EPRI believes that there is a real need for food manufacturers to combine food safety with energy conservation. Food manufacturers are some of the largest customers of many energy companies - according to EPRI, agricultural production accounts for 18 to 22 per cent of the electrical load in many areas and food processing industries account for an additional 10 per cent of electrical load in many areas. Over 35 per cent of the US work force is employed in these combined industries.
In addition, EPRI claims that recent EPA enforcement of the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts now limits agricultural production in many nutrient-sensitive areas. Because of foodborne illnesses, mandatory FDA product recalls have had a negative economic impact on the food processing industry.
These environmental and regulatory challenges are having a very serious economic effect on the total food manufacturing sector. In the short term, says EPRI, these challenges are reducing incomes in food manufacturing and forcing many companies out of business.
In the long term, the consumer will face increased food prices, and the supply of agricultural exports will drop thus resulting in reduced disposable income nationally and greater trade deficits globally. Because a number of electrotechnologies can solve these regulatory and environmental challenges, EPRI believes that the potential for energy growth and customer retention in the food business is extremely high.
For example, radiation techniques and other non-thermal pasteurisation techniques for food safety are covered by the programme. Included in these techniques are microwave sterilisation, ultra high-pressure sterilisation, pulsed electric fields and ohmic heating. In the past ten years, the AFTA has conducted over seventy-five research and demonstration projects that involved the safe handling, storage, and distribution of food and agricultural products.
Confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) have become an environmental concern in the past few years. The AFTA also has considerable experience in this area and can offer programmes in wastewater and odour abatement as well as anaerobic digestion.
Simultaneously, the interest in biofuels such as ethanol and soy diesel has increased greatly. Agri-energy programmes that use biomass (crop production) to generate ethanol and distillers' grains are being connected to CAFOs. The distillers' grains are being utilised as feed in the CAFOs, and anaerobic digestion is being used to generate methane that is utilised as fuel in the ethanol processes.
Cutting-edge technologies for closed systems such as these have become increasingly important, as the dependency on foreign oil increases. Recently, the AFTA has witnessed a growing interest in these technologies.
AFTA has also worked with chilled aeration and ozone technologies that will replace fumigants and insecticides currently utilised to safeguard stored agricultural products. These technologies are expanding agricultural markets abroad and reducing environmental impacts at home. These same technologies have been applied to stored food products with similar success.
AFTA has also helped address food safety concerns through workshops, projects and demonstrations on the use of ozone, UV, electron beams, and a host of pulsed power technologies. AFTA was the major sponsor in filing a Food Additive Petition with the Food and Drug Administration. This petition, accepted by the FDA, cleared the use of ozone as an antimicrobial agent in the processing and storage of food and agricultural products.