Agri-Neo has been developing technology to control harmful bacteria and fungus on food since 2009. Neo-Pure is the company’s newest technique designed to solve the food safety problem for low-moisture foods, such as grains, seeds and nuts.
Based out of Canada, Agri-Neo’s president and COO, Rob Wong, told BakeryandSnacks at IFT in Chicago this year, his company has been growing its customer roster back home, including Everspring Farms.
“We started commercializing [Neo-Pure] in 2014. This is our hard launch at the IFT because we fit with USNOP guidelines, we’re Certified Organic, Certified Kosher, and we’re compliant with non-GMO standard.”
Frustrated about the product recall
“Processors of seeds and grains face a tricky food safety problem,” said Wong. “Chia, flax, sunflower, quinoa and other dry foods in raw and ready-to-eat forms have all been implicated in recent recalls because of microbial contamination.”
“But until now, no process or product addressed the specific needs of seeds and grains,” he added. “The current techniques [processors] use are either not effective enough, or change the end products, degrading their quality.”
This site previously reported General Mills recalled its products due to an E.coli outbreak, and SunOpta extended its sunflower seed kernels recall for a second time this year for possible listeria contamination.
Why low-moisture foods are more likely to be contaminated?
"Seeds, grains and nuts are low-moisture, but they are not zero-moisture," Wong said. "Moisture comes from all the good parts humans like. Oil, such as Omega 3 and Omega 6, these are actually also serving as food for the bacteria. Similarly, sugar, starches and the carbohydrate, these are all the food that bacteria like and they can help them survive and grow on the surfaces and in the crevices of seeds and grains. So that’s why they’re quite prevalent. Those bacteria start off in the field level, and then they either stay dormant from the population perspective, but most of the time, they can actually grow."
Pasteurization without using heat, carcinogenic chemical or irradiation
Neo-Pure is a liquid solution that uses oxygen to kill bacteria on low-moisture foods, according to Agri-Neo, without changing the food.
“Consumer wants to keep those foods raw, organic and viable,” Wong said. “So we’re able to achieve and make these foods safe by getting rid of the bacteria and fungus as nature intended, meaning the product itself is derived from plants. There’s nothing synthetic about [Neo-Pure].”
However, the three technologies food processors currently use, including high heat, can negatively affect the functionality of food ingredients, according to Wong
“As you know, a lot of bakery type of products use flour. Heat can destroy a lot of the proteins in the wheat,” he said. “Neo-Pure doesn’t affect the protein structure whatsoever, so the functionality remains intact.”
Ethylene oxide is another chemical that manufacturers use to pasteurize grains and seeds, but Wong said if they don’t control the ratio precisely, the residue is carcinogenic.
“Because of the residue, you can’t call your food organic,” he added. “Consumers also don’t like the labeling on the packaging if the ingredients have been pumped through x-ray to clean up their bacteria.”
FSMA and consumers push for pasteurization
At IFT, marketing manager of Pacific Grain & Foods Lee Perkins told BakeryandSnacks that his customers and the US' FSMA (Food Safety Modernization Act) are pushing grain and seed suppliers to adopt a kill step to make sure all the ingredients are clean before going into manufacturing.
Perkins said his company, which supplies ingredients to many US cereal brands, has purchased Neo-Pure for less than $500,000 this week, and Agri-Neo will install the intervention equipment at its California facility in a couple of months.
“We bring in 600 containers of quinoa, sesame, flax and sunflower seeds from all over the world every year, and for those [seeds] that come from tropical areas, they are susceptible to many bacteria,” he said.
“It’s not the value [of Neo-Pure] we’re purchasing, it’s about the value, the cost and the time we’re saving.”