The EU dairy industry produces 130 billion litres of raw milk each year for consumption and for application in the production of many food, feed and pharma products. Without doubt the quality and safety of milk and milk products is of paramount importance for safeguarding the health and safety of EU consumers. While pasteurisation has resulted in a dramatic decline in milk-borne disease outbreaks, consumption of raw or inadequately pasteurised milk has been associated with several outbreaks of enteric infections with pathogens such as Listeria and Campylobacter.
Furthermore, not all consumers want to drink milk that has been pasteurised, and although a niche product, consumer interest in raw milk is growing as many people believe it contains a higher proportion of beneficial microorganisms and vitamins. Raw milk continues to be consumed directly by large numbers of people in rural areas across the EU. There is a need for a technology that will improve the treatment of milk and provide an alternative to pasteurisation. Research carried out by University College Dublin revealed that the treatment of milk with thermosonication (TS) combined with pulsed electric field (PEF) achieved a degree of inactivation of L. innocua comparable with conventional pasteurisation, while substantially reducing the severity of the time/temperature exposure.
This project will build on this research and will build a TS and PEF- based pre-competitive prototype system called SmartMILK. It will be tested and validated in milk production facilities. A key innovativion of the SmartMILK project will centre on optimising the combination of TS and PEF, whereby TS can assist the treatment technology in resulting in a lesser degree of thermal damage in the milk, thereby retaining more of the organoleptically and nutritionally favourable characteristics of the fresh product, while potentially achieving similar or superior shelf life to the conventional treatment.