technical director Marty Mitchell about the limitations of natural preservatives, testing on a case-by-case basis to determine shelf-life was something manufacturers should be doing for all of their products, regardless of the source of the protection agents used, she stressed.
“Such agents have different effects in a different food matrix, with a different pH or water content. Whether you are testing synthetic or natural preservatives, you have to do challenge testing on a case-by-case basis.”
Meanwhile, preservatives of any description were not a failsafe guarantee of safety, which was also contingent upon other factors such as good temperate controls, GMPs and HACCP, she added.
Purac: Natural solution to control yeast and mold in beverages in pipeline
Rival Purac, which is also doing a roaring trade in natural protection solutions in the US, agreed with Brosse's analysis, but said it understood the RFA's concerns.
Category manager for food preservation Ivo van der Linden said: "I agree [with the RFA] that there can be a risk when retailers blacklist preservatives that have been used for years - but also expect suppliers to use lower salt, all-natural ingredients and make 'less-processed' products - but still expect the same shelf-life. All of these things can raise microbiological issues if you don't know what you are doing, and it is a concern, especially in chilled food.
"But we are working on more solutions for tackling salmonella, clostridium botulinum and E.coli in refrigerated foods."
Purac was also working on a new natural solution to control yeast and mold in beverages, he revealed: "We will be bringing this out next year."
While a lot of money was being invested in screening natural agents to assess their anti-microbial potential, it was important to consider sustainability, health and cost before taking any of them into the development phase, he stressed.