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Scientific Areas

Vegetable products and Tomato area

The area’s commitment is focused on applied research and pre-competitive development of preserved fruit, vegetable and tomato products. The primary objectives are processing, new analytical techniques development, quality and genuineness control and the of the fruit and vegetable products compositional characteristics evaluation. The interest extends to the entire supply chain: agricultural production (such as varietal choices, cultivation techniques, harvesting systems), delivering to factories, assessments of specific varietal suitability for industrial processing, processing and preservation technologies, controls on traditional and innovative packaging materials, shelf-life, management of energy, water and secondary material cycles (by-products and waste). The research activities aim at promoting the quality improvement, the products safety and service standards of, optimizing processing and studying the innovative processing technologies application conducted and developed in collaboration with industries in the sector, universities and other research centres.

TEAM

Head: Luca Sandei

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Allodi Alessia

Analytical service and support to institutional activity
0521 795238
alessia.allodi@ssica.it

Cocconi Emanuela

Fruits and vegetable products, analytical controls, HPLC, nutritional analysis, development of methods
0521 795245
emanuela.cocconi@ssica.it

De Giorgi Alessandro

Fatty acid analysis accredited chemical tests
081 5133724
alessandro.degiorgi@ssica.it

De Sio Francesco

Quality analytical determinations, development of new analyses and analytical methods
081 5133742
francesco.desio@ssica.it

Di Rocco Matteo

Pilot plants management and institutional activity
0521 795281
matteo.dirocco@ssica.it

Fragni Rosaria

Fruits and vegetables products analysis, rheological analyses, studies on food authenticity  (multielemental and isotopic analyses)
0521 795205
rosaria.fragni@ssica.it

Rapacciuolo Mariateresa

Gas-chromatographic determinations (aromas, acrylamide, methanol etc.)
081 5133727
mariateresa.rapacciuolo@ssica.it

Stingone Carlotta

Analytical service and support to institutional activity
0521 795275
carlotta.stingone@ssica.it

Areas of activity

The study of preserved fruit and vegetable products includes a wide range of food products such as juices, smoothies, fruit purees and nectars, beverages, jams, jellies, candied fruit, canned tomatoes, pickles, frozen foods, ready-to eat meals.
The area is at the service of food preserving companies, offering technical and scientific support at all stages of the production chain.
Particular attention is also paid to optimizing processing and studying innovative processing technologies application in collaboration with industries, universities and other research institutes.

In particular, the activities aim at:

analytical control of raw materials, semi-finished and finished products, to improve their general quality

identification of food adulteration, and solving process and production problems

Research and development of the entire Tomato supply chain

Support/technology transfer to small and medium enterprises

Development of new formulations

Evaluation of shelf-life

Analytical Support and Collaboration with vegetable canning industries

Evaluation of genuineness

Carrying out specific analyses which allow giving an indication about the authenticity of fruit juices and purees on the basis of reference parameters reported in the literature and in the guidelines of the AIJN (European Fruit Juice Association).

Evaluation of fruit percentage

Carrying out specific analyses (number of formol, ash, potassium, sorbitol and D-isocitric acid) which allow giving an indication about the maximum percentage of fruit present in jams, jellies, fruit-based drinks, based on reference parameters reported in the literature and in the guidelines of the AIJN (European Fruit Juice Association).

Qualitative characterization/evaluation of preserved vegetable products

The deep knowledge of the products of vegetable origin allows carrying out the analytical checks aimed at an evaluation of the intrinsic quality of the food and studying the changes in the different storage conditions.

Analysis of mineral constituents

Determination of the natural content of metals in preserved fruit and vegetable products to assess the genuineness of the raw materials used and the percentage of fruit in processed products and for the preparation of nutritional labels.
Evaluation of heavy metals in foods due to:

Packaging-food interaction

Environmental pollution

Nutrition analysis for labelling

Performance of the required analyses and drafting of nutritional labelling pursuant to Reg (EU) No. 1169/2011.

Libelling for export to the USA

Performance of the required analyses and drafting of nutritional labelling in accordance with the American legislation (FDA). Technical support for the compilation of the documentation required for the export of processed products in the USA.

Analysis of additives

The search for the presence of additives and the correspondence of their contents with possible legal limits is carried out, with reference to the DM 209 of 1996.

Viscosimetric measurements

Rheological characterization of the different fluid and semi-fluid products. Definition of the rheological behaviour of the sample, with development of mathematical models that describe the changes of viscosity with flow conditions, temperature and concentration.

Tomato

The Vegetable-Tomato section collaborates with national public bodies and institutions (Universities, Provinces, Regions, Ministries, etc.), and international istitutions (WPTC, AMITOM and FAO), with multinational corporations, machinery and equipment industries for the agro-food sector, in the drafting of protocols, regulations and technical specifications, making available their knowledge, experiences and structures for research applications and for pre-competitive development of processes and products.

Raw materials

Studies and research aim at the entire production chain:

agricultural production (cultivation techniques, harvesting systems, etc.)

evaluation of specific varietal suitability for production areas

processing and storage technologies

evaluation of packaging materials

determination of the qualitative parameters of industrial products through tests carried out on SSICA semi-industrial pilot plants

management of energy cycles and recovery of non-conventional secondary material (solid by-products)

study and development of new nutraceutical and functional products

The activity covers the entire supply chain of the sector in two main sections:
Pre-competitive applied research
Safety and quality analysis and controls

In the specific area of the industrial tomatoes the activities carried out are as follows:

research and development of the best agricultural and pedo-climatic conditions (varietal choices, cultivation techniques, harvesting systems, optimization of sustainability, etc.)

evaluation of the quality of the raw material and of the specific biodiversity for subsequent industrial processing

optimization of technological process conditions and prevention of production defects

study and analysis of the best packaging and shelf-life conditions

study and qualitative characterization of finished products

valorisation and recovery of solid production by-products

study and development of new products with a high content of bioactive substances

quality: analysis and improvement of sensory characteristics

nutritional aspects: effect of processing on nutritional and nutraceutical/functional properties

Technological support

SSICA is equipped with Semi-Industrial pilot plants which allows the complete reproduction of production cycles. Thanks to this it is possible to intervene as a support to processing companies for process optimization and for the development of new products. Furthermore, in close collaboration with machinery and equipment makers, alternative innovative technologies are developed and validated.

Development of new product formulations

Preliminary tests to develop/ optimize the new formulations in the laboratory

Transfer and validation of the new formulation on pilot plants. Evaluation of the commercial life of the products (shelf-life). The shelf-life, or commercial life of a product, is the time limit within which, under certain storage conditions, the progress of individual reactive events determines imperceptible or otherwise still acceptable changes in terms of safety of use. Determining shelf-life means setting up an analytical control system of the possible critical points of qualitative decay

Evaluation of microbiological stability

Evaluation of the deterioration of reference qualitative parameters (eg L-ascorbic acid)

through storage at different temperatures for a specified time with sampling at regular intervals to be defined according to the product examined. Development of predictive kinetic models

Evaluation of packaging-food interactions

Production Technologies

Process and technological innovation

Management of pilot plants

Solution of process problems, development

Organization of pilot productions

Study and development of innovative applied technologies

The area, dedicated to carrying out research-related projects, works in close contact with food-producing companies, plant builders, research institutes and universities, as well as local agencies for development and innovation. Most of these activities, tailored to meet the needs of companies, are confidential and often involve, besides the pilot plant and innovative technology sector, also the other departments and services of SSICA, which is their point of reference. In this context, the pilot structures in Parma (renewed) and Angri (in the process of being so) provide food processing industries, both contributors and non-contributors, traditional and innovative equipment and plants, modular, capable of simulating processing lines and processes. Great space is dedicated to innovative processes (high pressures, radio frequencies, membrane separation techniques, ohmic heating) and traditional processes. A series of pilot plants for small productions are currently available and located at both sites. To this end, spaces are used in the pilot areas where they can install their own equipment for testing or demonstration activities.

FAQ

Where do tomatoes come from?

The tomato is native to South America, from the tropical and sub-tropical regions of Peru and Ecuador, where it is still possible to find wild species with small fruits, similar, among the varieties currently cultivated, to “cherry tomato” type. According to some scholars, the English name “tomato” derives from the Aztec “xitomate” or “zitomate”, while according to others, derives from “tomati”, a name by which some indigenous peoples of Mexico used to call the fruits of the tomato plant they ate. The Italian term “pomodoro”, instead, can be associated with the yellow color of the first fruits that appeared in Europe at the end of the sixteenth century, replaced shortly after by red-fruit varieties, also present in South America; from Mexico, where it was cultivated in the midst of corn, the tomato arrived in Spain. Through the Spanish possession of Naples the tomato, initially considered a medicinal plant, entered the Italian kitchen as “golden apple” (pomo d’oro) and through Genoa and Nice it arrived in Provence, where it was mainly used to embellish balconies. From Spain, following the Arab domination, tomato also arrived in Sicily, where can be found the oldest Italian tomato-based recipes, especially sauces to dress pasta, as an alternative to the seasonings based on butter, cheese and spices. In Parma, where tomato is destined to become one of the most cultivated horticultural species, it does not enter the food habits of the rural world until late ‘800. The man who more than any other tried to spread its cultivation was the agronomist Carlo Rognoni.
A little later, in those lands, also thanks to the contribution of the Royal Experimental Station for the Food Preserving Industry, the advent was witnessed of the tomato processing industry, which still represents one of the most important realities of the Italian economy.

What are the morphological and chemical characteristics of tomatoes?

The tomato plant (Lycopersicum esculentum) is a solanacea, family of dicotyledonous plants, which also includes potato, pepper and aubergine. It is a perennial plant although, due to its scarce resistance to low temperatures, it is cultivated as an annual plant. It has a taproot and a stem that can reach, in the case of indeterminate plants, two meters and on which are arranged the large alternate leaves composed of numerous leaflets. The flowers are cluster-like and the ripe fruit is a berry of different shapes and sizes: globular, round, elongated or flattened. The epicarp or peel is the outermost part consisting of a film, generally yellow, which covers the mesocarp or pulp, consisting of cellulose, hemicellulose and pectin, and whose juicy content includes colouring substances (lycopene and other carotenoids) along with savory and aromatic components; finally, the endocarp, divided into two or more loculi, contains the placental tissue in which the seeds are immersed. The chemical composition of the tomato is influenced by numerous factors: variety, pedoclimatic conditions, degree and time of ripening, etc. When fully ripe, the tomato is bright red, with an edible part greater than 96%. On average, 100 g of fresh tomatoes consist of: 93-95% water, 2.5 – 3.2% reducing sugars, 0.2-0.4% fat, 0.6-1% nitrogenous substances and 1.8% polysaccharides and fibres; energy value about 100 kJ (20 kcal).

What is the chemical composition of tomatoes?

Sugars are mainly represented by glucose and fructose, which make up 40-60% of the total solids content. The most present acids are: citric acid, which represents 90% of total acids, and malic acid. The degree of acidity of the juice, expressed as pH, refers to citric acid: in cases where the pH of tomato does not exceed the value of 4.3, sterilizing thermal treatments below 100°C are sufficient, in the other cases the issue can be overcome by adding, during processing, citric acid in a quantity sufficient to adjust the pH of the tomato with no need of preserving agents; the preservation of tomato products, in fact, takes place only through heat treatments. The insoluble substances are mainly represented by polysaccharides, or complex sugars, such as: pectins, cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin. Particularly important are pectins which, combined with other polysaccharides, give rise to protopectins, responsible for the compactness and consistency of the fruit which is reflected on the viscosity and consistency of industrial products. Tomato amino acids include all the ones which are considered essential for nutrition: glutamic acid, aspartic acid, threonine and asparagine.

What are the main tomato-based products?

The main products obtained from tomato processing are: peeled, paste and strained; various pulps and crushed tomatoes and other types of preserved tomatoes. Tomato pastes are divided into: semi-concentrated, with a net total solids content above 12%; concentrated tomatoes: with a net total solids content above 18%; double concentrate: with a net total solids content above 28%; triple concentrate: with a net total solids content above 36%; sextuple concentrate: with a net total solids content above 55%. Crushed tomatoes are obtained by crushing previously peeled or coarsely strained tomatoes, with partial elimination of seeds. Tomato paste is a product intended for the direct preparation of seasonings, obtained from tomato juice not subjected to strong refining and partially concentrated, with a soluble solids content between 5 and 12°Brix, with a tolerance of 3%, net of added salt. Tomato juice, on the other hand, is a pulpy liquid, separated from the skins and seeds, obtained by crushing and sieving fresh tomato fruits, consumed directly as a drink or in cocktail-like mixtures. Tomato powder is obtained by dehydrating the concentrate up to a moisture content of 3-4% and is mainly used for the preparation of dehydrated mixtures such as vegetable soups, juices, sauces, baby foods and soups.

What are the normative references for the quality of diced tomatoes...

What are the normative references for the quality of diced tomatoes as regards the incidence of defects due to the presence of skins and of units with uneven color or with necrotic stains?

 

Diced tomatoes fall into the category of non-whole peeled tomatoes. The Decree of the Italian Ministry of Agriculture and Forests of 4 September 1985 “Aid for the production of tomato paste, whole and non-whole peeled tomatoes and other fruit and vegetable products, provided for by EEC Regulation No. 516/77. Terms and conditions of payment of the minimum price “(Suppl. G.U. 210 of 6 September 1985, page 5), in Article 38 of Annex 5 reports: “Non-whole peeled tomatoes must meet the following requirements:

– drained weight not less than 60% of actual net weight;

– minimum soluble solids content 4% net of added salt;

– be free of larvae, parasites and alterations of a parasitic nature consisting of necrotic spots of any size affecting the pulp and not significantly exhibiting speckling, of another nature (depigmented parts, residual mechanical lesions or growth scars) affecting the superficial part of the fruit; the occasional presence of peduncles is tolerated”.

The Commission Regulation (EEC) No. 1764/86 of 27 May 1986 concerning the minimum quality requirements that tomato-based products must have to benefit from production aid pursuant to Article 6 of the GUCE 7.6.86, in Article 6 defines the following tolerances:

– defects (areas that have deep lesions, whose color or structure contrasts sharply with the normal tomato tissue, and which should have been removed during processing): 35 cm2 of total surface;

– skins (both the peel adhering to the tomato pulp, and the peel found loose in the container): 1250 cm2of total surface;

Tolerances refer to 10 kg net weight.

When is the labelling of pre-packed or pre-wrapped foods compulsory?

At the time of presentation to the consumer, as the company that prepares preserved foods, the packer or the distributor take responsibility for the marketing, with reference to the labelling, when placing their products on the market, such as reported in paragraph 3 of article 3 of Legislative Decree 27.1.92 n. 109 “Implementation of Dir. 89/395/CEE and 89/396/CEE concerning the labelling, presentation and advertising of food products”.
It is one of the many simplifications that have been proposed to make it easier to control product batches in inter-company exchanges (others are the desire to give a soluble solids value by measuring it refractometrically, or to give a soluble solids value to a triple concentrate with high concentration or a to a super hot break product). In fact, Blotter testis not applicable to diluted concentrates since dilution (addition of water) is not able to represent the original product (the water is not reabsorbed at the level of intact cells and is therefore released during measurement). On an undiluted concentrate it is believed that a well-made HB does not have a spread over 6-8 mm. A CB spreads over 15 mm, a “normal” HB has intermediate values.

What is the pH value of a product to be pasteurized?

In the USA, FDA has established that when the natural pH of a food is lowered below 4.6 by the addition of acids, the acidification treatment is critical for the purposes of hygienic safety and its correct performance must be documented. In Europe and in Italy this obligation is not explicit, but derives from the correct fulfilment of the hygienic risk prevention obligations established by Directive 93/43 (EEC). However, in order to also guarantee commercial safety, it is important that at the time of filling the containers, the pH (in the slowest heating point, especially for particulate products) is not higher than the value of 4.2 pH units, in order to reduce the incidence of spoilage by butyric clostridia.

What is acidification?

Acidification is an important phase in the preparation of preserved vegetable products (preserved food in oil, in vinegar, ready-to-use sauces, “condipasta”, “condiriso” etc.) which are stabilized with a thermal pasteurization process (temperatures <100°C) to guarantee health and commercial safety.

What are the acidification methods?

The most widely used acidifier is citric acid, both as it is and in concentrated solution (50%). The acidification methods for products containing a solid phase and a liquid phase such as sauces are essentially of two types:

– addition of acid as it is in the liquid phase of the processing batch;

– addition of a concentrated solution.

The use of the first method has the advantage of not significantly influencing the residue of the sauce, but some time is necessary for the acid in the feed tank to dissolve uniformly in the liquid phase. The second method involves immediate solubilisation and a very small effect on the residue of the sauce. The relation that links the quantity of acid to be added to the sauce to obtain a certain pH is given by the buffering potential of the sauce, which by definition is given by:

where dCa and dCb represent the increase in concentration of a strong acid or a strong base to obtain a decrease or increase (dpH) of the pH.
In practice the buffering potential represents the increase in concentration of a strong acid or a strong base to obtain a decrease or increase in the pH of the unit. In general it is not possible to know in advance the buffering potential of the product at the pH it has; this information is obtained through a series of preliminary acidification tests on relatively small quantities. Finally, the quantity of acid necessary for the processing batch under examination is obtained by a simple proportion; the necessary acid dose is added and, after homogenization of the sauce, the pH is the desired one.

What is lycopene?

Lycopene is a powerful antioxidant and is responsible for the red color of tomatoes. It is soluble in oil and insoluble in water. Lycopene is easily assimilated by the human body and is naturally present in human plasma and in tissues at higher concentrations than other carotenoids.

Is lycopene only found in tomatoes?

In our diet, 95% of the assimilated lycopene comes from tomatoes and its industrial products. It is also found in watermelon, pink grapefruit, papaya and rosehip.

What are the effects of industrial processing of tomatoes on lycopene?

The technological treatments for the industrial processing of tomato-based products make lycopene and other antioxidant components more bio-available by breaking the cell walls of the tomato matrix. Furthermore, as with all oil-soluble substances, lycopene is more readily bio-available when oil is added to the product; It has also been shown that lycopene metabolized by the concentrate is 2.5 times higher than from fresh tomatoes.

What is the role of tomatoes in disease prevention?

The number of scientific papers and the consistency of the results obtained justify the statement that eating tomatoes and its products daily helps to reduce the risk of cancerous formations of the gastro-digestive and respiratory tract, of the stomach and of the lungs. It has also been shown that the consumption of tomato products lowers the risk of prostate cancer. Further studies show that lycopene performs an effective protective action, in synergy with the other constituents of the tomato, against all possible cardio-vascular, pulmonary, visual disorders, as well as for the fight against aging.

What are antioxidants?

Antioxidants are molecules that protect cells from possible damage caused by oxidation, especially those caused by free radicals deriving from oxygen. The antioxidants found in food products are molecules that allow living organisms to effectively resist oxidative stresses.

Why are antioxidants important?

Free radicals are normally held to be responsible for infections and oxidation in the human body. At high concentrations, free radicals can severely damage cell walls, causing DNA alterations. Antioxidants release electrons from their chemical structure, to reduce and neutralize the oxygen molecules containing free radicals; consequently, the damage to the cells and the alteration of their DNA is reduced, which may lead to the formation of cancerous masses and degenerative diseases. The majority of the assimilated antioxidant substances are metabolized by the diet but are not qualitatively and quantitatively sufficient.

What are tomato antioxidants?

Tomatoes contain different antioxidants: the two main carotenoids, lycopene and beta carotene, vitamin C and E and polyphenols such as kaempferol, rutin, quercetin, etc.

What does soluble solids content represent in tomatoes?

Natural Total Soluble Solids (NTSS) represent the percentage of soluble substances present in tomatoes.

What does total solids content represent in tomatoes?

Natural Total Solids (NTS) represent the percentage of total solids naturally present in tomatoes (soluble substances + insoluble substances); it can normally vary in “ordinary” processing tomatoes from 5 to 7% and from 6.5 to 9.5% in “Cherry” or cluster tomatoes.

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Find more about SSICA scientific areas. Click to read more about each area, including Head and Coordinators, the main activities and our focus on research and developement.

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