Non-Thermal Foods: The New Adventure

Non-Thermal Foods: The New Adventure
By Aaron Brody
Non-thermal foods are a hot topic today. A major focus of research and development teams worldwide, non-thermal processes and the packaging associated with these technologies are just now emerging from the laboratories and onto the store shelves.
“Non-thermal” is an umbrella term describing preservation processes that do not use significant temperature increases to destroy microorganisms that either cause human illness or food spoilage. Unlike thermal processing, which can deteriorate the flavor, color and texture of products, non-thermal methods do not alter the quality of foods.
Ionizing radiation
Radiation is one such non-thermal process. Food is irradiated by moving it through a field of ionizing energy consisting of electron beams, x-rays or gamma rays. Many foods can be irradiated effectively, including grains, eggs, spices, and fruits and vegetables, but irradiation has greatest application for raw foods of animal origin like ground beef.
There are complications, though. Especially at-risk is the “high-oxygen” packaging of case-ready red meat, which can generate ozone when exposed to gamma or electron beam radiation. Ozone converts fresh meat pigment to an unsightly brown. Adding to the problem is the fact that regulatory authorities have not approved new packaging materials for use in food irradiation for many years.
Mitec’s IntelliBeam technology ( might be a viable option to overcome many of the technical and regulatory challenges inherent in the process. By avoiding the direct application of radiation to the packaging, Mitec can move irradiated beef through channels with acceptable, regulated packaging. Under the brand name Corner Store, such irradiated beef is distributed chilled to convenience stores such as Kroger Kwik Shops, Handimart and in drug stores such as Walgreen’s and Osco.
Pulsed-electrical field
Another emerging non-thermal method is pulse-field pasteurization. In this process, fluid food products are subjected to a rapidly cycling electrical impulse that partially destroys microbiological membranes and, consequently, heightens food safety and shelf life. Sterile product is then transferred aseptically or by clean fill into barrier primary packaging.
Ultra high-pressure processing
Ultra high-pressure processing (UHF) is yet another non-thermal food process. The method exposes packaged foods to extremely high pressures of more than 6,000 atmospheres, a condition that disrupts many spoilage microorganisms with little increase in temperature and without changing the product.
Unfortunately, today’s commercial packaging materials are not always resistant to the process; pressure-induced blistering and delamination of multilayer plastic structures can result. On the other hand, migration or permeation and heat-seal strength do not appear to be adversely affected. The challenge to packaging is limiting its interference to the commercial progression of the technology.
In Texas, Fresherized Foods (formerly Avomex) uses the technology for its AvoClassic guacamole (the number one guacamole in the country), and also for smoothies, fruit juices and now some chilled entrees and meats. Its Menu Fresh subsidiary offers six irradiated products including precooked fajita meats and chicken steak.
These recent successes suggest that, despite the concerns about packaging and process cycle times, the technology appears to have sufficient merit to warrant optimism.
Non-thermal processes and their affiliated packaging applications are emerging from development and edging into consumer markets, offering the potential to deliver safer, higher-quality foods closer to that ever-elusive goal of “nearly fresh”.  BP
The author, Aaron L. Brody, Ph.D., is President/CEO of Packaging/Brody Inc., a consultancy in food, packaging technology and marketing. Contact Dr. Brody at 770.613.0991 or

Did you enjoy this article? Click here to subscribe to BRAND PACKAGING Magazine. 

You must login or register in order to post a comment.



Image Galleries

10th Annual Packaging That Sells Conference, Chicago, October 2012

Posted Date: October 29, 2013

BRANDPACKAGING’s packaging conference returned for a tenth year with a focus on a single message: Make It Matter.

Brand Packaging Magazine

april brandpackaging

April 2015

The April 2015 issue focuses on Sustainability plus much more. You can also read the issue at the Digital Editions.

Table Of Contents Subscribe


BRANDPACKAGING Design Gallery Volume 12

Design Gallery is a design annual with a global perspective on the best consumer packaging turned out in 2014.

More Products


facebook_40.png twitter_40px.png  youtube_40px.pnglinkedin_40px.pnggoogle plus  

Consumer Insight

Interesting tidbits on specific demographics and consumer packaged goods in expanded infographic form as well as articles on new industry research and trends.

consumer insight