Defra recognition for ‘game-changing’ chilled food research programme

A three-year research programme to sustainably extend the shelf life of chilled foods has attracted the highest possible score, following evaluation by the government’s Advanced Food Manufacturing LINK Programme Management Committee.

The £750,000 (€932,000) Sustainable Shelf Life Extension (SUSSLE) project was partly funded by the Chilled Food Association (CFA) and brought together academics and industry to investigate the effects of heat processing on sporeforming pathogens, specifically non-proteolytic C. botulinum. The aim was to define a milder heat process than is currently recommended, ensuring a safe shelf life for prepared chilled foods whilst reducing energy usage.

While results from SUSSLE will remain confidential until April 2014, the project has now been evaluated by the Defra programme that jointly funded the work (together with CFA, BBSRC and Unilever).

In his letter to CFA, Dr David Cole, programme co-ordinator at LINK, praised the project: “SUSSLE is an extremely good example of what can be achieved in LINK through a strong and focused industry-academic collaboration. The Project Management Committee has awarded a maximum score of 10.”

To ensure highest standards and a meticulous scientific approach to the project, an international expert group was recruited to monitor the work in an international context. The group included Dr Roy Betts, head of microbiology at Campden BRI.

 “I am delighted to have been part of this exciting and innovative project,” he says. “ The expert group played a critical role by ensuring continuous rigorous scrutiny of the science. Collectively we agreed and took decisions that will no doubt impact positively on the safety of chilled prepared foods in the UK and internationally for years to come.”

Adds CFA director Kaarin Goodburn MBE: “We are delighted that SUSSLE has not only achieved its aims of identifying a milder thermal process than that currently recommended – assuring safety, enhancing quality and potentially reducing thermal processing energy usage – but has also been rated so highly by the PMC. Our research provides a sound scientific basis for the shelf life of chilled prepared foods with respect to non-proteolytic C. botulinum. SUSSLE is potentially a game-changer for the industry.”

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