Microbial Control in Clean Label Products

Posted on:November 13, 2018
2018 CLC/Peter Taormina - Microbial Control in Clean Label Products

Water activity is one of multiple hurdles to consider when controlling pathogenic and spoilage microorganisms.

Although our industry and government remain mostly focused on pathogen control, “spoilage control is a more difficult challenge to address,” said Peter Taormina, Ph.D., President, Etna Consulting Group. “Pathogens are the primary culprits in food safety; they are the organisms identified by companies in their hazard analyses and critical control points (HACCP), and are addressed through formulation and process controls.” However, added Taormina, spoilage organisms also pose significant hazards to manufacturers in the form of product viability and corporate brand image.

New, clean label ingredients can be problematic, because not much is known about them yet. “For example, the non-proteolytic, psychrotolerant Clostridium botulinum is one pathogen that keeps me up at night, because it lacks a proteolytic effect that makes growth in the product evident,” said Taormina. The group II, non-proteolytic C. botulinum are mostly associated with aquatic environment sources and, given that some clean label ingredients are derived from aquatic environments, food safety scientists must ask whether they come bearing spores of these organisms.

Formulating to control pathogenic and spoilage microorganisms requires a “big picture” approach that anticipates establishing multiple hurdles to microorganism outgrowth, including formulation, packaging and post-lethality treatments. “Antimicrobial hurdles used in product development and processing include processing temperature, water activity (aw), pH, reduction-oxidation potential (REDOX) and preservative application,” said Taormina.

“Preservatives should pose the last hurdle. However, we would rather that pH and aw hurdles are great enough so that REDOX and preservative hurdles aren’t challenged, as some microbes can grow at very low pH and aw.” And, whereas salt is the “best preservative we have, public resistance to salt consumption limits its use in clean label products,” he added.

For clean label preservatives, we want to avoid -ics, -ates and –ites, or anything with an “x” or a “y,” noted Taormina. Unfortunately, that describes many of the most effective preservatives available, but some of these also exist in natural sources, such as acetic acid in vinegar; benzoic acid in cranberries; and propionic acid from Swiss cheese.
Plant-derived antimicrobials that could qualify as clean label ingredients include glucosinolates (cruciferous vegetables), lignans (flax seed), saponins (yucca, asparagus), catechins (green tea) and spices…whether as essential oils or as extracts.

Microbial preservatives provide another option, such as microbially derived antimicrobials including bacteriocins (e.g., nisin), competitive bacteria (e.g. Lactobacilli) and phages (viruses that infect bacteria). Celery, Swiss chard or acerola cherry powders represent clean label-friendly sources of nitrites for cured meats.

Processing can boost or supplement preservative ingredients in formulations. One relatively new method, high-pressure processing (HPP), is well along in commercialization. Each process poses its own spoilage challenges, however: HPP may allow for the survival of spore-forming bacteria concomitant with the destruction of otherwise competitive microbial strains. A number of spore-forming bacteria can survive heating processes and grow-out under refrigeration temperatures, even at relatively low pH.

This is especially problematic for low-acid products, such as nut milks, noted Taormina.
“When considering extended shelf-life, there is always risk. Pathogen control is well-researched, and one can always find a lot of good data in peer-reviewed research,” said Taormina. That is not the case with spoilage microorganisms. “Their risk continuum looks very different than that for pathogens,” he added.

For example, traditional spoilage inhibitors for ready-to-eat packaged meats include sodium or potassium lactates, plus sodium diacetate or acetate. Alternative clean label inhibitors include vinegar, fruit-extract vinegar blends and cultured sugar. “A problem arises, however, when, for clean label reasons, dextrose is replaced with sucrose. (The result is that common Leuconostoc sp. bacteria will cleave the sucrose disaccharide, producing a slimy film on the meat.) I see this over and over again,” emphasized Taormina.

Spoilage is the result of an accumulation of factors and, unfortunately, much less information is publicly available about spoilage microorganisms than about pathogens, Taormina noted.Therefore, companies should do their research and seek outside help well in advance of new product launches—before real damage is done to the product and the company’s reputation.

“Microbial Control in Clean Label Products,” Peter Taormina, Ph.D., President, Etna Consulting Group

This presentation was given at the 2018 Clean Label Conference. To download free presentations and the Post-conference summary of this event, go to

Cultural Use & Functional Properties of Ancient Grains

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2018 CLC/Melanie Goulson - Cultural Use & Functional Properties of Ancient Grains

Consumers show great interest in ancient grains, such as teff & sorghum.

“What is old is new again,” said Melanie Goulson, MS, Principle Scientist, Merlin Development, Inc. — a food and beverage R&D and commercialization firm, and Adjunct Professor, St. Catherine University, as she referenced the surging interest in ancient grains. “Ancient grains have made quite the comeback, so we are trying to learn quickly what our earliest ancestors already knew,” Goulson added.

Chia is a pseudo-cereal native to Mexico and Guatemala and is rich in omega-3 oils. Among its current-day applications, Goulson highlighted a traditional chia beverage from north-west-Mexico’s indigenous people called iskiate. The tribe, famous for its long-distance runners, consumed iskiate as an energy drink. Today, it is a popular Mexican energy drink known as chia fresca, which is made with citrus, water and sometimes a sweetener.

The very small chia seeds have a gelatinous coating that hydrates in water, creating a soft suspension of “pearls,” said Goulson. It is also used in other beverages, puddings, yogurts, tortillas and nutrition bars. “But, if you put on your food science hat, chia’s gel is of particular interest,” said Goulson. She described it as “a high-molecular weight, non-starch polysaccharide dispersion” with very stable viscosity between pH 2-12; high stability to temperature and ionic strength; and rapid viscosity recovery upon the removal of shear. “It is different from either xanthan, microcrystalline cellulose or guar, so it could offer unique, clean label-friendly applications, such as a suspension agent in beverages,” proposed Goulson. Also, it could be potentially used as an emulsion stabilizer, gluten-free pasta component or shelf-life extender in breads.

Quinoa, another New World ancient grain cultivated by the Andean Incas, is rich in protein and contains all essential amino acids. It is also rich in B vitamins and essential minerals, noted Goulson. One shortcoming, however, is the presence of bitter saponins in the seed coat, which probably function as natural pesticides. These should be removed from the seed by either alkaline pretreatment or grain pearling. Traditionally, quinoa is “popped” — similar to corn, milled into flour or used as a thickener in Peruvian stews.

The starch composition of quinoa varies greatly (35-70% dry matter basis), depending upon variety, according to Goulson. It consists mostly of amylopectin, which exhibits good puffing properties in popping or extrusion, and is not prone to retro-gradation (a major cause of staling). In heated solutions, the starch thickens more slowly than potato or tapioca starch and generates a more stable viscosity than native corn, wheat or rice starches. This suggests many potential clean label product applications for quinoa.

A third ancient grain is teff, a gluten-free, nutty flavored cereal grain of Ethiopian origin with seeds the size of poppy seeds. Traditionally, teff seeds are fermented using yeast and lactic acid bacteria to produce a sourdough batter. The batter is steam-baked to form a spongy, porous flatbread called injera. The fermentation renders minerals more nutritionally available, while converting insoluble fiber to soluble fiber, explained Goulson.

At present, due to political considerations and cultivation challenges, teff has only limited availability in North America and Europe. Goulson proposed that considerably more work needs to be done to uncover the product development potential of this “early stage” ancient grain. Teff is about 70% starch and, while “there still isn’t much known about this grain,” said Goulson, its gluten-free nature offers product-development possibilities. For example, injera has been made into snack chips that are said to be quite delicious, noted Goulson.

However, she also cautioned against overstating its opportunities. “We don’t want to try to fit a square peg into a round hole. It’s important to consider the impact of physicochemical properties on product performance and apply teff and other ancient grains where they make the most sense.”

Goulson proposed that the popularity of ancient grains should endure for some time. She pointed out that many top consumer food trends begin in the culinary world. In the National Restaurant Association’s recent 2018 Top 100 Trends list, Ancient Grains ranked #20, African Cuisine ranked #15, Peruvian Cuisine ranked #11 and Authentic Ethnic Cuisine ranked #9. “It certainly seems like there are many opportunities for ancient grains to establish themselves on many different levels as clean label ingredients,” concluded Goulson.

“Cultural Use and Ancient Properties of Ancient Grains,” Melanie Goulson, MS, Principle Scientist, Merlin Development, Inc. and Adjunct Professor, St. Catherine University

This presentation was given at the 2018 Clean Label Conference. To download free presentations and the Post-conference summary of this event, go to

Dairy Protein Ingredients Offer Functionality and Consumer-Friendly Labels

Posted on:November 12, 2018
2018 CLC/Sonia Patel - Dairy Protein Ingredients Offer Functionality and Consumer-Friendly Labels

Dairy ingredients provide flavor & functionality to foods & beverages – as well as clean labeling.

As part of the clean label trend, consumers are demanding removal of ingredients from food that they perceive as not “clean,” or unhealthy. “Dairy ingredients offer a clean label alternative to ingredients that have landed on a ‘no no’ list. These ingredients can be modified to achieve desired functionality,” said Sonia Patel, Dairy Food Application Scientist, Midwest Dairy Foods Research Center in her presentation, “Label-friendly Dairy Ingredients: Physio-chemical Properties and Uses in Foods & Beverages.”

There is no simple one-for-one replacement of ingredients to achieve a cleaner label. Replacement of food ingredients affect taste, texture, functionality, consumer acceptance and shelflife of food. Before food scientists start reformulating, they need to understand how replacing specific ingredients will affect consumer appeal. Desired functionalities include meltability, water binding, solubility, viscosity, emulsification, heat stability, gelation, whipping, foaming, color development and flavor. Dairy proteins can provide all these functionalities, but whey protein ingredients will exhibit different functional properties than casein or milk protein ingredients.


Whey protein concentrates function as efficient fat mimetics, imparting creaminess and superior texture to soups, sauces and salad dressings. The surface-active properties of WPC, WPI, beta-lactoglobulin and skim milk powders make them excellent foaming and whipping agents in ice cream, frozen desserts and whipped toppings. Through Maillard browning, dairy ingredients provide color development in bakery applications. Dairy ingredients also boost the protein content of gluten-free formulas, noted Patel.

Permeates are a co-product of the production of whey protein concentrate, whey protein isolate, ultra-filtered milk, milk protein concentrate or milk protein isolate processing. Replacing salt in processed foods with permeates can reduce sodium, as well as improve texture, color and flavor. In addition, milk minerals provide a source of readily bioavailable calcium in nutritional supplements, beverages and bars.

As of June 2015, partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs) are no longer GRAS. Patel went on to say that many companies are replacing PHOs with butter, which has unique melting and crystallization properties. Emerging research suggests that consumption of dairy fats and dairy products is linked to reduced risk for heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

The functional properties of dairy ingredients can by modified in many ways. Physical modification can be achieved through heat treatment, acidification, and the addition of mineral salts, homogenization or shear. Enzymatic modification can be affected through hydrolysis, renneting or transglutamination.

A patented process of carbon dioxide treatment and high- pressure processing will cause casein micelles to disassociate, improving Greek yogurt texture without the addition of stabilizers or emulsifiers. This low-cost technology can be easily integrated into existing production lines.

Cavitation is the sudden formation and collapse of low- pressure bubbles in flowing liquids by means of mechanical forces. As liquid passes through the APV Cavitator, it is subjected to controlled cavitation. Microscopic cavitation bubbles are produced and, as they collapse, shockwaves are given off into the liquid, which can emulsify and prevent scaling. During heating, temperature is created uniformly throughout the entire liquid without any heat transfer surfaces. This technology could potentially smooth Greek yogurt texture and manage viscosity in beverages. Plain yogurt made through cavitation might have a clean label that reads simply “Contains: skim milk, milk protein and cultures,” Patel advised.

Membrane filtration technology allows for production of a wide variety of dairy ingredients using a simple filtration process that concentrates the protein. Since the ingredients are produced without any chemical treatment, this manufacturing process could be categorized as clean label processing, as it involves only physical separations.
Dairy has a “clean image” and can easily be modified to provide superior functionality in a wide range of clean label products.

“Label-friendly Dairy Ingredients: Physio-chemical Properties and Uses in Foods & Beverages,” Sonia Patel, MSc, Dairy Food Scientist, Midwest Dairy Foods Research Center, Dept. of Food Science and Nutrition, University of Minnesota

This presentation was given at the 2018 Clean Label Conference. To download free presentations and the Post-conference summary of this event, go to

Clean Label Solutions for Lipid Oxidation Control

Posted on:November 2, 2018
2018 CLC/Eric Decker - Clean Label Solutions for Lipid Oxidation Control

Reducing sugars can inhibit lipid oxidation and thus extend shelf life.

The chemistry of lipid oxidation is as complex as the means of defense. “You can get literally hundreds of products that are formed from oxidative reactions,” explained Eric Decker, Ph.D., Professor and Head of the Department of Food Science, University of Massachusetts, Amhurst. Rancidity, off- flavors and loss of nutrients are consequences. Formation of toxic products, such as acrolein, is driving food safety concerns. Oxidation may be controlled by removing oxygen, using metal chelators, adding antioxidants or utilizing physical properties.

One of the most important questions to ask is where do reactions occur in the food? In a bottle of oil, instinct might suggest the addition of a lipid-soluble antioxidant would be most effective. “It [is] the opposite. A polar water-soluble form [is] most effective,” said Decker. This “Antioxidant Paradox” occurs because even refined bulk oils have nano-droplets of water (e.g., 200-250ppm), as well as surfactants that associate into colloids. Oxidation reactions occur at the surface of the water droplets, like water-in-oil emulsions. Polar antioxidants are concentrated inside the water phase, where they are most effective.

“In an oil/water emulsion, the opposite is true. You want a nonpolar antioxidant. The reason for this is where the antioxidant ends up in the food product.” If a water-soluble antioxidant is put in emulsified oil, a large amount of antioxidant will go to the water portion—where it won’t be in a place that it can react with the lipid. Thus, its antioxidant activity is lost.

Tocopherols are nonpolar antioxidants that will degrade as they scavenge free radicals. Mixed tocopherols, a combination of different tocopherol homologs, “[place] antioxidants in a lot of different places in the food matrix, so they can be where the free radicals are produced,” Decker said. The downside is that there isn’t consensus as to whether tocopherols are part of a clean label solution, because of their chemical name.
Rosemary extracts are popular free-radical fighters. Different extraction technologies minimize strongly flavored terpenes and increase the amount of carnosic acid and carnosol, the main antioxidants. These extracts are versatile, because there are many molecules that have antioxidant activity and different polarity

Green tea antioxidants are in the catechin family. They are extremely water-soluble. These work in bulk oils and frying oils, but the challenge is getting them into the oil through dispersion. Some green tea extracts contain chlorophyll, a pro-oxidant. If they are used in a food that is exposed to light, it can promote oxidation. Decker recommends choosing a green tea extract in which the chlorophyll has been removed or protecting the product from light. Lipid-soluble derivatives are also available, he added.

Because they seek out different physical locations, combinations of antioxidants may be most efficacious. In some cases, an antioxidant that works very well can be re- generated by another antioxidant. Unfortunately, blends complicate the ingredient deck with multiple ingredients.

Manipulating physical properties of the food is a potent deterrent. Lipid oxidation is strongly influenced by water activity, although it’s important to find the sweet spot between limiting molecule mobility and exposing peroxides. “While there are many cases where you want to be at low water activity, this can promote oxidation,” Decker explained.

Adding sugar drops the water activity. In a cookie example, two formulations were compared, one with 1.6% glucose and one with an equal percentage of sucrose. The glucose increased the shelflife compared to the sucrose. “Because glucose is a reducing sugar, it can potentially donate a proton to the free radical and inactivate it,” said Decker. “Compared to synthetic antioxidants, such as TBHQ, BHT and propyl gallate, glucose performs close to TBHQ—the optimum antioxidant for many food products.”

Glucose is also effective in a cracker system but increased sweet- ness may not be desired. Maltose and maltodextrin also work, while contributing less sweetness. In going from a monosaccharide to a disaccharide, twice as much of the disaccharide is needed to have the same reducing equivalent. The big takeaway? “Glucose is an overlooked potential means of controlling oxidation,” added Decker. “I think glucose is an interesting antioxidant that I don’t think anyone considers.”

“Clean Label Solutions to Controlling Lipid Oxidation,” Eric Decker, Ph.D., Professor and Head of the Department of Food Science, University of Massachusetts, Amhurst

This presentation was given at the 2018 Clean Label Conference. To download free presentations and the Post-conference summary of this event, go to

Posted November 2, 2018

Ingredient Labeling, Regulatory Risk & Consumer Confidence

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2018 CLC/Lauren Swann - Ingredient Labeling, Regulatory Risk & Consumer Confidence

When fruit and vegetable juice is used as a color additive in food, it
may be declared as “Artificial Color,” “Artificial Color Added” or “Color
Added;” or by an equally informative term that makes clear that a color
additive has been used in the food, such as “Colored with Fruit Juice” or
“Vegetable Juice Color.”

In dealing with clean food and beverage package labels, “we are really dealing with consumer perceptions,” said Lauren Swann, MS, RD, LDN, President of Concept Nutrition, Inc. This, she proposes, spells opportunity.

There is no (U.S.) government designation for what constitutes a “clean” ingredient-labeled food or beverage, but there are regulations that determine how ingredients can be listed on a package. According to the FDA, ingredient listings must use: only official or acceptable names; no trademark or brand names; no “fanciful” names; no descriptors, such as “pure,” “non-GMO,” “real,” etc.; and no geographic names, unless they are part of the common name. However, botanical origin names (e.g., cane sugar) are acceptable. And, some approved designations allow a modicum of variability (e.g., skim milk, nonfat milk). The USDA guidelines for meat and poultry products under its purview differ from those of the FDA, for example, allowing spices to be listed as “flavor,” “flavorings” or “natural flavorings.”

Consumers want ingredient label transparency and equate “healthy” with natural and minimally processed foods. However, although some ingredient label regulations apply to typically clean label products (e.g., organic), progress on other initiatives, such as requests for FDA to define “all-natural” claims, have [so far been] dead in the water, says Swann. “Organic, non-GMO, gluten-free, lactose-free, allergen-free products, and even kosher and halal certification can also be associated with clean labels,” she adds.

Whereas the Federal Trade Commission’s authority over advertising tends to be more reactionary, complying with established government labeling regulations can be complex and challenging. For example, although the term “fresh” is defined by Federal regulation, pasteurized milk can be optionally claimed as “fresh,” but pasteurized fruit juices cannot.

Conversely, although non-governmentally defined terms, such as “authentic, real and simple,” can be found on product packages, caution is warranted. Vague, ill-defined terms shroud clean labels in legal ambiguities that can invite lawsuits, warned Swann.
Larger companies may sometimes have different individuals or departments responsible for developing and reviewing specific parts of food package labels. However, “I advise companies to assign one individual or department to be responsible for label review as a whole rather than in parts, to catch potential inconsistencies,” emphasized Swann, “because mandated ingredient lists must support any relevant claims.”

“I research terms very carefully to identify issues that may be risky for clients,” said Swann, beginning with the Standards of Identity (SOI) in the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). These, too, can appear inconsistent or confusing. But, even if there aren’t SOIs specific to a product’s formula, there are still commonly established names from long-standing industry marketplace practices that should be followed, because they represent the type of product composition that the consumer has come to reasonably expect for items bearing that name.

One can get creative to a point, such as listing a preservative’s role “to protect color,” but colors themselves can be highly problematic for “clean” labeling. The FDA views any attempt to use ingredients to affect a product’s final color as artificial.

“Let’s say that you make lemonade and add a tiny drop of cherry juice to turn it pink, yet a cherry taste is not identifiable in the finished product,” explains Swann. The cherry juice may be natural, but the FDA would consider the lemonade to have been artificially colored, because its sole function is color, and the cherry juice must be identified as “color” in the ingredient list, added Swann.

According to the FDA, incidental additives, ingredients introduced by another ingredient or non-functional processing aids can be omitted, unless they are allergenic or contribute significant nutrient value. The USDA, however, is “very fussy about ‘incidental additives’ in meat products,” considering amount and nutrient contributions along with end-product functionality for compliant label approval.

Ultimately, however, it is the consumers that decide what is legitimate. Thanks to the Internet, consumers now have ways of uncovering details about ingredients and share their findings with peers, noted Swann.

“Different consumer demographic segments look for different ingredients,” said Swann. Whereas Baby Boomers try to avoid ingredients viewed as detrimental to aging-related health issues, Millennials have other concerns. This suggests opportunities for more demographic-specific ingredient listings, Swann added.

“We know that ingredient names definitely influence purchase decisions. [One study] found that 73% of consumers polled were willing to pay a high price for products made with ingredients they recognize and trust,” said Swann. They also like to know what those ingredients do in the product. “The bottom line is, whenever you put an ingredient into a food or beverage product, consumers today expect each ingredient to provide some specific value to them,” concluded Swann.

“Ingredient Labeling Considers Regulatory Risk in Capturing Consumer Confidence,” Lauren Swann, MS, RD, LDN, President of Concept Nutrition, Inc.

This presentation was given at the 2018 Clean Label Conference. To download free presentations and the Post-conference summary of this event, go to

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