Food is an essential component of sustaining society. It forms an inevitable part of the economy across the globe, more so with high-value addition through processed food consumption. India is increasingly emerging as a large exporter of processed food across the world. According to sources, the Indian F&B industry is expected to grow at a CAGR of 12.5% during the 2022–27 fiscal year, as per the IMARC report.
Storage longevity is essential
It has been observed that, with time, consumer consumption behaviour has transformed a lot. Changing lifestyles with well-complemented technological advancements, consumers today to highly prefer convenience and snacks foods. Such convenience food is designed and packaged with the purpose of easing storage, transportation, and consumption. It has to be prepared in such a way that it can either be sold as hot, ready-to-eat dishes; room temperature, shelf-stable products, or refrigerated or frozen products. This puts a lot of responsibility on the manufacturers to produce food in such a way as to ensure storage longevity throughout its shelf life while ensuring that quality is intact throughout the various stages of food processing, storage, and transportation. Hence, the F&B industry has to continuously ensure that the freshness, taste, nutritional value, and hygiene of the food are retained till it reaches the end-consumer.
As a result, the industry needs to closely monitor the quality, processing, and packaging of the end-product. There must be no damage or harm to the food item because of any external factors, and at the same time, it must comply with the necessary industry standards and checks before going out for delivery. To meet all the industry requirements, the F&B industry is gradually investing in advanced technologies to meet rising consumer demand by employing more sophisticated methods for food processing.
Addressing the challenge of moisture
In this endeavour to preserve the quality of food items, moisture poses a serious problem for the industry. It is the source of the biggest menace throughout the life of the food, right from storage, processing, & packaging to transportation. Uncontrolled humidity is a great hindrance to an efficient food processing system, as even the slightest presence of moisture in the air can lead to condensation and at the same time foster an environment that promotes the growth of bacteria in the food.
It is not just responsible for the spoilage of food but also creates inconvenience in the form of inconsistent production, longer drying times, the loss of key characteristics of the food product, etc. All the factors together lead to severe problems like frequent downtime of production units, rejections, losses, and maybe a loss of brand image in the market. Looking at the criticality of moisture control, the F&B industry must actively eliminate moisture throughout the processing, packaging, and storage stages to maintain the taste, flavour, and shelf life of convenience food throughout its life cycle.
Let’s elaborate on the various problems arising due to humidity:
It has been found that moisture is the major cause of the rapid growth of microorganisms and bacteria, which are highly responsible for food contamination. With the demand for processed foods like powdered milk, coffee, sweets, dried vegetables and fruits, frozen food, spices, namkeen, etc increasing manifold, manufacturers need to be more vigilant than ever in keeping the food manufacturing machinery, facility, and surroundings as dry as possible. In the brewery, high humidity leads to mould and fungus growth in the fermentation and kegging areas. But it is very tricky to achieve the required environmental conditions as water forms an essential part of the product and the operations involved in food processing.
Stickiness, lumping and agglomeration
Confectionery items like chocolates, candies, chewing gum, etc that are high in sugar content are susceptible to absorbing moisture from the surroundings and becoming sticky. The presence of moisture leads to a loss of gloss and luster, a sugar bloom, and a change in flavour. Similarly, powdered foods like soups, milk, coffee, etc are highly hygroscopic and start to agglomerate in the presence of moisture. If processing is done without the elimination of moisture, there is a high probability of lumping, caking, and cluster formation in the powdered food.
Agglomeration in spices is also a very common problem. Almost every household is troubled with the problem of spices forming lumps due to the absorption of moisture. The problem is magnified multifold in a factory setup where huge masses of spices are under processing, which, after absorbing moisture, show resistance to free flow from one process to another and even stick to the processing machines, spoiling the remaining spices and at the same time incurring huge losses to the company with the huge quantity of spoilt products.
Snacks items like chips, wafers, biscuits, etc, become soggy and compromise quality as well as taste when processed in the presence of moisture.
Spray/ fluidised dryers make use of hot air in large quantities to dry food. In case the air is laden with moisture, it could lead to inconsistent production, substandard product quality, take longer drying time, and rapid downtime. Hence, the air must be completely dry with no traces of contamination and foreign particles. To curb the menace of moisture in food, the F&B industry must install dehumidifiers to regulate temperature and humidity at any given point. Deploying desiccant dehumidifiers at the processing facilities maintains the required humidity level at a specific temperature all around the year, irrespective of the weather conditions. It is highly efficient at achieving an RH as low as 1% and even lower, where it constantly maintains the level during storage, production, processing, packaging, and drying without being influenced by ambient conditions.
How do dehumidifiers help?
Dehumidification is highly efficient and versatile for the F&B industry, which minimises the risk of stocks getting spoiled by achieving optimum humidity levels. It comes with the most cost-effective and advanced solutions that require minimal manual intervention. It plays a crucial role in retaining the freshness of the food throughout its shelf life. Dehumidifiers are effective in minimising chances of food rejection, malfunctioning, inconsistency of processes, condensation problems, and fungal or mould growth. It helps in achieving a cleaner production environment, and it also prevents and removes frost and ice formation in cold storage and freezers. With the increased demand for processed food, the F&B industry must resort to dehumidification solutions to reduce the waste of food by keeping intact the flavour, colour, and aroma for a longer time. This will substantially contribute to better ROI for food processors and exporters across the globe.