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Our R&D efforts to safeguard consumer health

By: Paul Wassell Posted: February 14, 2017 250 views Tags:

At GAR we have long carried out research into improving productivity, yield and agronomic practices in our plantations. In addition, we conduct research on improving the quality of our processed products such as cooking oil and fats. This R&D is critical as we seek to address some of the health concerns surrounding processed palm oil. We also look at other ways to make our business more sustainable such as through minimising packaging. Here’s a look at some of the key areas we’re working on.

R&D on removal of trans-fatty acids

Over the past few years, consumer awareness and concerns about trans fatty acids which have been linked to heart disease has grown. These are generated through a process called hydrogenation. Our R&D department has reformulated many of our products to completely eliminate all trans fatty acids, without compromising on quality.

In several cases, developing trans-fat free alternatives has enabled us to reduce the total saturated fat. We continue to explore other techniques to reduce saturated fatty acids by assessing the technical requirements of certain formula in specific food products. We are also exploring ways of eliminating or minimising minor ingredients (E-numbers) or switching to natural alternatives.

These efforts continue to make our margarines, shortenings and specialty oils healthier for the consumer.

R&D is making these products healthier for the consumer
R&D is making these products healthier for the consumer

R&D on other health concerns

Starting in 2011, there has been growing awareness about new substances identified and known as 2- and 3-MCPD and esters. Last year, the European Food Standards Authority (EFSA) issued a report warning about the health consequences of co-contaminants formed during processing and refining of all edible oils and specifically identified 3-MCPD as a cause for concern.

These co-contaminants are known as 2-monochloropropane-1,3-diol and 3-monochloropropane-1, 2-diol and Glycidol / Glycidyl esters (GE), and are formed during food production and preparation at high temperatures. During refining of palm oil they can occur during the deodorisation step. This processing step aims to remove unwanted taste and odour to meet customer quality and safety specifications.

Several departments including Operations, Quality Management and R&D have been working together to understand the formation of these substances and how to minimise them. It is possible that these substances have been part of the human diet since man began eating cooked food.

We are continuing to implement several mitigation strategies to reduce 2- and 3-MCPD and GE esters. Together with leading global food manufactures, we are using new internationally approved identification methods to test for these substances. At the same time our business has been actively working on installing and testing new and effective mitigation technologies. Although it is complicated, we are using several production and process strategies to prevent, or reduce the occurrence of these substances.

Sustainable packaging

Our R&D has also made a considerable impact on reducing packaging and making the transport of our products more environmentally friendly. We’ve done this by reducing the material thickness or weight of the packaging material to maximise space when loading containers. This has led to lower costs, lower energy consumption and reduction of carbon emissions.

Doing this has helped reduce almost 300 tons of plastic packaging waste in 2016. We are now exploring further packaging design improvements to increase container loading capacity by up to 20 percent.

These are just some of our latest R&D efforts which complement our ongoing research on improving palm oil production in the plantations – all of which brings us closer to achieving our goal of responsible palm oil production.