Raman Spectroscopy: Improving the Food Production Process

In this interview, News-Medical Life Sciences talks to Karen Esmonde-White from Kaiser Optical Systems, Inc. and Ola Wesstrom from Endress+Hauser about their analysis solutions for improving food production.

What provoked your interest in the food and beverage manufacturing processes?

Karen: I have a background in pharmaceutical and biomedical research. In each of those fields, I helped to develop new Raman spectroscopy applications. As I move more into food applications, my experiences in pharmaceutical and biomedical fields have allowed me to make connections between these seemingly disparate fields which is something I enjoy tremendously.

One example of making that connection was using the principles and practices originally developed in biomedical optics to set up a theoretical and experimental framework for my salmon measurements.

Ola: I had come into the food and beverage industry with formal education in instrumentation and automation and experience in product management. Within food and beverage, I found my passion to be helping companies to improve food quality and safety. The concepts of sustainability and resource conservation have become more important all over the world and integrating these concepts into new plants or retrofitting older plants has been very rewarding both to the customer and to me personally.

What are some of the common challenges in food production?

Ola and Karen: Addressing a growing population and evolving consumer preferences has many challenges including maintaining consistent quality, reducing costs, and operating within an ever-changing regulatory environment. These challenges have necessitated the food industry to adopt more scientific approaches to growing, processing, and distributing food.

Consumers see examples of this adoption from new food and beverage products, fresher produce available year-round, packaging that preserves quality without preservatives, and more products with tailored nutritional profiles. Another challenge for food producers is globalization, which can be seen in more competition on a global scale as well as a global supply chain which may impact product quality.

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Why is there a strong need for more measurements in the food development process?

Ola and Karen: The food industry is a dynamic market with many different segments, ranging from raw ingredient processing to finished consumer products for retail or restaurant sale. We can all recognize the importance of protecting the brand by ensuring food safety and product quality, it only takes one real or perceived event to cause significant damage to the company or brand image.

To stay competitive, food production companies continuously develop new products and recipes. This creates a lot of challenges for those of us working to achieve ever-increasing goals for profitability and higher production throughput. This needs to be done in an environment where it's getting increasingly difficult to find and retain qualified people.

Food manufacturers are increasingly adopting new strategies in manufacturing that will improve efficiency, assure quality in real-time, and enable the manufacture of high-value products. Automation and process analytical technologies are proven approaches to address these challenges in this competitive industry.

Can you give an overview of Process Analytical Technologies (PAT) and their use within the food industry to improve product quality?

Karen and Ola: First introduced to the pharmaceutical industry in 2004 by the US FDA, PAT is a framework for designing, analyzing and controlling manufacturing through timely measurements as well as regulatory support to accommodate that innovation. This provides the benefit of improved process understanding, predictability, and control to ensure product quality.

All these aspects are especially important in science-driven processes, regardless if they are in the chemical, life sciences, or food industry. We are excited to see these principles adopted more widely in food!

We have seen how PAT involves everyone from the regulatory agencies to quality laboratories to industrial producers to academic research. This ecosystem involving regulatory agencies, industry, and academia can help to bring even the most scientifically complex products to customers faster.

What are some of the benefits of implementing PAT into the food industry?

Ola and Karen: Over the years, I have been able to engage with many in the food industry to better understand what impact instrumentation can have outside of the traditional applications. My approach is to help companies build their analysis toolbox, rather than adopt a one-size-fits-all offering, and help them understand how and where they can supplement laboratory measurement with inline measurements. In many examples, I see the benefits of alleviating bottlenecks or reducing operating costs.

As we continue to become a global economy, food manufacturers are using raw materials from all around the world. Cost savings, real-time product quality assurance, improved process robustness, and process efficiencies can be realized by adopting a PAT-based manufacturing approach. This approach ensures product quality for a wider range of raw material profiles, gives real-time understanding without needing to collect samples, and provides the ability to make process changes in real-time. These benefits are simply not feasible in a traditional process based on manual process controls.

In most cases, lab sampling involves extracting a sample from the process, bringing it to the lab, making the evaluation and then deciding on an action. And, let’s not forget about the paperwork too! The product is often held waiting for the lab results. This process results in slower productivity and, at times, it might even have an impact on the quality if product settles or changes its properties in other ways.

Let’s look in more detail at the operational time of just taking samples for a laboratory measurement and consider a typical example of taking a sample once an hour during a 10-hour production run. The sample collection takes 10 minutes. Cumulatively, this adds up to 600 hours of year per year of labor cost.

If this is a critical parameter, then spending the time to collect a sample for a laboratory measurement absolutely is worthwhile. But if the measurement can be done automatically, perhaps it should be looked at so that this resource could be allocated for other critical work.

Image Credit:  Lysis Praxis / Shutterstock.com

In the food production process, there are many quality parameters that are important. Can you describe some of these typical quality parameters, their challenges and how PAT will help to optimize this parameter?

Ola and Karen: The important quality parameters certainly depends on the food, but the most important parameter in all cases is food safety. To that end, pH is a common control point for safety but also taste and consistency. If you have used a pH meter in a chemistry lab, you will remember using a glass electrode, and the challenges of moving that measurement into a food processing plant become apparent.

Now think about what it would take to measure the pH of mayonnaise or ketchup! The sensor and inlet materials, as well as the pH range and measurement precision, needs to be tailored for food contact. Our approach of a non-glass Isfet electrode and enamel sensor means a fast response, high precision, and resistance to moisture and corrosion.

Density and viscosity are other quality parameters that report on product quality which can be measured inline. Think about the rheometers or densitometers from the lab. Similar to the laboratory pH sensor, lab measurements for viscosity or density are meant for measuring small volumes and may use glass in the measurement device.

Now imagine making frying batter in a 20-foot tank, and you need to know the viscosity because that is the parameter that indicates when to stop mixing the flour, water, and additives! Using a lab-based viscosity measurement is quite challenging because the batter is quite viscous and gluten networks continue to form after mixing so holding the batch while waiting on a lab measurement may result in an overly viscous batter.

Inline viscosity saved about 20 minutes per batch and helped automate the transfer of the batter to the coating line. I have many more examples in brewing, ice cream, brine, and edible oil, but the examples I just mentioned provide a nice introduction to the value of inline quality measurements.

What is Raman spectroscopy and how is it currently utilized within the food industry?

Karen and Ola: Raman spectroscopy is an optical spectroscopy technique based on inelastically scattered light. Raman spectra provides a “molecular fingerprint” of the sample, delivering highly specific information about the chemical composition and molecular structure without sample preparation.

Raman spectroscopy provides highly specific and non-destructive chemical analysis that can identify components, quantify components, and monitor changes over time. Raman can measure solids, liquids, or gases for inline, online, or offline measurements.

I am enthusiastic about the current uses of batch endpoint monitoring, meat quality, and process control. And, I am excited to see it adopted into other applications such as food adulteration and “new foods”.

You recently presented Kaiser Raman spectroscopy for plant-based food products. How did you carry out this research and what did you discover?

Karen and Ola: This presentation showed a lot of the foundational work in biological molecules and process control which can be applied to making plant-based proteins or cell-based meat products.

From my previous research in pharmaceutical unit operations of blending, coating, drying (as well as my work in proteins and biopolymers), I knew that there was a strong foundation in Raman spectroscopy that will help improve understanding of these “new foods”. That improved understanding can be leveraged to monitor and control processes that are used to make them.

What are the benefits of using Raman spectroscopy for industrial bioprocesses compared to other analytical instruments available?

Karen and Ola: Raman spectroscopy provides the specificity that allows multiple components to be measured in real-time, inline, with a single probe. The around-the-clock measurements have enabled advanced control strategies, which just weren’t possible with offline measurements. The Raman-based approach has been proven to improve yield, reduce out-of-spec batches, and ensure process consistency.

Do you believe that if all companies migrated to a smart manufacturing process, the quality control of food and beverages would increase significantly?

Ola and Karen: The migration to smart manufacturing is happening right now. Digitalization and automation benefit all levels of plant operations, from the field device level to the global resource planning level. I have seen the improvements to plant operations when the principles of Industry 4.0 are used, from reduced manual calibration checks to smart assets that know when they are not functioning as specified and provide an alert to the plant manager.

What are the next steps in your research into the food production process?

Karen: I am excited to educate the food industry about Raman spectroscopy and the role of PAT to ensure product quality. My years of experience in Raman spectroscopy allows me to help food scientists harness the powerful information to make discoveries, improve the way their product is made, and ultimately bring healthy and high-quality foods to people all around the world.

As Kaiser becomes more integrated into Endress+Hauser, I am particularly looking forward to helping drive a new age in food production.

Where can readers find more information?



About Dr. Karen Esmonde-White

Karen Esmonde-White is a Food & Beverage Product Manager at Kaiser Optical Systems Inc. She completed my Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering at the University of Michigan in 2009 in Prof. Michael Morris’s laboratory, and she have a M.Eng. in Pharmaceutical Engineering and a M.S. and B.S. in Chemistry. Karen is also an active volunteer for the Federation for Analytical Chemistry and Spectroscopy Societies (FACSS), SciX conference, Society for Applied Spectroscopy and the Coblentz Society, and serves as an ad hoc reviewer for spectroscopy, clinical, and biomedical optics journals. Since 2014, she has been the Biomedical Program Chair for the SciX conference and was the Program Chair for the 2018 SciX Conference. She is currently the FACSS/SciX Marketing Chair.

About Ola Wesstrom

Ola Wesstrom is since 2001 the Senior Industry Manager for Food & Beverage at Endress+Hauser USA. His goals are to continually find ways to help food & Beverage industry to develop new ways to improve quality, food safety and implementing resource conservation initiatives through best practice and innovative application of instrumentation and control. Prior to the current position, Ola held various product management positions for level, pressure and flow at Endress+Hauser USA and Singapore. Prior joining Endress+Hauser, Ola worked at BASI Instruments in Sweden/Singapore as application and manufacturing engineer.

Ola Wesstrom has an education in Instrumentation and Automation from National Pulp and Paper College in Sweden.  


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