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DLG Innovation Award - female scientists receive food technology prize for practice-relevant work

Britta Graf from the University of Hohenheim, Institute of Food Science and Biotechnology, and Deborah Becker from the Technical University of Berlin, Institute of Food Biotechnology and Process Engineering, share first place in the 2022 DLG (German Agricultural Society) Innovation Award "Young Ideas". Both young scientists convinced the jury with their practice-relevant work in the field of microwave technology and automated product development, re-spectively.

 The winners of this year's DLG Innovation Award "Young Ideas": Britta Graf and Deborah Becker (on right). (Photos: © DLG)

The winners of this year's DLG Innovation Award "Young Ideas": Britta Graf and Deborah Becker (on right). (Photos: © DLG)

Outstanding research by young talent

Every year, the DLG presents the Innovation Award "Junge Ideen” (Young Ideas) to young scientific talent for their outstanding research work. The scientific advisory board of the DLG's main committee, Fachzentrum Lebensmittel (Competence Center Food), selects the award winners from among the applications. The food technology award, which is endowed with a total of 2,500 euros, therefore supports young scientists.

In her doctoral thesis, award winner Britta Graf dealt with "Microwave technology for heating liquid and concentrated dairy products on a pilot plant scale", under the supervision of Prof. Dr. Jörg Hinrichs, head of the Department of Dairy Science and Technology and the Re-search and Teaching Dairy at the University of Hohenheim. The focus was on approaches to solving the problem of spores in milk powders.

The DLG Innovation Award "Junge Ideen” (Young Ideas) promotes outstanding research work in the field of food technology. (Photo: © DLG)

The DLG Innovation Award "Junge Ideen” (Young Ideas) promotes outstanding research work in the field of food technology. (Photo: © DLG)

Microwave technology as an alternative heating method

The results show that continuous microwave heating is an alternative technology for heating liquid and pasty dairy products. The direct heat input allows uniform and gentle heating of concentrated dairy products with reduced fouling. Due to the potential to inactivate thermo-philic spores as well, a more microbially stable product is produced. As a result, microwave technology also opens up new possibilities, for example in the area of infant nutrition, for sub-sequently processing milk concentrates into "spore-reduced" milk powders.

Reduced fouling through the use of microwave technology extends the service life of the sys-tem, thereby reducing cleaning costs and effort. In addition, in the best case scenario, the system can be powered exclusively by electricity generated by green energy. Another ad-vantage: Water consumption is reduced due to the absence of steam boilers.

The so-called customised phase treatment (CPT) offers a new, alternative production pro-cess for storable dairy products by means of microfiltration and separate heating of the phas-es obtained and can be implemented directly on a technical scale. Due to the extended shelf life with simultaneous preservation of value-giving ingredients, the CPT process produces a new type of product in the group of H-milks. A continuous microwave oven offers a space-saving design, easy operation and fast, gentle heating with precise temperature control. Flexi-ble design options make such a system suitable both on a technical scale and for niche prod-ucts, especially in small and medium-sized companies.

Automation in product development

Award winner Deborah Becker worked on automation in product development under the su-pervision of Prof. Cornelia Rauh, Prof. Christoph Hartmann and Dr. Christopher McHardy. The aim of her work was to apply methods known from chemical engineering to the field of food technology. Recent applications here have shown that the efficiency of product devel-opment can be further increased if the automated experiments are coupled with optimisation algorithms. These algorithms are based on the concept of active learning, i.e. they "learn" from existing data and identify an optimal data record suitable for the problem at hand with as few additional experiments as possible.

The circulation procedure developed by Becker made it possible to minimise an otherwise time-consuming test procedure to a duration of just a few hours. It is thereby possible to gen-erate a large set of repeatable and reliable data while avoiding random errors, especially in routine operations. In addition, the scale of the Millifluidik robotic platform made it possible to significantly reduce the amount of sample required.

In the salt-induced aggregation of thermally treated whey protein studied, the integrated inline measurement devices for turbidity and viscosity gave a qualitative indication of the formation of aggregates and the effect of the individual components of the formulation. The insights gained into the prevailing effects in complex systems can be derived and used for further research.

Becker's work shows that automation and active learning can be used successfully in food technology. When further developed and applied to recipes of higher complexity, the meth-odology described here can lead to faster, more sustainable and cost-saving product devel-opment for future food products.

Additional information and contact

DLG e.V.
Simone Schiller
Tel. +49 069 24788 390