No Smoke Without Fire- Prof. Sutar's Recipe For Sustainable Development
Prof. Parag Prakash Sutar of the department of Food Processing engineering has been ardently devoted into research on effective and sustainable technology to harness development in an area largely talked about; Sterilization of foods to not only develop agricultural sector but create quality products to pump in a large international market without compromising. Monday Morning met Prof. Sutar to discuss his ideas and progress.
Monday Morning (MM): Tell us about your research on Electromagnetic assisted drying-cum-sterilization.
Prof. Parag Sutar (PPS): India produces a lot of dry food products of various forms that are exported to various parts of the globe. Agricultural products produced in India are usually dried in the fields itself, as a result, the food products get largely contaminated with various types of microorganisms. Earlier these products were consumed within India but at the current stage when these products are getting exported to developed countries there is a leading agency named USFDA which regulates the food import in the USA by performing quantitative checks of products. As a result, a significant number of consignments of traders have been detained due to quality constraints, so we thought of coming up with an alternative method for drying and identification and inactivation of microbes before packaging. Steam sterilization is a good technique that came up to address this issue but the quality of the food product is largely compromised due to steam sterilization. Gamma radiation is one of the methods but it also has certain limitations due to the very high cost of equipment.
The need of the hour is to have microwave equipment which is infrared assisted and can be suited to large scale usage. It's really essential to understand the reaction of electromagnetic waves on Indian food products and accordingly devise a technology that would solve the persistent problems. We applied to the Ministry of Food Processing industries and DST to start two projects; one of them is already completed and we have developed a small scale dryer that is present in our lab and we got an excellent status for that project. Another project that was given to us is the Imprint project (Impacting Research Innovations). The other major issue with the food processing industries in India is effluent management. During the various food processing methods, the effluent generated when accumulated with natural resources causes harmful effects. In some regions of our country, we have a problem of water shortage, as a result, it is difficult for industries to manage water resources for processing and also the proper discharge of the effluent water produced is a tough ask. We are aiming at coming up with a zero discharge technology. That imprint project is basically on effluent free food processing operations.
MM: Can you tell us about the sponsorship for this project?
PPS: We have got ample support from all possible sources for this project in terms of funds. The ministry of food processing industries has given us around 53 lakhs, the science and engineering research board have given us around 45 lakhs. This is a very important project keeping in mind the Indian food market and its export market.
MM: How is the research different from your alternative research on enzyme inactivation?
PPS: If enzymes are not inactivated before drying, they create an off flavour and degrade the quality of the product during storage. Enzyme inactivation also requires water blanching, which aids in the removal of gases in the product. More amount of hot water is required for this operation as well as the discharge is very dangerous. So, you require electromagnetic energy to penetrate the product and a humidity chamber is required along with water spray to inactivate the enzyme. The data on enzyme inactivation kinetics with different microwave power levels, infrared wavelength and power levels is not available in case of many Indian products. Whatever the government and food industries suggest, we are trying to inculcate all of them in the current scope of our project.
There are very few scholars in India who are pursuing the aforementioned project because the development of the microwave equipment necessary is itself very difficult owing to its nature of electromagnetic field interference with food products. We are conducting this development independently in collaboration with few industries and the Government of India is quite supportive in this initiative as well.
MM: What is the biggest challenge that researchers face when they try sterilisation?
PPS: The biggest challenge, in my opinion, would be the fact that there are a few spores that are extremely resistant. Even researchers working in the USA have also come across this problem. In the dry state of the product, it is extremely difficult to kill the spores, even after achieving a suitable temperature. However, in the wet state, it is relatively easier to inactivate them. In the case of dry products, you also have to control the temperature as well, because at higher temperatures the product starts to burn as well. To mitigate this issue, new research has been initiated on the behaviour of microorganisms in different humidity and moisture environments. In this line of work, we create a temporary environment, where we can kill the spores by providing a suitable level of thermal energy. Many times, companies manufacturing dry products check for the spores in the product during manufacture and ship it after laboratory tests showing it free from spores due to the non-detection nature of spores in dry products. However, during shipping, the product acquires moisture and the spores get activated.
MM: Are the current equipment and facilities adequate to support the scope of the research?
PPS: We have developed and fabricated our own designs and equipment for the research. It was one of the earlier stages of the project. We get support from various industries who help in procuring essential machine components from various different countries like Japan, China, Germany etc. Even the funding from the Central Government is also quite generous in this regard. So, yes, the equipment is definitely adequate for our research purpose.
MM: What are your future plans for improving this research?
PPS: The primary objective would be to make the Indian products perfect for export, especially the all Indian spices, exotic spices, as well as tropical Indian fruits and vegetables. Currently, there is a lot of water usage in the making of parboiled Paddy. Although microwave-assisted paddy parboiling research has been carried out in our lab regarding the issue, we are yet to finalize a way as to how to scale it up on a larger scale. The current set up in the lab only allows us to do the project for 10kgs of paddy. So, focussing on how to scale up the apparatus will be our next plan in the future.
MM: How do you think industrial collaborations and interactions aid the learning of the students?
PPS: In today’s date, industrial collaboration is a must. Not only this fosters research, but also provides the students with information about the latest technology in use in the industry as well as the different problems faced. Students also get information regarding parallel researches happening in the field in other parts of the world. Industries are also able to procure specific needs catering to research, which enhances the level of the facilities and is reflected in the teaching as well. Students not only learn the concepts; they are also able to understand the realtime application of the concept as well. Innovation can take a back seat, as students can learn and go into much more depth in the field they are studying.
The food and agriculture industry is very sensitive. We receive feedback from the farmers agro-processors and food industry who ask to include all post-harvest processing issues into our curriculum. This helps us teach the real-time problems to the students as well. Agriculturists and food exporters have a big impact on this field of study. Understanding its importance, the government is also providing quite high funding in this department. But still, there is a long way to go with the research.
MM: According to you, what other fields and areas can be explored based on your specialization?
PPS: Currently, our country is in need of knowhow on microwave-assisted chemistry. Upon the use of microwave energy, the rates of different chemical reactions are enhanced by significant levels. Microwave-assisted chemistry is a new subject that should be explored a lot, especially in India, where it has not been researched earlier. The textile industry, automobile paints (instant dry), infrared emitter also need dielectric energy-assisted chemistry as well. The rubber industry in India is ahead in utilizing electromagnetic energy. Deployment of the same has also been initiated in the pharma industry for faster extraction of bioactive compounds and reactions rate enhancement.
Team MM wishes Prof. Sutar a successful venture in this regard