Studies carried out by Cenicaña seek to determine the amount of sucrose and other sugars that are lost by microbial action. The results will be used to implement hygienic control measures that reduce sucrose losses.
In the sugar production processes, not all of the sucrose that enters the cane becomes a final product, nor can it be detected in the bagasse, cachaça or honey. It is what the sector commonly knows as indeterminate losses.
Thanks to different investigations, it was known that these sucrose losses are produced by physical, microbial and thermal actions both in the field and in the factory, but the quantification of the losses according to the cause was still pending.
In recent years Cenicaña has made progress in this task and today there is an approximation of how much is lost in sugar production by the action of microorganisms, which will serve to implement hygienic control measures that reduce said losses.
According to Tatiana Daza, a Cenicaña microbiologist, sugar cane contains a large number of microorganisms, including bacteria, yeasts and filamentous fungi. Most of them come from plant material and soil, and some agronomic and operational management practices have a significant impact on the microbial population of sugarcane.
In evaluations of the deterioration of the juices, it was found that microorganisms are responsible for around 87% of the losses of sugars. The microbial group that causes the greatest impact on the consumption of sugars is lactic acid bacteria, specifically Leuconostoc mesenteroides.
The research consisted of jointly studying the behavior of chemical and microbiological parameters of sugarcane juices to determine the equivalent in sugars that are lost by the action of microorganisms and their products (metabolites) present in the materials or the final product, already that metabolites are formed as microorganisms consume a certain amount of sugar.
According to the microbiologist, “thanks to this research it is now known that the bacterium Mesenteroid Leuconoctocs produces several metabolites, mainly dextran (49%), lactic acid (25%), ethanol (23%) and acetic acid (3%). This bacterium requires four units of sucrose to produce one unit of dextrans ”.
The results of this research will lead in the future to reduce sucrose losses due to microbial action, because they are the basis for implementing control measures that start in the field and go to processing in the factory.
Towards safety practices
The global trend in the food industry is to prevent risks along the production chain by guaranteeing the absence of physical, chemical or biological agents that can cause harm to consumers.
The Colombian sugar industry is not alien to this trend and dedicates efforts to implement a Food Safety Management System (SGI), which is why Cenicaña carries out research related to the prevention of microbiological risk in the process of obtaining sugar.
As part of this work, the Center also accompanies the mills in establishing the programs that are prerequisite for the SGI and to meet the microbiological requirements of the finished product. Thanks to microbiological monitoring throughout the production process, it has been possible to determine that the thermal and physicochemical mechanisms are sufficient to minimize the high load of microorganisms that enter the factory with the cane by 99%.
Additionally, infrastructure adjustments and sanitary and cleaning programs contribute to reducing the risk of cross contamination that favors the proliferation of microorganisms. These measures are intended to ensure that the sugar meets the established microbiological quality requirements.
Microbiologists review projects
During 2014, the group of microbiologists from the agro-industrial sugar factories met on three occasions with the purpose of learning about the progress of research projects related to microbiology in the sugar production process and standardizing methods for the analysis of sugar and process materials, in order to have sensitive and reliable methodologies that guarantee the absence of microbiological risks and higher quality in the products.
Some of these methods are involved in the standardization process carried out by Icontec's sugar and molasses committee.
During these periodic meetings, called by Cenicaña, the new developments in microbiological supplies available in the market and that could be applied in manufacturing activities are also analyzed.
As part of the standardization process, this group performs interlaboratory tests to establish levels of repeatability, reproducibility and sensitivity of the methods used. The last test was carried out last May in the microbiology laboratories of the Riopaila and Castilla factories.