A large processor of frozen and canned vegetables in Canada is looking to add a new tool to its roster of processes to ensure safety of its food products. Bonduelle North America, one of the world’s leading processors of fruits and vegetables, is exploring how to best apply pulsed light technology during a final stage of processing as an additional step to ensure its frozen vegetables are listeria-free.
Listeria is a leading cause of foodborne illness and a priority pathogen in the processed frozen
“Food safety is always important and with pathogens always present and around the corner, we need to continually be developing new tools,” explains R&D Director Louis Falardeau. “Our goal is an additional hurdle for any potential pathogens before going to market. Even though the potential for contamination is already very limited at this point, this is an extra tool in addition to those we are already using.”
Pulsed light is not a new technology, but it has not previously been used for this purpose. This led Bonduelle to team up with food technology center Cintech Agroalimentaire. The goal is to determine how well the process would work on listeria and how to best optimize and scale the technology for a food processing environment.
Researchers are working to find different ways of applying the pulsed light so that it reaches all areas of the vegetables – it’s a non-penetrating light, which means it only kills pathogens on exposed surfaces – in only a short amount of time as they pass through the processing line.
The project is experimenting with different exposure times and energy levels using various application processes to find the optimal set-up for peas, corn, green beans and sliced carrots.
By the end of the project, Bonduelle expects to have confirmation that the technology is working and be ready to do a larger scale pilot. This includes knowing key information like what size of machine would fit into existing processing lines, how the light should be set up, and how treatment must be applied to be most effective.
“The listeria risk is already very low at the end of processing, but only one positive test means product is rejected – so we want to avoid any potential for crosscontamination,” says Falardeau. “This technology will reduce the need for a complex sample testing protocol that could be required for some markets – it’s expensive and time-consuming and ultimately, is still just based on samples.”
The technology is also applicable to other pathogens beyond listeria.
Why is this innovation important?
FOOD SAFETY: Pulsed light would be an extra endstep in processing frozen vegetables that eliminates potential residual traces of listeria if it is present on the food.
HEALTH: Preventing Listeria-associated illness reduces health care costs and economic losses.
MARKET ACCESS: This use of this technology will ease access to more demanding markets and could reduce the need for costly, time-consuming testing that some customers may require as assurance that frozen vegetables are listeria-free.
FOOD WASTE: By using new technology to improve food safety, there is also potential to reduce rejected product which ultimately ends up in land fills.
The French family-run Bonduelle Group is one of the largest global fruit and vegetable processors with markets in over 100 countries and more than 50 processing facilities worldwide. Bonduelle’s Canadian presence includes offices in Quebec and Ontario, and four processing plants in Quebec, three in Ontario, and one in Alberta, where they make products for national and private label brands.
About the project team
Dr. Louis Sasseville is R&D Project Manager with Cintech Agroalimentaire in St-Hyacinthe, Quebec. He is a graduate of the Université de Montréal, with a PhD in biophysics and molecular physiology, an MSc in physics and biophysics and a BSc in physics.
Louis Falardeau is the R&D Director at Bonduelle Americas, where he is responsible for the frozen and canned vegetables innovation and product development activities in North America. He is a graduate of Université Laval in food science and technology.