KEEPING food and drinks fresh for much longer has become an exigency these past months, with people stocking up on food and limiting trips to public places. Availability of products and high prices on the user side and shelf life and costs on the manufacturer side, however, remain major hurdles.
Millisecond technology (MST) from Millisecond Technologies Corp (MSTC) and JCS Process and Control Systems (JCS) may just be the disruptor the industry needs. With the ability to deliver the taste and nutrition of HTST pasteurisation and the shelf life that until now was only available from Ultra Pasteurized or UHT products, now MST promises fresh drinks – milk and juices – with extended shelf life at significant cost savings, while maintaining nutritional value.
JCS, an engineering company specialising in advanced process designs and providing turnkey process and automation systems, worked with MSTC to scale up the Lab scale MST, originally discovered by Russian engineers, to the commercial applications now being offered. The JCS is now the exclusive manufacturer and integrator of MST systems in the US, Canada, and Latin and Central Americas, and supporting the global effort through partners, and Rep Agencies).
“Beyond extending product shelf life, MST helps manufacturers optimise distribution through the supply chain and generate more savings. For customers, this means fresh milk with a date code of 45 days or more,” said MSTC Chief Technical Officer (CTO) Philip Frechette.
In Asia, JCS and now MSTC, work with Nu Agri Asia (NAAC), which specialises in the premiumisation of coconut products, natural and organic fruit beverages, dairy and snack items, providing the latter with product standardising and aseptic systems. NAAC provides sourcing and sustainability, product formulation and positioning, toll-manufacturing management, process and technical improvement, plant management, new plant layout and design, marketing and off-take sales, and modelling and feasibility analysis services.
With 40 years of combined NAAC experience in creating nut and fruit-based beverages, , and their joint projecting with JCS’s hundreds of man years of Food and Beverage processing systems experience, they are able to provide technology for long-shelf-life food processing. NAAC handles natural and organic product formulation and beverages with added functional ingredients, fermentation, and plant-based protein. It has developed new formulations for dozens of international brands and manufacturing facilities, including aseptic PET, aseptic Brick Pack and similar structures, with several coconut and multifruit and vegetable processing facilities in Southeast Asia and Africa under way.
Dan Baron, CEO, said: “As we pursue our goal to improve the value chain of agricultural products in the Asian region, and help local farmers, innovative with technologies such as MST, we provide a big boost in enabling high-quality, fresh beverages. Being a partner of JCS, we can work with Asian companies looking to adopt MST and enable them to reap the benefits of longer product shelf life.”
Upending the industry
A patented technology, the MST pasteurisation technique provides fresh shelf life in non-aseptic packaging for greater than 45 days, and has the potential to extend that beyond 90 days in some products, while stored and distributed refrigerated. It preserves nutrients, minerals, vitamins, and proteins without sacrificing the natural flavour of the product being processed.
MST combines low heat and low pressure to achieve a highly efficient reduction of microorganisms in liquid products. Applicable to high and low acid products, the method involves creating microdroplets of 30 to 100 μm with an instantaneous pressure drop of 10 Bar, and an instantaneous temperature take up of 10°C. The micro droplets are created by pushing liquid through a specially designed nozzles into a heated chamber, resulting in the pressure drop in liquid droplets of 10 Bar (150 PSIG) and a rise in temperature of 10°C (18°F) within a millisecond.
MST pasteurisation technique provides fresh shelf life in non-aseptic packaging for greater than 45 days, and has the potential to extend that beyond 90 days in some products, while stored and distributed refrigerated. (Photo courtesy: Nu Agri Asia)
In a regular process, the milk or juice goes to the HTST regenerator then the homogeniser before finally arriving at the heater section of the HTST. The MST chamber can be added in the middle, with the homogeniser now acting as the motive force to create the pressure at the nozzles.
“The 150 PSI drop across the nozzle helps in forming microdroplets between 30 and 100 microns. It is processing at a velocity of 30 feet per second. Normally in an HTST, milk is moving at 3 to 4 feet per second and CIP at 5 feet per second. When you form a microdroplet, you're enlarging the surface area of the milk, creating an area that’s thousand times more than what you’ll have in the normal fluid flow against the HTST surface. So, you have a large surface area and very high velocity and you have no resistance to the microorganism from the outside. The microorganism immediately experiences a thermal shock of 10°C and a pressure shock of 10 Bar, and these kill the bacteria and shock the spore former into a lag state where it does not want to start vegetating for some time,” said Frechette.
“The droplets are in the chamber for less than half a second and then exit the chamber and come back together again as fluid milk,” Frechette added.
In the crowded dairy market, pasteurisation is highly competitive but declining, with the average industry growth between 2014 and 2019 at -3.4 percent.
At present, the fresh milk market using HTST offers 10 to 21 days of shelf life at low CAPEX and operation costs. But besides the competition being tough, this process does not kill all microorganisms.
“ESL extends the date code to as much as one year,” Frechette said, “and ensures a nearly sterile process.” But this alternative has a higher CAPEX and operating costs, and the competition is high and growing. Further, the high temperature damages the protein, minerals, and vitamins, as well as the fresh taste of the product.
Frechette sees a gap in the market based on the product shelf life: “Should we stay at average 13 days or 21 days maximum with HTST, or make the investment and go to ESL or aseptic?”
The MST system presents an alternative pasteurisation approach with a longer shelf life at low costs and competition. It guarantees the same nearly sterile bacteria kill condition and fill equipment protection as ESL and supports the same package material and treatment as both HTST and ESL.
“MST bridges the gap by putting you into long life but operating at parameters that don't denature the proteins, don't destroy the minerals and don't wipe out the vitamins. It keeps the product from oxidation, keeps it light and fresh as the fresh milk market, the refrigerated milk market expects,” Frechette said.
Long shelf life for milk and juices
Puerto Rico-based Vaquería Tres Monjitas (VTM) used MST technology to launch the world’s first long-lasting fresh milk in 2019. The company has been producing “Long Life fresh®” milk since then, kicking off its second century of business in its century-old dairy with this new pasteurisation technique.
VTM, which has a Grade A milk facility offering highest-quality fresh Puerto Rican milk for more than 100 years, now offers milk products with a longer date code with a new category of “Long Life Fresh® Milk, both of which broaden the product selection and revenue sources. Its 2019 launch was seen by the government as not only putting the local dairy industry on top the global map by pioneering the use of the new technology but also opening up the market and creating more opportunities for local players.
The “Long Life fresh®” product is a new category of milk different from ESL or extended shelf life milk with as much as 45 to 90 days of shelf life. The “Long Life fresh®” category has a longer shelf life than HTST with intact nutritional value and fresh milk flavour profile.
The MST system is applicable for milk and juice products. In the dairy beverages segment, it can be used for flavoured milks and coffee milk beverages. It can stabilise the raw milk from farm before transport to ensure better quality. At receiving plants, in particular those with large batches of milk sitting for some time waiting to be processed, MST can also be employed to stabilise raw milk.
In the nondairy milk sector, MST is suitable for soy milk, coconut milk, almond milk, macadamia nut milk and cashew milk. The technology can also be used in the coconut industry such as for “Long Life fresh®” coconut water and milk. It can stabilise coconut water for barge transport from remote islands to processing plants.
Greater efficiency and savings
By extending the shelf life, MST eliminates higher returns for milk and juice products. This is because with longer date codes, products stay on the shelf for much longer. With a much shorter date code and some companies pulling items off the shelves some days before the date code runs out, products’ time on the shelf is already cut even before they get to the store.
Besides increasing efficiency, this new technology generates savings. Longer date codes enable longer runs for low-volume SKUs, which then generate savings in terms of operating costs while cutting down shrink and allowing longer runs of products that move very fast.
“In the case of Tres Monjitas, they have several products they need to run twice a week. Now they can run these once every two weeks, resulting in greater efficiency on those smaller SKUs,” Frechette shared.
Fore retailers, longer data codes likewise translate to greater efficiency and savings. “Those who cannot return items have to discard those when they go out of date code. As a result, they reduce their orders and then run out of products on the shelf,” said Frechette.
As MST can be used with existing HTST equipment, the cost of entry for manufacturers is much lower compared with migrating operations to ESL or ultra-pasteurisation.
“The good news is if you have an existing HTST, you will still be using your assets, versus if you go to ESL you would need to put in US$20 million of investment, to get a line up and running ESL. Additionally, with ESL you won’t have any use for your existing HTST assets,” Frechette added.
“Think of MST as the opposite of HPP, which requires a large investment and lots of stainless steel and consumes a lot of energy consumption,” he said.
Meanwhile, MST can produce 2 gallons to 300 gallons per minute (68,400 litres per hour) on a single unit. “And with energy consumption per litre only a tenth that of HPP, MST is the most eco-friendly liquid processing method available,” noted Frechette.
MST has 63 US and international patents and patent filings and complies with US Federal Regulations, PMO, IMSC, and FDA Federal Registry. for treating raw milk if integrated with HTST. JCS combines MST with HTST in standard or ESL packaging but is also looking into MST as a stand-alone alternative pasteurisation method.
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