Clean Label Approaches to Food Safety Karen Nachay | November 2017, Volume 71, No.11


Deli meatsEnsuring that food is safe and remains fresh or stable throughout its targeted shelf life is an ongoing challenge in the food industry. There are myriad ingredients that battle bad bacteria that grow on meat products, prevent mold growth on bread, or reduce the risk of off-flavors developing in cheese. Though these ingredients are deemed safe and effective by regulatory agencies, some do not meet the so-called clean label demands that a segment of consumers have placed on food manufacturers.

“A key consumer trend in the food industry continues to be clean and clear label,” says Gary Augustine, executive director of market development at Kalsec. And specifically, 2017 Kalsec research shows that consumers’ top clean label concern is the removal of artificial ingredients, says Augustine. He adds that this includes preservatives such as TBHQ, BHA, BHT, and EDTA.

Kemin Food Technologies, another producer of food safety/preservation ingredients, is also addressing this trend with new additions like rosemary- and vinegar-based ingredients to its portfolio. “There is a definite shift happening towards clean label and ‘free from’ food and beverage,” says Courtney Schwartz, senior marketing communications manager at Kemin. “This can encourage food manufacturers to remove certain shelf-life ingredients or leave manufacturers searching for effective replacements. Reformulation of any matrix can greatly impact the safety and quality of the food by changing things such as pH, water activity, salt/sodium content—leaving your brand at risk. It is important that all ingredients are properly tested to ensure efficacy in the final matrix.”

With this clean and clear label movement comes an increased demand for ingredients that are domestically sourced, organic, or not genetically modified. “As consumers become more aware of the processing and manufacturing of their foods, more scrutiny will be placed, and the demand for increased transparency will grow,” remarks Schwartz.

Ingredient manufacturers are expanding their repertoire of food safety and preservation solutions to move beyond synthetic ingredients and explore clean label options—everything from herbs and spices to specially designed cultures.

Naturally Derived Antimicrobials
The emphasis on clean label, clear label, fresh, less processed, and the like means that food manufacturers and grocery stores are offering more foods and beverages that meet these qualities and satisfy the needs of many consumers. But the demand for these types of foods has had implications for food safety. “Rising consumer demand for food that is natural, minimally processed, fresher, and healthier means that microbial meat spoilage has reemerged as an issue on the food industry’s innovation agenda,” explains Catherine Bayard, food preservation category manager at Naturex. “This is principally because the traditional approaches to preventing pathogenic bacteria from outgrowth, such as stringent processing conditions and the use of artificial preservatives, are no longer compatible with the clean label trend. Chemical antimicrobial agents remain the predominant form of preservation but consumers view these with suspicion and are increasingly seeking out healthier products with labels that are cleaner, clearer, and easier to understand.”

Oxidation and bacterial contamination cause meat spoilage. Oxidation causes changes in the color and flavor of the meat product, and while it does not present a health risk to consumers, it can affect their perception of the quality of the product and their enjoyment of it, says Bayard. Microbial contamination, on the other hand, does pose a serious health threat to consumers, and Bayard calls it “one of the chief safety concerns in the meat industry.”

“Among the major bacterial risks in meat products, the pathogens Listeria and Salmonella top the list,” she continues. “While contamination is quite rare, the consequences for those affected can be devastating.”

RosemarySynthetic antimicrobials are effective and widely used to keep meat products safe, but the drive to more naturally derived ingredients has shifted the emphasis to plant-based ones, which have been used for quite some time. “Over the centuries, distinct natural preservation techniques have been developed, including those based on spices and essential oils, many of which prevented spoilage but also affected the taste of the product,” says Bayard. To solve the issues with taste, Naturex conducted an antimicrobial research program that involved analyzing more than 200 extracts from different parts of edible plants to determine their antimicrobial activity against several different microbial species, explains Bayard. The results showed that an extract from rosemary was one of the most effective, exhibiting efficacy over a broad spectrum of microorganisms, including Gram-positive and Gram-negative ones, and yeasts, she says. “Naturex’s teams of experts in plant science and applications have access to hundreds of plant extracts thanks to a strong purchasing network. The performance of these plants against microorganisms were evaluated and the best candidates were chosen to characterize the effective active compounds. The process also determined the best plant associations, according to their mode of action on bacteria cells.” Bayard adds that the research led to the development of two naturally derived and taste-free antimicrobial ingredients for the prevention of spoilage in meat products.

The two new ingredients,Cleanatis M1 and Cleanatis M2, are synergistic blends of plant extracts that prevent the growth of Listeria and Salmonella in the meat matrix without affecting the organoleptic properties of the end product, says Bayard. Cleanatis M1, a combination of two plant extracts (rosemary and citrus), helps inhibit Listeria (greater than 1.5 log at day 9 in ground beef challenge tests, according to Bayard). The other antimicrobial, Cleanatis M2, is a blend of rosemary, acerola, and buffered vinegar. Tests showed that the ingredient reduced Salmonella growth (2 log) in fresh ground meat samples and did not affect the color or flavor of the meat. “Both test results demonstrate that with Cleanatis M1 and M2, Naturex has succeeded in reconciling naturalness, transparency, and effective shelf-life management to create natural antimicrobials for meat products that do not impair flavor or appearance and enable clean labeling,” Bayard summarizes.