High frequencies for food production and processing

Bei der Produktion und Verarbeitung frischer Lebensmittel und Convenience Food (hier: Pasta) müssen schonende Verfahren angewandt werden.
© Photo Shutterstock

Gentle techniques are necessary when producing and processing fresh food and convenience food (here: pasta).

Versuchsanlage am Fraunhofer IVV zur Erhitzung von Lebensmitteln mittels elektromagnetischer Hochfrequenzfelder.
© Photo Fraunhofer IVV, 2013

Test plant at Fraunhofer IVV for heating food using electromagnetic high frequency fields.

Darstellung der simulierten elektrischen Feldverteilung in einer Anlage mit optimierter Geometrie zur effizienten Lebensmittelerhitzung auf Basis elektromagnetischer Hochfrequenzfelder
© Photo Fraunhofer FHR

Presentation of the simulated electrical field distribution in a plant with optimized geometry for the efficient heating of food on the basis of electromagnetic high frequency fields

How can a growing global population with growing demands be catered for in an adequate and sustainable manner? Nutrition and food production are key global issues which urgently require answers – also through the utilization of radar and high frequency techniques.

Guaranteeing a reliable, healthy and affordable food supply is one of the most important issues for the future of society. Due to global climate change and ongoing industrialization, new food production solutions that are supported through the utilization of sensors and high frequency technology systems are urgently needed.

Food production today

Food production today extends from small, part-time farming to large-scale, modern concerns. Enhanced efficiency is still a central focus in the area of food production. The aim is to produce a growing volume of food on agricultural lands that are steadily decreasing in size. The efficient use of resources such as water, fertilizers and pesticides is important to guarantee a secure food supply. Other issues, apart from increased food production, also play an important role, namely environmental protection and consumer health. Equal consideration must be given to the needs of large-scale agricultural enterprises and the requirements of small farmers in developing countries.

Today, controls in the food production area are normally based on target figures as well as on the monitoring of large cultivation areas via satellite. Smaller areas, which are common in organic agriculture or in emerging countries, can not be controlled in this manner. Modern radar-based systems are capable of monitoring large areas with high spatial resolution and can also consider smaller agricultural units. This paves the way for the efficient utilization of irrigation water and fertilizers. Yield forecasts can be improved and the potential risks caused by pest infestation can be predicted more accurately. In addition, modern radar systems do not have to be used in connection with satellites – thanks to the use of compact and highly efficient millimeter wave sensors they can also be installed in small, remote–controlled aircraft. In this way, the cost of monitoring from the air can be reduced in a sustainable manner. This also facilitates the utilization of radar systems in countries that have a poorly developed infrastructure.

Food processing and control

In addition to resource-friendly production, the processing of the food is also of great importance for the food industry. Due to the development of innovative heaters and the utilization of high frequency techniques, products can now be heated faster and more gently than in the past, even at an industrial scale. Together with the Fraunhofer Institute for Process Engineering and Packaging [Fraunhofer-Institut für Verfahrenstechnik und Verpackung (IVV)] in Freising, FHR is currently working on the development of a production plant for convenience food. Meat, cereals, fruit and vegetable products can be carefully preserved and retain their taste and texture. Electromagnetic simulation techniques are used to optimize the geometry of important components of the plant with regard to field distribution so as to achieve high electrical efficiency.

Guaranteeing the quality of the produced food is also a focal point. Issues such as the stability of the cold chain, the degree of ripeness of fruit or the detection of impurities play a central role here.  An important aspect in this regard is the monitoring of the quality of packaged products. Up to now, products could only be screened and checked for impurities with X-ray technology. Thanks to the utilization of high frequency systems such as SAMMI®, an alternative is now available that also allows the monitoring of packaged products without ionizing radiation. Imaging high frequency systems can therefore be used in areas that previously could not be monitored due to the safety measures that are necessary when using X-ray systems or the high costs that are associated with such systems.