The infrared technique of heating foods shows a lot of advantages compared to conventional techniques. These cover both process aspects as well as nutritional and quality aspects. However, the technique is not widely used in the industry.
- More knowledge about the interaction between processes and products needs to be gained. The relationship between raw material properties and how these are affected by the process to obtain the desired properties in the end product should be studied. These are necessary for the success of using new techniques like NIR or short wave infrared heating equipment.
- IR heating should be particularly useful for continuous baking, drying and grilling as well as for surface pasteurisation.
- All different heating techniques have their own limitations concerning application areas and possibilities. Good background knowledge may combine the techniques in the most optimal way. More knowledge is important for the success of the heating technique.
- The use of IR technology in the food industry is quite limited today, and the available equipment is not optimised for the various heating operations along the processing lines for baking, drying, etc. Its application is certain to grow as food equipment manufacturers begin to realise its full potential.
- Along with the development of process control and information technology the IR technique will show its full potential with fast regulation of radiators and rapid heat transfer.
- IR heating will certainly fulfil its role in the requirements of flexible production units.
- With the development of new products the heating technique will be important and used. New flavour can be created via both the recipe and the heating technique.
The combination of different heating techniques is probably a meaningful road to examine for heating of food in the most optimal way (Wahlby, 2002). There are already several types of combination ovens available on the market; essentially these types of ovens are based on microwave technology with conventional technology added. From a food quality point of view this is an interesting field - how to optimise combinations of heating technologies. The IR technology should probably be used at the start of the heating procedure or a stepwise combination of different power levels should be designed. In drying the NIR technology should be used and with a stepwise change from high to low power levels.
The behaviour of food has been explored quite a bit, but the introduction of new sensing techniques (e.g. gas sensing, IR, radio and microwave) shows that there are several areas of research to be continued. By using the new sensing technologies, it may be possible to let food control the process on-line. To be able to do this, a good relationship between these sensor outputs and food quality is necessary. When this is known the quality and the nutritional value of food can be controlled better and the correct heating technique can be selected.
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