Food processing is a process by which non-palatable and easily perishable raw materials are converted to edible and potable foods and beverages, which have a longer shelf life. The method, by which the microbial organisms and their derivatives are used to increase the edibility and the shelf life of foods, is known as fermentation. Almost one-third of the diet in the whole world consists of fermented food. Hence the process of fermentation must be carefully monitored especially in rural areas as improper method of fermentation may cause contamination of food thereby, affecting the health of the people. Fermentation is also used in preparing microbial cultures, food additives, preservatives, etc.
Biotechnology has a major application in the food sector. It helps in improving the edibility, texture, and storage of the food; in preventing the attack of the food, mainly dairy, by the virus like bacteriophage; producing antimicrobial effect to destroy the unwanted microorganisms in food that cause toxicity; to prevent the formation of mycotoxins; and degradation of other toxins and anti-nutritional elements present naturally in food. The advance in application of biotechnology in food processing mainly concerns with the traditional approach of improving the strains of microorganisms and development of further improved micro-organic derivatives like enzymes, etc. Before application of various techniques, the characterization of the genetics of the microorganisms is very essential as it gives a clear idea about the favourable and non-favourable factors that affect the growth of the microorganisms. Improved strains of microorganisms can be produced by a variety of techniques like genetic modification by mutagenesis by exposure to various chemicals, gene transfer mediated conjugation by using plasmid DNA, or by genetic recombination by hybridisation with better yielding microorganism (E.g. Yeast). Recombinant DNA technology also plays an important role in modification of the genetics of the microorganisms favourably by accelerating the expression of favourable genes and hindering that of non-favourable ones by the introduction of plasmid vectors, which are food grade. In all the cases, genomic study of the microorganisms related to food is essential as it acts as a guide in identifying the metabolic process as well as the genetic mechanisms. From this, the genes responsible for the production of favourable enzymes and sugars for fermentation are identified and the application of proteomics for the identification of the proteins responsible and the interactions between proteins for the improved fermentation process is possible.
Biotechnology also plays a very important role in protein engineering. In this, favourable enzymes of the microorganisms, which are responsible for the improved fermentation, are produced commercially at a large scale by culturing the microorganisms in tanks, etc. From the industrial culture of the bacteria, the enzymes produced as metabolites can be isolated and used in food industry. This production of enzymes at such large scale makes the availability of the enzymes at reduced cost with good quality possible. Moreover, modified enzymes with improved efficiency have also been made possible by the genetic modification of the microorganisms. These modified enzymes have better thermo stability as well as novel protein structure that make them more desirable having activity on different pHs other than the usual pH of the enzyme as well as act on different substrates.
Various amino acids, food-flavouring agents, food additives, and preservatives are all different derivatives obtained from different microorganisms. Biotechnology helps in understanding the metabolic pathways of the microorganisms thereby helping in isolating the required derivatives. The technology also helps in the identification of the pathogens, pesticides, as well as anti-nutritional factors present in the food. It helps identifying various contaminants like mycotoxins, which cause decrease in shelf life of the foods as well as cause toxicity of foods, by different tests like ELISA, microarray, etc. Although, Biotechnology plays a very important role in the food processing industry, much advance has not been made in this area mainly in developing countries due to socio-economic factors of the population. Research in this area is possible only if the government of the developing countries gives support and makes improvement in the development policies regarding the food sector.