The Singapore Institute Technology (SIT) is set to launch a new small batch food production facility, FoodPlant in early 2022.

FoodPlant, to be located at JTC Hub@ Senoko, is designed to help food companies to reduce capital and operating costs through shared facilities and services, and is now open for membership. It can also be used by MNCs to test the viability of their new products via small batch production.

AFBR has the opportunity to interview Associate Professor Lim Bee Gim, CEO of FoodPlant to get more specific details on the FoodPlant. The following are excerpts of the interview:

 

Can you tell us more on FoodPlant capacity, size, location and what type of food products that it is targeted for ?

The FoodPlant spans about 1,130 sq.metre and is situated at the JTC Food Hub @ Senoko.

The FoodPlant will have the capability to support food companies with a wide range of offerings, with a keen focus in areas such as elderly nutrition and future foods to address food sustainability challenges, e.g. to develop food products containing alternative proteins.

There are 12 rooms available for rent. Customers will have access to a range of facilities including 3 preparation rooms, 8 production rooms and 1 analysis room. The processing rooms house a range of specialised equipment, including a horizontal retort system, spray dryer, twin-screw extruder, and pulsed electric field system.

The batch size or throughput of various equipment varies with different applications and customers’ needs. For example, the twin-screw extruder is able to produce up to 25kg of high moisture meat analogues per hour, while the retort system can produce more than 200kg of product of retort pouches per batch of operation.

In summary, the small batch production at FoodPlant can produce sufficient quantity to help SMEs to test the commercial viability of products after conceptualisation before making the leap to full-scale production. At the same time, the capacity can also cater to MNCs for R&D purposes.

 

Could you describe more on the equipment/technologies offered at the new FoodPlant?

The FoodPlant compound is compartmentalised into rooms resourced with different equipment, each fulfilling a function within the food production or processing value chain. These include:

    • Preparation rooms: Materials such as raw meats, seafoods, and vegetables are washed, cut, marinated, and batched in these rooms prior to their transfer to other rooms for further processing. Temporary chilled storage is also available.

    • General processing room: Outfitted with steam jacketed cooker, this room caters for the processing of a breadth of potential food products such as pastes, sauces, soups, jams, salsas, and processed cheeses, amongst others.

    • Filling and packing room: Configured for wet packaging, this room comprises packaging equipment ranging from rotary filling and sealing machine to mobile weight filler and vacuum chamber sealer, amongst others.

    • Retort room: The retort equipment in this room, which employs steam-air or steam-water spray, and with a agitation system, will provide for the commercial sterilisation of food to extend its shelf life. In this process, food is packed and heated within flexible retort pouches.

    • Dry process and packing room: Set within a humidity-controlled environment of 25oC and 40% relative humidity, this room focuses on milling, blending and manual packing of dehydrated products.

    • Spray drying room: Spray drying technique is favorable in nutrient retention and creating new functional properties required by the silver care products. Conventionally, it is an essential step in the food manufacturing process to create products such as milk powder, instant coffee, and various powdered flavours. In this process, liquid is sprayed through an atomiser into a chamber containing streams of hot air that causes moisture to evaporate rapidly. With an integrated fluid bed at the bottom of the drying chamber, drying and agglomeration take place in a single operation that produces free flowing and dustless powder.

    • Thermal processing room: This room involves heat treatment of foods using thermal processes like pasteurisation, extended shelf-life (ESL) and Ultra-High Temperature processing (UHT).

    • Extrusion room: This room involves the use of High Moisture Extrusion Technology (HMET). HMET is a process that texturises plant-based protein into viable meat alternatives. These meat alternatives have become increasingly popular due to the growing awareness from the global meat-free movement. The HMET process involves the use of a twin-screw extruder and a combination of a series of chemical and physical processes, including thermomechanical cooking and die fibration. Through these processes, HMET is able to produce a fibrous structure and meat-like texture in the resulting products from plant-protein sources, such as wheat gluten, soy and pea proteins. Besides high moisture meat analogue, the twin-screw extruder can be used to produce breakfast cereals or texturised vegetable proteins (TVP).

    • Analysis room: This room houses various analytical instruments which include rheometer, texture analyser, particle sizer, microscope, viscosity meter, density meter etc to determine chemical and physical characteristics of the food products to achieve food quality and safety objectives.

    • Non-thermal processing room: This room houses 2 main equipment, Pulsed electric field (PEF) system and freeze dryer. Evolving consumer tastes have led to the emergence of novel non-thermal food processing techniques. These techniques help to address the undesirable alteration of food flavour, colour and texture during the thermal processing stage. PEF works by puncturing cell membrane, causing microbial inactivation and structural modification and resulting in increased shelf life, drying acceleration and yield increase.

 

It will be quite a challenge to fulfil the need of Halal/Kosher food in this new plant, how do you segregate production of Halal with Non-Halal food products?

Although the facility will not be Halal/Kosher certified to avoid restrictions to innovation and increase in the turnaround time for market testing, FoodPlant will however prohibit the manufacturing of pork and alcohol products in the facility, practice Good Manufacturing Practices, control cross-contamination, and ensure proper cleaning and storage. The plant will require customers to declare the Halal/Kosher certifications of high-risk raw materials/ingredients that they bring into the facility.

Customers who intend to obtain Halal/Kosher certification for their products may consider exploring FoodPlant’s services to get the market tested and refine their products, before they choose to finalise and scale-up with another manufacturer that is Halal/Kosher certified.

 
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