Agri-Neo has debuted an organic, non-thermal food safety solution designed to eliminate harmful pathogens in flour. The Ontario, Canada-based food safety technology company said in a release its Neo-Temper liquid is added at the tempering stage during milling, and provides a nearly 100% validated microbial reduction for hard and soft flours, while maintaining their nutritional and functional qualities.
Agri-Neo said it has completed four commercial validations of the product in major commercial flour mills in both the U.S. and Canada. The company is maintaining a waiting list for more North American millers who are interested in validating the solution in their facilities.
U.S. Food and Drug Administration statistics show there have been 11 flour recalls so far in 2019 because of the risk of E. coli and salmonella contamination. Thousands of bags of flour were removed from shelves nationwide. Some contaminated products sickened and hospitalized consumers — but all recalls have the potential for high costs and harm to brand loyalty.
Although flour is one of the major daily food staples, Agri-Neo President Rob Wong said the industry hasn't had a commercially viable solution to address increasing recalls. He noted the company wanted to stop such incidents by providing flour millers with a proven solution to protect the commodity and the health and well-being of consumers.
Recalls this year involved products from General Mills' Gold Medal brand, Hometown Food Company's Pillsbury brand, ADM Milling, J.M. Smucker's Robin Hood brand, ALDI's Bakers Corner brand and King Arthur Flour — all for the possible or verified presence of E. coli O26 contamination. Brand Castle brand cookie and brownie mixes were also recalled in connection with the flour problem.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns consumers not to eat raw flour in dough or batter because even a small amount of the contaminated ingredient could cause illness. Bacteria are killed only when food made with flour is cooked, the agency says. Some flour brands have even started printing a warning against eating it raw on bags.
Heat-treating flour has been the standard method used to destroy pathogens. However, the high costs, required manufacturing equipment footprint, added steps in the milling process and negative impact on gluten properties are obstacles. Other approaches include pasteurization, cold plasma, electron beam and irradiation, but these can be difficult, expensive or controversial to apply on a commercial scale.
The company's Neo-Temper liquid is mixed with water used during the tempering process, which cleans the wheat and adds moisture so it can be more easily milled. Agri-Neo said the process destroys pathogens such as E. coli and salmonella on the surface and in the cracks and crevices of the wheatberry. The solution then biodegrades and is approved by regulators as a processing aid with no labeling requirements, the company said.
Wong said the product can be used on a mass scale and provides a low-cost and logistically viable solution during the flour milling process. While the company didn't reveal the ingredients in Neo-Temper, Wong told Bakery and Snacks they are naturally found in the environment. The product is certified by the U.S. National Organic Program and Canada Organic Regime, and also meets kosher and halal guidelines.
If this new product works as well as Agri-Neo claims, it could be the answer flour manufacturers have been looking for. They want to avoid the functionality problems inherent with heat treatment. And since wheat is grown outdoors, pathogens from the soil, water or from animals can get on the kernels and survive from the field to the milled flour absent a kill step.
There are substitutes for wheat flour sourced from almonds, coconut, quinoa, chickpeas, brown rice and spelt — yet there are no guarantees those would also be free from pathogen contamination or that any of these substitutes would work for all applications. However, if products such as Neo-Temper can work as promised, consumers can stay protected — even if they steal a taste of cookie dough as they are baking.