The pulsed light system, developed by French firm Claranor, exposes food or packaging surfaces to bursts of white light, which have a lethal effect on micro-organisms, marketing manager Morgane Busnel told FoodManufacture.co.uk.
"Our focus to date has been on packaging disinfection [decontaminating closures on drinks and replacing unpopular chemicals such as hydrogen peroxide used for sterilisation]. But this summer we are conducting the first industrial-scale trials of the technology to decontaminate sugar syrup."
Small-scale tests had shown that pulsed light could kill bugs without impacting the sensory quality of sugar syrups such as sucrose, glucose and invert sugar, which were widely used in the production of soft drinks and dairy products, she claimed.
Its ability to attack heat-resistant spores such as Alicyclobacillus acidoterrestris as well as those commonly tackled by heat, meant it could also help firms avoid using preservatives and 'clean up' product labels.
"Most of our industrial installations involve cap sterilisation in the bottling industry for firms producing soft drinks, juices, flavoured waters and milk products,” she said.
Customers include Mineral Brunnen in Germany; NCA Rouiba in Algeria; and Nestlé Waters in Saudi Arabia, Mexico, the US, Nigeria and Uzbekhistan, she added.
“But we also have two installations for the sterilisation of yogurt pots before filling, and we have several more projects in this area in the planning stages.” In these instances, pulsed light technology replaced gamma irradiation or chemical disinfection.
Meanwhile, scientists at Campden BRI, who have used equipment on loan from Claranor, have been trialling the technology on a range of foods from salmon to bread as well as on surfaces and closures.
“Trials are running on food products such as fruits, bakery products and spices at Campden and other research centres in Europe.”
Tests run by Campden suggested that pulsed light could increase the shelf-life of hard cheeses by five to seven days without affecting its organoleptic properties.
There had been questions over whether products treated with pulsed light should be subject to the Novel Food Regulation, she said.
“We have already had assurances that it [the Regulation] is not applicable to bakery products treated with pulsed light as the technology doesn’t cause significant modifications of the product.”
However, firms wishing to launch foods in other categories would have to conduct biochemical studies into the effects of pulsed light on the products in question on a category-by-category basis in order to satisfy regulators that they too should not be subject to the Novel Food Regulation, she cautioned.