Low energy electron beam to support safe whole dried insect products
Product safety is a major concern when using edible insects and insect-derived products due to insects’ diverse microbial community. Therefore, development of reliable post-processing treatments are required. Commonly used thermal treatments are effective against microorganisms but can have negative effects on product quality and nutritional value. Low-energy electron beam (LEEB) is an emerging non-thermal surface treatment technology for microbial decontamination of low water activity goods while preserving product quality. However, its potential application as an insect post-processing treatment has not been explored. To assess the effectiveness of LEEB treatment (250 keV and 12 kGy), three separate experiments were conducted with dried black soldier fly larvae (BSFL) and yellow mealworm (YMW). First, to assess LEEB’s potential in inactivating microorganisms in insect products, LEEB treatment was conducted on dried BSFL inoculated with Escherichia coli K-12. Secondly, the effect of LEEB treatment on reducing naturally occurring microbial populations after microwave drying was evaluated. Finally, a six-month controlled shelf-life study (24 ℃, 65% RH) was conducted to assess the long-term efficacy of LEEB treatment by monitoring physical, chemical and microbiological parameters. LEEB achieved a 4-log10 reduction of inoculated E. coli K-12 on dried BSFL and was effective in reducing numbers of all microbiological parameters (aerobic and anaerobic counts) in YMW. Specifically, in non-inoculated samples, aerobic and anaerobic total viable counts (TVC) were reduced by approximately 4-log10 colony forming units per gram (cfu/g) in YMW. In contrast, LEEB treatment moderately reduced microbial numbers in BSFL, with aerobic and anaerobic TVC reduced by approximately 1–2-log10 cfu/g following LEEB treatment. Microbial counts in both BSFL and YMW remained lower than the control throughout the shelf-life. LEEB treatment did not have an influence on the peroxide value Therefore, LEEB can be an effective and gentle processing technique to support safe dried insect products.