In this edition of #ShealthyPeople, we talk with our Project Scientific & Technical Coordinator, Mrs. Elena Torrieri. Elena is Associate Professor in Food Science and Technology at the Department of Agricultural Science of the University of Naples Federico II.

How will SHEALTHY project be able to meet consumers’ needs, expectations and demands?

Consumers have been engaged since the beginning of the project by focus groups, in-depth interviews and through online surveys to assess their perceptions about the safety, cost, and risk/benefits associated with mild processing technologies.

In this context, a first deliverable has been submitted that summarizes the main findings from activities undertaken within the SHEALTHY project aimed at investigating European consumers’ perception and expectations towards mildly processed fruits and vegetables (hereinafter, F&V). Additionally, consumers’ use of package information and household storage and waste of F&V has also been studied in order to estimate the possible contribution of mild processing to reducing household food waste.

Results already obtained are expected to provide guidelines to the successful introduction of mildly processed F&V products, which could hopefully contribute to an increased consumption of high-quality F&V.

Could you explain the characteristics of the non-thermal technologies in an easy language and what are the benefits of using these non-thermal technologies in fresh F&V?

Non-thermal processing technologies are technologies that do not use heating as the main means to inactivate microorganisms and enzymes in food products. Therefore, non-thermal processes have minimal effects on the colour, aroma, taste and nutritional value of food products, while ensuring high standards of food safety and conforming consumers’ demands of ‘minimally processed food’.

Dealing with the benefits of using this kind on technologies in F&V, the main advantage is that the nutritional components of food are better retained, and the sensory properties of foods are less changed compared to traditional thermal processing technologies.

What are the main challenges that you faced when assessing and optimizing available mild technologies and deciding the best combination for each pilot case? 

Foods are complex systems, thus, to optimize available mild technologies, it is important to understand the effect of these technologies on several aspects of the product quality, spanning from the safety point of view to the sensory properties of the product. Consequently, a multidisciplinary approach is important to assure that the final product will have the desired properties.

What is the future of processing fruits and vegetables?

F&V must be minimally processed to respond to the consumers’ needs and demands of eating as fresh products as possible, but with a level of processing enough that let consumers eat the required quantity of F&V considering their  current lifestyle and habits.

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Elena Torrieri, UNINA