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Title:
PROCESS FOR PREPARING PREPARED FRESH PRODUCE, PROCESSING LINE FOR PREPARING PREPARED FRESH PRODUCE AND PREPARED FRESH PRODUCE
Document Type and Number:
WIPO Patent Application WO/2017/046574
Kind Code:
A1
Abstract:
A method of preparing prepared fresh produce comprising a processing step comprises a least one of peeling, slicing and chunking; a surface treatment step to the prepared fresh produce, a step of rapid cooling the prepared fresh produce and a step of packaging the prepared fresh produce. All steps from said processing step to prepare the fresh produce to said process of packaging are carried out in a temperature controlled environment in which the temperature is below 5°C. Also envisaged are a processing line adapted to carry out the process and the fresh produce prepared.

Inventors:
READ, Lea (37 Farnborough Avenue, Bilton Court, Rugby Northamptonshire CV22 7EL, CV22 7EL, GB)
TURNER, Reverand Anthony (2 Megstone Avenue, Cramlington Northumberland NE23 6TU, NE23 6TU, GB)
Application Number:
GB2016/052812
Publication Date:
March 23, 2017
Filing Date:
September 12, 2016
Export Citation:
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Assignee:
ORCHARD HOUSE FOODS LIMITED (Bell House, Fleming RoadEarlstrees Industrial Estate, Corby Northamptonshire NN17 4SW, NN17 4SW, GB)
International Classes:
A23L3/01; A23B4/00; A23B4/01; A23B4/09; A23B7/00; A23B7/01; A23B7/055; A23B7/148; A23L3/28; A23L3/34; A23L3/3418; A23L3/375; A23L19/00; A23N7/00; B65B25/04
Domestic Patent References:
2011-01-27
Foreign References:
US5616354A1997-04-01
GB2258993A1993-03-03
Other References:
B. RAMOS ET AL: "Fresh fruits and vegetables-An overview on applied methodologies to improve its quality and safety", INNOVATIVE FOOD SCIENCE AND EMERGING TECHNOLOGIES, vol. 20, 16 July 2013 (2013-07-16), NL, pages 1 - 15, XP055321880, ISSN: 1466-8564, DOI: 10.1016/j.ifset.2013.07.002
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
J A KEMP (14 South Square, Gray's InnLondon Greater London, WC1R 5JJ, WC1R 5JJ, GB)
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Claims:
CLAIMS

1. A method of preparing prepared fresh produce, comprising the steps of:

a processing step in which unprepared fresh produce is prepared for consumption applying a surface treatment to the prepared fresh produce;

performing a rapid cooling process to the prepared fresh produce; and

packaging the prepared fresh produce;

wherein said processing step comprises a least one of peeling, slicing and chunking;

the processing step to prepare the fresh produce is performed before at least one of the steps of applying a surface treatment and performing the rapid cooling process; and from said processing step to prepare the fresh produce to said process of packaging, the fresh produce remains in a temperature controlled environment in which the temperature is below 5°C.

2. A method of preparing prepared fresh produce according to claim 1, wherein said surface treatment comprises a decontamination method or comprises at least one of dipping the prepared produce in a treatment liquid, spraying the prepared produce with a treatment liquid and exposing the prepared produce to microwave or UV radiation.

3. A method of preparing prepared fresh produce according to claim 1, wherein said surface treatment comprises a decontamination method and comprises at least one of dipping the prepared produce in a treatment liquid, spraying the prepared produce with a treatment liquid and exposing the prepared produce to microwave or UV radiation.

4. A method of preparing prepared fresh produce according to claim 2 or 3, wherein the surface treatment conditions are selected for the type of fresh produce being prepared.

5. A method of preparing prepared fresh produce according to any one of claims 1 to 4, wherein said rapid cooling process comprises at least one of blast cooling, forced air cooling, impingement chilling, cryogenic cooling and liquid cooling. 6. A method of preparing prepared fresh produce according to any one of the preceding claims, wherein the rapid cooling process is configured to reduce the

temperature of the prepared fresh produce to a predetermined temperature in a

predetermined time. 7. A method of preparing prepared fresh produce according to claim 5 or 6, wherein at least one of the choice of rapid cooling process used, the predetermined temperature to be achieved in the rapid cooling process and the predetermined time in which the rapid cooling process is to be completed is selected for the type of fresh produce being prepared. 8. A method of preparing prepared fresh produce according to any one of the preceding claims, wherein the step of applying a surface treatment to the prepared fresh produce is performed before the rapid cooling process.

9. A method of preparing prepared fresh produce according to any one of the proceeding claims, wherein the time from said processing step to prepare the fresh produce to said process of packaging is not for more than 1 hour for packs containing a single type of prepared fresh produce and not more than 4 hours for packs containing a plurality of types of prepared fresh produce. 10. A method of preparing prepared fresh produce according to any one of the preceding claims, wherein the method is performed in a processing facility; and,

from the time when the fresh produce enters the processing facility to the time when the prepared fresh produce leaves the processing facility, it remains in a temperature controlled environment in which the temperature is below 5°C.

11. A method of preparing prepared fresh produce according to any one of the preceding claims, wherein the fresh produce is fresh fruit.

12. A method of preparing prepared fresh produce comprising at least two different types of prepared fresh produce, wherein at least one of the types of prepared fresh produce is prepared according to the method of any one of the preceding claims.

13. A method of preparing prepared fresh produce substantially as hereinbefore described with reference to the accompanying drawings.

14. Prepared fresh produce prepared according to the method of any one of the preceding claims.

15. A processing line in a processing facility, configured to perform the method of any one of claims 1 to 13.

16. A processing line configured to prepare prepared fresh produce comprising:

a processing station in which unprepared fresh produced is prepared for

consumption;

a treatment station configured to apply a surface treatment to the prepared fresh produce;

a rapid cooling station; and

a packaging station configured to package the prepared fresh produce,

wherein the processing station includes at least one of a peeling unit and a slicing and/or chunking unit;

wherein the processing line is configured such that the fresh produce passes through the processing station to prepare the fresh produce before it passes to the surface treatment station or the rapid cooling station; and

wherein the specified processing stations are arranged within a temperature controlled environment in which the temperature is below 5°C.

17. A processing line according to claim 16, wherein the surface treatment station is configured to perform a decontamination treatment or comprises at least one of a dip tank for dipping the prepared produce in a treatment liquid, a spraying unit configured to spray the prepared produce with a treatment liquid and a unit configured to expose the prepared produce to microwave or UV radiation.

18. A processing line according to claim 16, wherein the surface treatment station is configured to perform a decontamination treatment and comprises at least one of a dip tank for dipping the prepared produce in a treatment liquid, a spraying unit configured to spray the prepared produce with a treatment liquid and a unit configured to expose the prepared produce to microwave or UV radiation.

19. A processing line according to any one of claims 16 to 18, wherein the rapid cooling station comprises at least one of a blast cooling unit, a forced air cooling unit, an impingement chilling unit, a cryogenic cooling unit and a liquid cooling unit.

20. A processing line according to any one of claims 16 to 19, wherein the processing line is configured such that the prepared fresh produce passes through the surface treatment station before passing through the rapid cooling station.

21. A processing line according to any one of claims 16 to 20, wherein the processing line is configured to be a continuous processing line such that, between the start of the first processing step and the completion of the final processing step, the fresh produce is not transferred to a dedicated storage space.

22. A processing line configured to prepare prepared fresh produce substantially as hereinbefore described with reference to the accompanying drawings.

Description:
Process for Preparing Prepared Fresh Produce, Processing Line for Preparing Prepared Fresh Produce and Prepared Fresh Produce

The present invention relates to the preparation of prepared fresh produce. As is understood in the industry, prepared fresh produce refers to produce that may have been chilled in order to extend its shelf life but has not been frozen or otherwise preserved, for example by canning. It may encompass produce such as fruit, salad items, vegetables and/or a combination of these. It is further understood by the industry to refer to fresh produce that has been prepared for consumption with no further treatment. Depending upon the produce, this may require the produce to have been washed, peeled and/or sliced and/or chunked, namely cut into bite-size, ready to eat pieces.

In relation to prepared fresh produce, there may be a limit to the shelf life of the product, namely how long it may be stored after preparation before consumption.

Increasing the product shelf life for prepared fresh produce may reduce the wastage of prepared fresh produce and/or make easier the arrangement of a distribution network for prepared fresh produce to the shops in which it is sold. It is therefore desirable to increase the product shelf life of prepared fresh produce.

The product shelf life of prepared fresh produce may be affected by

microbiological activities. For example, under some circumstances, time limits may be set in order to ensure food safety, for example based on possible risk of contamination from listeria or Clostridium. Alternatively or additionally, for some prepared fresh produce a limit may be set as a result of yeast and/or bacterial activity resulting in spoilage.

For many types of prepared fresh produce, the product shelf life may be determined by organoleptics. For example, wounding from peeling or slicing or chunking may increase respiration and ethylene production, membrane degradation, cellular disruption and/or accumulation of secondary metabolites. These, and increases in rates of biochemical reactions in general, may be responsible for changes in quality characteristics such as texture, colours and flavour. Previously, a variety of techniques have been considered in attempts to improve the product shelf life of prepared fresh produce. These have included dipping the produce in a treatment liquid such as citric acid or ascorbic acid or storing the produce in a chilled room. These industry standard approaches are conducive to freshness, but it is desirable to increase shelf life beyond that achieved with the known methods.

According to the present invention, there is provided a method of preparing prepared fresh produce comprising the steps of applying a surface treatment to the prepared fresh produce and performing a rapid cooling process to the prepared fresh produce.

It has been found that the use of a rapid cooling process rather than chilling gradually and, in particular, the combination with the use of a surface treatment, significantly improves the product shelf life in comparison to known techniques.

It should be understood that a rapid cooling process is distinct from placing the produce in a chilled room such that the produce will gradually cool to the temperature of the chilled storage space. In general, a rapid cooling process may be configured to proactively reduce the temperature of the prepared fresh produce to a predetermined temperature within a predetermined time. This may, for example, entail the use of a cooling medium that is at a temperature below, possibly substantially below, the desired final temperature of the produce in order to reduce the temperature of the produce rapidly.

The rapid cooling process may include one of blast cooling, forced air cooling, impingement chilling, cryogenic cooling and liquid cooling. Other rapid cooling techniques may also be used.

The rapid cooling process, the temperature to which the produce is to be cooled and/or the time taken to obtain the desired temperature of the produce may be selected according to the produce. In particular, some produce may be more sensitive to damage that may be caused during rapid cooling under certain conditions and/or the product shelf life may be optimised for particular produce depending on the rapid cooling conditions.

The surface treatment may comprise at least one of dipping the prepared produce in a treatment liquid, spraying the prepared produce with a treatment liquid and exposing the prepared produce to microwave or UV radiation. These surface treatments may be configured to decontaminate the prepared produce and/or be used for other purposes. Other decontamination techniques may be used. As with the rapid cooling, the type of surface treatment and/or the particular conditions, for example the duration of dipping within a treatment liquid, may be selected and optimised for each produce being treated. More generally, it should be appreciated that particular combinations of surface treatment conditions and rapid cooling conditions may be beneficial for each kind of produce.

The process of applying a surface treatment to the prepared fresh produce may be performed before the rapid cooling process. This may avoid possible warming of the produce from its chilled state if the surface treatment is applied after the rapid cooling.

The preparation of the prepared fresh produce may also include a processing step in which the prepared fresh produce is prepared for consumption, for example including at least one of decontamination such as washing, peeling, slicing and chunking the produce and/or a packaging step in which the prepared fresh produce is packaged for sale.

The processing step to prepare the fresh produce may be performed before at least one of the steps of applying the surface treatments and performing the rapid cooling.

Where the preparation of the prepared fresh produce includes peeling, slicing and/or chunking, completing this before the surface treatment step enables the surface treatment to be applied to surfaces of the produce that are exposed by the peeling, slicing and/or chunking.

Similarly, completion of any peeling, slicing and/or chunking before the rapid cooling step may facilitate the performance of the rapid cooling, for example as a result of the reduction in the dimensions of the pieces of produce to be rapidly cooled and/or the removal of a surface layer that may conduct heat more slowly than material below which is exposed by peeling.

The process to prepare the prepared fresh produce according to the present invention may be entirely performed in a temperature controlled environment in which the temperature is below 5°C. Under present food handling regulations in many countries, fresh produce must be stored in a temperature controlled environment in which the temperature is below 5°C but this is not a requirement for processing facilities. Accordingly, conventional processing facilities may operate at up to and sometimes exceeding 12°C for the comfort of workers.

Performing all the steps for preparing prepared fresh produce in an environment that is controlled to be below 5°C may assist in ensuring that the produce is chilled to the required temperature as quickly as possible and is maintained at the desired temperature.

In an arrangement, the produce may remain in a temperature controlled

environment in which the temperature is below 5°C at least from the point at which a processing step is started in order to prepare the prepared fresh produce until the completion of the packaging process.

The processing facility in which the fresh produce is prepared may also include at least one of an intake storage facility, in which produce is stored before it is processed and prepared for consumption, and a despatch storage facility, in which packaged prepared fresh produce is stored, for example until it is ready to be transported to the customer. The intake storage facility and the despatch storage facility may also be provided in a temperature controlled environment in which the temperature is below 5°C. Accordingly, from the time when the fresh produce enters the processing facility to the time when the prepared fresh produce leaves the processing facility, it may be continuously within a temperature controlled environment in which the temperature is below 5°C.

According to an aspect of the present invention, the method of preparing the prepared fresh produce may be configured such that, from the point at which a processing step commences to prepare the fresh produce, for example when it may be removed from an intake storage facility, to the point at which the prepared fresh produce is packaged, for example at which point it may be placed in a despatch storage facility, the produce may never be transferred to a dedicated storage space. Alternatively or additionally, prepared produce for packs containing a single type of prepared fresh produce may not be stored for more than 1 hour and prepared produce for packs containing a plurality of types of prepared fresh produce may not be stored for more than 4 hours. This is different from presently known production methods, in which it is standard for prepared produce to be placed within a dedicated storage space, typically referred to as a WIP (work in progress) chiller after the produce has been prepared until a suitable packaging line is available for packaging the produce. Elimination of the WIP chiller may further increase the product shelf life of the produce.

The method of the present invention may be particularly beneficial for the preparation of prepared fresh fruit but it should be appreciated that it may be applied to other produce, such as salad items and/or vegetables.

In addition, it should be appreciated that prepared fresh produce may be prepared that includes a plurality of different types of produce. For such mixed prepared fresh produce, one kind of produce may be prepared according to the method of the present invention while another type of produce may be prepared according to a different method. Similarly, different kinds of produce within the combination may be prepared according to different variations of the method of the present invention, particularly where conditions for some of the processing steps are specifically selected according to the type of produce being prepared.

The present invention also provides prepared fresh produce prepared according to any of the methods discussed above.

The present invention also provides a processing line configured to perform any of the methods discussed above.

The invention will now be described by way of non-limiting examples with reference to the accompanying drawing, in which:

Figure 1 schematically depicts a processing line for preparing fresh produce in line with the present invention.

Figure 1 depicts an example of a processing line 10 that has been configured to prepare prepared fresh produce according to the present invention. As shown, the processing line 10 may be divided into first and second spaces 21, 22 by a barrier 23. The second space 22 may be a high care space, in which required high care food handling standards are followed. For example, staff operating in this zone may be required to wear particular clothing and/or hair nets. The details of the conditions of the high care space 22 may be determined by regulatory bodies in the location in which the processing line is provided and/or by the standards of the company operating the processing line 10.

In the first space 21, lower food hygiene standards may be applied than in the second space 22. However, again, the standards followed may be set by regulatory bodies and/or by company standards.

Within the first space 21, there is provided a facility 31 for receiving unprocessed fresh produce. This may include, for example, whole large fruit, namely fruit that is not inherently bite-sized, and/or bulk quantities of other produce, including that which may already be bite-sized.

The first area 21 also includes a storage section 32, in which the unprocessed fresh produce may be stored prior to processing.

At the point at which the fresh produce is to pass through the barrier 23 into the second space 22, a decontamination unit 33 may be provided for decontaminating the fresh produce. Conventional decontamination processes such as washing using known liquids or powders, UV, thermal and non-thermal processes may be used. These may be selected according to the produce being processed.

Within the second space 22, additional processing may be required, depending on the nature of the produce being prepared. For example, some produce may be required to pass through a peeling station 34, which may be automated, semi-automated or manual, in order to remove any external peel or rind, leaf and stalk matter, or internal waste, such as a core or seeds.

Alternatively or additionally, the produce may pass through a slicing and/or chunking station 35, which may be automated, semi-automated or manual, in which the produce may be cut into bite-sized portions.

It should be appreciated, however, that some produce may not require peeling, slicing and/or chunking, in which case preparation of the produce for consumption may primarily involve decontamination and/or washing and/or sorting and/or removal of foreign items that may be included in the bulk unprocessed produce.

As shown in Figure 1, after the produce has been prepared for consumption, it may be passed to a surface treatment unit 41. The surface treatment unit 41 may apply a surface treatment to the produce. For produce that has been peeled, sliced and/or chunked, this may therefore apply the surface treatment to surfaces of the produce that have been exposed by the cutting process involved in the peeling, slicing and/or chunking processes.

The type of surface treatment used may depend on the produce being prepared. It may, in particular, include at least one of dipping the prepared fresh produce in a treatment liquid for a predetermined amount of time, for example in a dip tank, spraying a treatment liquid to the surfaces of the prepared fresh produce and/or exposing the surfaces of the prepared fresh produce to microwave or UV radiation. These steps may be used for decontamination and/or other purposes. Other decontamination methods may also be used.

The surface treatment may be selected to have at least one of an anti-oxidation function and/or provide a decontamination function, for example by microbiological load reduction, and/or function to inhibit biochemical action. Examples of treatment liquids that may be used include Natureseal (RTM) AS5 (for example a 2.5% solution or a 6% solution), Agricoat FS (for example a 1.4% solution) or a chlorine solution (for example at 2 ppm) and/or a mixture of citric and ascorbic acid.

It will be appreciated that other surface treatments, including those from different suppliers, may be used. In either case, the supplier may suggest particular choices of treatment for different types of fresh produce and/or conditions under which the treatment should be used, such as the length of time the fresh produce should be dipped in a treatment liquid. Trials may be performed in order to optimise the choice of surface treatment for each type of prepared fresh produce.

As shown in Figure 1, following the surface treatment at the surface treatment unit 41, the prepared produced is passed to a rapid cooling station 42. This may use at least one of blast cooling, forced air cooling, impingement chilling, cryogenic cooling and liquid cooling in order to rapidly cool the produce, namely cool the produce more quickly than would be attained by placing the produce in a storage room at the desired temperature.

In general, a rapid cooling process may involve the use of a cooling medium at a temperature that is lower than the desired temperature of the produce. The rapid cooling process may also be configured to continue the rapid cooling process until the produce has reached a desired temperature. The cooling conditions may be selected for each produce being prepared in order to ensure that the produce is not damaged, for example by overly rapid cooling and/or by contact with a cooling medium that is so cold that it damages an exterior surface of the prepared produce.

In an example, the prepared produce may be rapidly cooled in water that is chilled to below 2°C for approximately 8 mins. In another example, the prepared produce may be rapidly chilled using cryogenic cooling using dry ice pellets or liquid nitrogen, which generates cold air that envelopes the produce. Using such a process, the produce may be rapidly cooled to below 2°C, for example in less than 5 minutes, optionally less than 4 minutes, optionally less than 3 minutes.

In the arrangement depicted in Figure 1, the rapid cooling station 42 is provided after the surface treatment station 41. This may be beneficial in order to avoid the possibility of the produce increasing in temperature during the surface treatment process, for example, if it is dipped in a liquid that is warmer than the temperature to which the produce has been chilled. However, it will be appreciated that this is not essential. It should also be appreciated that the stations have been depicted as separate but this need not be the case.

As shown in Figure 1, following the surface treatment process and the rapid cooling process, the prepared fresh produce is passed to a packing station 51 and a labelling station 52. Once the prepared fresh produce has been packaged, it may pass back through the barrier 23 into the first area 21, namely out of the high care area 22. The packaged prepared fresh produce may then be stored in a store 53 before being passed to a despatch facility 54.

In an arrangement of the processing line according to the present invention, the areas 21, 22 in which the produce may be stored or processed may all be kept at a chilled temperature, for example below 5°C. This may differ from conventional processing facilities for handling fresh produce in which the areas in which the produce is processed may not be chilled to below 5°C. By arranging the processing facility such that the produce always remains in areas having an ambient temperature below 5°C, the produce may remain chilled at all times, namely from the point at which it enters the processing facility until the point at which it leaves the processing facility and/or from the point at which processing of the fresh produce commences to the point at which it is packaged. This may assist in extending the product shelf life.

As depicted in Figure 1, all steps relating to the preparation of the prepared fresh produce may be in-line, namely there is a continuous product flow from the point at which the first process to prepare the prepared fresh produce is taken to the point at which packaging is complete (which may include labelling). Accordingly, the processing line 10 and/or the processing facility may not include an intermediate storage facility, such as a WIP chiller, in which fresh produce may be stored that has either been partially prepared or has been prepared but not yet packaged. In particular, the high care area 22 may not include a dedicated storage unit.

As a result of preparing the prepared fresh produce in-line, namely without any intermediate storage, the total process time, from the commencement of processing of the fresh produce, for example from the step of washing on entry into the high care area 22 or from the point at which peeling, slicing and/or chunking commences, to the point at which the prepared fresh produce is packaged may be significantly reduced. In conventional processing plants, this time may vary greatly for different batches of the same produce. For example, this may occur due to availability of packaging lines, and may be as high as 36 hours for some fresh produce. In contrast, in a process according to the present invention, this time may be reduced to below 1 hour for single item packs, namely those containing a single type of prepared fresh produce, and below 4 hours for mixed item packs, namely those containing a plurality of types of prepared fresh produce.

Reducing the time of process may increase the produce shelf life. Furthermore, increasing the consistency of the time of process may increase the time after processing that the producer can be confident that the fresh produce is an acceptable quality. This is because, for a given produce, the produce may be an acceptable quality level for a consistent amount of time from the point at which processing commences but a use by date may need to be determined based on the date of packaging.

It should be appreciated that some prepared fresh produce may be sold on its own, namely in packages that only contain one kind of prepared fresh produce. However, some packs of prepared fresh produce may contain two or more different kinds of prepared fresh produce. In that case, some or all of the produce in a pack may be prepared according to the present invention.

It should be appreciated that, where two or more different kinds of produce are contained within a single pack, two different kinds of produce may be prepared according to different variations of the present invention. In particular, different surface treatment conditions and rapid cooling conditions may be selected for each of the different kinds of fresh produce in order to optimise the product shelf life.