Consumers are embracing the trend to include more plant-based foods in their diet, leading to a strong and steady increase in the development and production of plant protein-based foods. While these foods can be healthy and tasty alternatives to dairy or meat products, they must also be safe, reliable and of high quality.
New plant ingredients, however, often contain unknown types and levels of microbes, and there is a significant gap in knowledge about the risks of these microbial contaminants. Many plant-based proteins come from crops that are sourced close to the soil and can be contaminated with a wide range of organisms.
These can include spore-forming bacteria that may survive heat treatments, for example. Various microbes can also be introduced during harvesting and storage, or the plant protein manufacturing process. This complicates the design of efficient processing conditions and stable product formulations, and carrying out effective troubleshooting when microbiological contamination occurs in finished products.