However and despite the fact that the essential physical, biochemical and microbiological principles are reasonably well understood, foods are complex systems with properties that because are connected with quality and safety are usually very difficult to measure, estimate or even represent through reliable models. Such properties may include physico-chemical parameters associated to quality such as nutrient content, texture, colour or rheology, or microbiological characteristics usually connected with food safety.
In addition, and from a Process Engineering perspective, the food industry integrates a rich variety of apparently very diverse processes and technologies thus hampering the search for unifying paradigms useful for dealing with different yet analogous processes. Such processes have only recently been classified into a reasonably small number of categories, namely bioconversion, separation, preservation and structuring.
(1) to extract as much as possible information from the process/plant in the form of precise estimations of unmeasured variables defining, in particular, product quality, and of physical parameters changing as the process dynamics does or difficult to know beforehand;
(2) to save and encode in a reliable and usable way, basically via physical/deterministic models;
(3) to develop control methods to keep uniform quality and production despite the variability in the raw material and/or to respond to sudden changes in the demand.
The four selected case studies are: wine making (bioconversion), microfiltration of food beverages (separation), freeze-drying of lactic acid bacteria (preservation), and ice cream crystallization (structuring).
The notion of paradigm is central in the CAFÉ project and serves as an integrating guideline for most of the research activities within the project.
Large collaborative project developed in the 7th framework programme of the European Commission (Theme 2: Food, Agriculture and Fisheries, and Biotechnology).