The Role of Fermentation in the Food Processing Industry

Fermentation is the process of converting carbohydrates to alcohol or to organic acids using microorganisms, such as yeasts or bacteria. This process takes place when there are beneficial bacteria present that break down the starch and sugars in the food. As the microorganisms divide, lactic acid is formed, which stops the growth of bad bacteria. The lactic acid is also what gives fermented foods that very specific ‘tangy’ or ‘acidic’ taste. Fermented foods can last for many months (some products even lasting multiple years) as long as they are stored in a cool, dark place and kept in the solution of salt and water known as brine.

Fermentation Then and Now

For thousands of years, before the invention of refrigerators and freezers, the most common way to preserve food from spoiling was through fermentation. Fermentation has existed since the Neolithic Era, some of the earliest documentation of fermentation being between 7000-6600 BCE in Jiahu, China.

Fermentation can also make food healthier and safer to consume. For instance, in the Middle Ages, drinking water was hazardous because it frequently contained pathogens that could spread disease. Making the water into beer made it safe to drink, as any deadly bacteria previously present in the water were killed during the brewing process. Additionally, since microorganisms can produce vitamins as they ferment, the beer had added nutrients in it from the barley and various other ingredients.

In today’s Western society, we don’t eat quite as many fermented foods as our ancestors did. The most commonly consumed fermented food and drink would be cheese, beer, wine, yogurt, cured sausage and sourdough bread. Many store-bought fermented foods, like sauerkraut or pickles, are not authentic as they are often preserved in vinegar instead of the traditional and naturally occurring beneficial bacteria. Due to North America’s strict health and safety concerns, these foods are also often pasteurised, which robs the foods of their nutrients and minerals.

Fermentation in the Meat Industry

Fermentation plays a big role in the meat industry as it is used during the process of creating cured sausages such as salami. These sausages are made up of a batter containing lean and fat meat, spices, sodium chloride, sugars and starter cultures – a starter culture is a dehydrated set of microorganisms used as a catalyst in the culturing process. This batter is then stuffed in natural or synthetic casings and placed into fermentation rooms. In these rooms, parameters such as temperature and humidity are carefully controlled to allow for optimal fermentation conditions. The microbe activity of the flora that is naturally present in the meat influences the colour, taste and consistency of the final product after fermentation. Modern food-processing technology makes it possible to follow and modulate the fermentation process (including the sequence of biochemical reactions at the base of sausage production) from start to finish. This way, companies can ensure the quality and consistency of each and every product.

There are many positive effects of meat fermentation, such as:

  • The drop in pH level, especially after homolactic fermentation, which produces lactic acid and fumaric acid
  • The suppression and control of harmful pathogens
  • The effects on the organoleptic characteristic
  • The thickening of the meat mass due to the formation of the “gel” from the proteins
  • The formation and stabilization of the typical bright red colour
  • The reduction of Free water (Aw)
  • The creation of the specific fermented taste, which is the result of enzymatic reactions of proteolysis and lypolisis

Klever Equipped works with Travaglini to bring you the most advanced and high-tech fermentation rooms. Thanks to the combination of the installed cooling and heating elements, it is possible to remove a noticeable amount of water from the product, even right at the beginning of the fermenting process, at relatively low temperatures. This way, water activity is reduced, fermentation is controlled and negative effects are prevented. The risk of crust formation is averted because the equipment is driven by the moisture released from the product. Having the equipment alternate between working and resting, and being able to monitor specific psychrometric parameters (easily displayable through graphics), increases the quality of the fermenting process of the salami.

Klever Equipped and Travaglini are at your full disposal to research and build the ideal fermentation room equipment for you business based on your requirements. Be Klever, contact us today to get started.