Cultured meat and the growing role of controlled environments in food

Published: 23-Feb-2022

Whether it be environmental or ethical reason, there has been a growing interest in lab-made meat in recent years. Stacy Horseman from Stancold explains that these clean meats could easily be contaminated and the environments they grow in must attempt to prevent this in order to preserve the potential future industry’s reputation

When the world's first laboratory-grown burger was presented and tasted in London back in 2013, this sparked a rumour of such products being commercially available as soon as 2020.

With a pandemic thrown into the mix, this prediction was maybe a little too premature, but it certainly doesn't mean that the wheels aren't firmly in motion to make it a near possibility for the UK.

Food Manufacture recently reported that we could see cultured meat on our plates as soon as 2023, as Oxford University's Ivy Farm Technologies scales up developments in a bid to remove over 170,000 pigs from the production line. However, a 2020 report compiled by IDTechEx suggests that we have nearly 20 years to wait until this can be readily available in the mainstream market, as major challenges include high cost of production and regulatory approval.

Of course, no one can make accurate predictions just yet when the industry is still in its earliest stages, but that doesn't mean we haven't seen glimpses of what is to come already. A breakthrough in December 2020 saw Singapore become the first nation to grant regulatory approval for cultured chicken.

What is cultured meat?

Cultured meat, also known as cell-based meat, slaughter-free meat or clean meat, is the method of producing meat products within a laboratory environment. In its simplest form, the process requires starter cells to be taken from living animals, treated with a growth medium and placed in a bioreactor that will supply the cells with the energy they need to grow muscle and fat.

This means that there would be no need to raise or slaughter animals specifically for meat production, which, alongside animal welfare benefits, can be argued as a necessary step in looking after the environment.

Bridging the gap

Consumers are getting savvier when it comes to their lifestyle choices and how their actions impact on wider causes.

With a focus on the environmental effects of our eating habits, a shift towards flexitarian, vegetarian and vegan diets have allowed for more diversity on supermarket shelves and hospitality menus, thanks to innovative plant-based alternatives. However, for meat-eaters that are conscious of consumption of animal products but find plant-based options unappealing for texture and flavour, cultured meat will be a game-changer in maintaining the diet that they know best, but without the negative environment and welfare stigma.

A room that has high-level ventilation and filtration systems, protects against harmful contaminants

While around 50 companies worldwide now race to bring the first products to market, it's likely to be some time until UK food manufacturers can facilitate this type of process. In the meantime, how can laboratories and other controlled environments, segregated from the rest of the production space, benefit the manufacturing process for your food products?

The role of the controlled environment

The industry has already begun using labs and cleanrooms in order to regulate and maintain high food safety standards.

A room that has high-level ventilation and filtration systems, protects against harmful contaminants that even a food-safe environment cannot prevent. The likes of mould, mildew, dust and bacteria can be removed from the air before entering the space, while personnel working within them undertake additional rigorous precautions by wearing clean suits and masks.

This provides a number of benefits to the food manufacturing process, as it improves the quality of products, extends shelf-life and more importantly, provides customers with complete peace of mind, especially where specific dietary and allergen requirements are concerned.

The industry has seen meat, dairy and speciality food manufacturers undertake this approach for some time already, while sub-sectors including seafood, confectionery and bakery are early adopters of this.

Sam Taylor from Stancold knows more on the topic of these types of cleanrooms.

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