The demand for natural food products with a high degree of freshness is continuously growing. At the same time, distribution networks are becoming more and more extensive meaning that ever higher requirements are being put on the quality and shelf life of food products.
The identification of product-specific spoiling processes provides the basis for customized measures to prolong the shelf life of foods. We analyze foods for quality changes depending on storage conditions using standard methods for characterization of their physicochemical properties. By carrying out chemical, physical, microbiological, and sensory analyses and mathematical modeling we determine the shelf life of foods.
We also evaluate quality changes and shelf life for cosmetic products and pet food, which is particularly important when the formulation or packaging is changed. From the results, we derive measures for shelf life extension as required.
The shelf life of a food depends on a variety of factors such as the food composition, degree of processing, the packaging, and storage conditions. Storage tests under relevant practical conditions provide us with key information and enable us to quantify and evaluate the shelf life. We perform chemical, physical, microbiological, and sensory analyses to record changes to key quality parameters. We also determine the factors (formulation, packaging, storage conditions) which affect product-specific spoiling processes.
Dynamic changes to product quality under different storage conditions are simulated using mathematical models. This simulation utilizes a comprehensive database of analytical results. Using selected key data this enables rapid shelf life prognosis and enables the potential effects of new product compositions and packaging to be determined.
When developing customized concepts for prolonged shelf life we take into account the product-specific properties. Depending on the objective we evaluate the effectiveness of functional ingredients and preservation processes and optimize packaging concepts. We consider all the processing steps, starting with the recipe and ending with storage.
Key aspects of our research on prolonging the shelf life for foods include the evaluation of physical methods for the non-thermal surface sterilization of foods (e.g. cold gas plasma, novel UV sources), the use of antimicrobial plant extracts (e.g. hops) as an alternative to conventional preservatives, and the use of active packaging (e.g. packaging containing oxygen scavengers). In addition to evaluating the effectiveness of these technological strategies we also consider their effect on the product quality in order to identify the optimal process parameters.
The quality determination of food is of central importance in both production and storage. With increasing digitization, new possibilities are available for this. In order to be able to exploit this potential optimally, powerful and fast measurement methods are required.
In order to measure product quality along the value-creation chain, the Fraunhofer IVV scientists are developing rapid methods based on gas measurement technology as well as optical methods (e.g. IR spectroscopy, image analysis). The aim is to record the quality of a food product in a simple measurement process by using low-cost sensor systems. In combination with data analytical techniques, statements can be made regarding quality, safety and authenticity. This is intended to supplement existing quality assurance and contribute to the reduction of food losses.