Monday, October 31, 2011


One of the greatest nightmares in the fermentation industries is the fear of microbial contamination outbreak. Such outbreaks will not only mean financial disasters due to the loss of product and costly fermentation media but also problems of disposing the contaminated fermentation media which are generally rich in nutrients and are very polluting. There is also the fear that the fermentation products not only resulted in decrease of volume and concentration but could be hazardous to human health! This might lead to liability cases which might run into millions of dollars! Its simply a lose – lose situation in microbial contamination strikes the fermentation plant!
Removing or reducing the number of unwanted microbes is a big issue. If you don’t remove the microorganisms it will affect the fermentation process. To make it even harder, all those residual nutrients could support the growth of the contaminating microorganisms. So the issue is not only removing the microbes but removing the remnant nutrients as well.
To clean and remove the offending microbes and nutrients we have to reach almost every surface, nook and cranny. This activity is not only restricted to the fermentor but all inlets leading to or from the fermentors. And this is not easy as it is difficult to reach those far reaching hidden places to effectively clean and sanitise the system. This problem is accentuated by poor design of the fermentation system which protects and even helps in the propagation of the contaminants.
We can look at the problem of fermentor sanitation from the point of:
1 Materials used for the fermentation system
2 Finishing of surfaces
3 Design of fermentation system
4 Sanitary fittings
The cleaning process is a harsh process in terms of the effect of the cleaning chemicals on the surfaces as well the effect of physical removal of dirt and slime from the fermentation surfaces. The materials used to build the fermentation system must be able to with stand the treatment.
Stainless steel is often the choice as not only its being inert and do not react with the cleaning chemicals but also with the fermentation process
The surface finish is of great importance. It is often said the smoother the surface the less chance for the contaminants to stick. This would make cleaning easier and efficient.
In reality if you look under microscope even the smoothest finishing is rough and provides refuge for the microbes to survive the cleaning surface. So even though smoother surface is better but it is not a guarantee.
What is more important is the cleanability or the ease of cleaning the surface for effective cleaning
The design of fermentor systems should not encourage the presence of inaccessible areas for microbes to survive and propagate. Dead legs or dead spaces should be eliminated or minimized. Threaded screws should be avoided as it could backfire in providing refuge instead of preventing the entry of microbes. Valves and pumps should be simple in design and easily disassembled for CIP procedures.
The cleaning of fermentation systems should be based more on the understanding of the behavior of the microbes and a more integrative holistic approach should help in maintaining sanitary conditions of fermentation system

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Most visitors coming for a visit to the Istana Lama seems to be unaware of the various symbolisms and culture associated with the Istana Lama. They come, take photographs and have a whirl wind tour of the Istana Lama which is now a museum and was before the King’s residence.
It is generally accepted that the design of the palace was based on 99 pillars which represents the famous warriors of the state and even the various districts of the state
Most were quite satisfied by just visiting the first floor or at most the second floor. There are very few information available, no pamphlets, no guides. It feels just like an ordinary boring visit, just old pictures that adorn the walls.
The centre piece of the visit seems to be the main dining table where the King used to have dinners or entertain guests and dignitaries.
If we analyse the structure and function of the Istana Lama, it shows a hierarchy in the vertical structure. You will see that the first floor is open to public where the King receives his guests or where there are official ceremonies in little halls.
The second floor is dedicated to the family of the King complete with separate bedrooms for their children
The third and the fourth floor are in fact just small room. The room on the third floor is meant for the private use of the King. More interesting is the fact the fourth floor room is above the third floor room which is above the King’s room.
What is the function of the top most room? It is given a special status to be even above the King’s room? Usually the King being the supreme head is symbolically given the highest or top most room.
The fourth floor room is officially stated as the place where they keep the ‘heritage treasures’ of the state. What heritage treasures?. It was even erroneously stated that the fourth floor room was the ‘study room’ for the ruler
Many would find it difficult to believe of the tales or stories associated with the fourth floor room. Many years ago we took the opportunity to see the room. We saw a bed in the corner of the room and an incense burner for burning the kemenyan. Legend has it though no one stays there, there were signs that the bed has been used nightly and that the bed is made up every day. The question who or what is sleeping on the bed? Definitely not the King as he stays most times in Seremban or in the modern big palace nearby
What is even more interesting is the design of the steps leading to the third floor room and the fourth floor room is very steep and narrow. Is the design of the steps made to prevent access to other members of the palace?

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Saturday, October 22, 2011


Judging from the list of the most popular articles, the topics of scaling up and scaling down seems to be the most favoured among the readers. The only conclusions I can derived from such popularity is that either most readers do not know or the topics of scaling up or there is a lack of good books or courses on the topics.
In my opinion, not many practitioners are willing to share their experiences on scaling up and scaling down due to its huge practical importance in industrial fermentations. The understanding of scaling up and scaling down is derived more through trials and errors and earned the hardway that constitute valuable experience.
A brief perusal on the topic in biochemical engineering and biotechnology books are quite lightly covered. It is more a theoretical in approach and highlighting the importance of scale of size, volume magnitudes and sustaining in the constancy of values such as power, impeller speed and dissolved oxygen.
They never really teach you the right approach or the essential steps in doing scaling up. They are more obsessed with size and geometry of fermentors.
In reality the subject of scaling up is not straight and easy . There are many other factors specific to a particular fermentation studied. That is why you have to find your way in doing the scaling up. This can only be achieved if you have done extensive work on the fermentation process that will yield sufficient data to help plan the next step in the scaling up. These lab data are very useful in extrapolating the direction of your scaling up and determining the size and number of size increase you need to do
You cannot do scaling up just by dumping in fermentors of different size or with similar geometry.
That is why before you do scaling up, you need to know holistically the fermentation process in question. If you don’t do this approach it will just be a study in futility yielding data which are of no values in industrial fermentation

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One of the significant steps to prevent microbial contaminations in industrial fermentation systems is keeping the fermentation systems clean not only from the presence of residues of fermentation but from the presence of unwanted microorganisms.
Effective sterilizations could only be achieved by first cleaning the fermentation systems. Proper cleaning of the fermentation systems require in depth study and understanding the structure and behavior of the properties of the foulings
Only by understanding these prerequisites can you develop cleaning regimes which are specific to the process in mind. This will not only give you effective sterilizations but even save you money in terms of chemicals used in cleaning, lower labour costs and less downtime. It will also give you assurance that your fermentation processes will be free from contaminations
Cleaning the fermentation systems is not as easy as it looks. There are dirts and particles which you cannot see with your naked eyes. Seeing it is ‘clean’ does not always mean its really clean.
The problems faced in cleaning the fermentation systems are:
1 How to detect the biofoulings
2 Methods to detect presence of microbes or its by products on surfaces
3 Looking for inaccessible places where its difficult to remove them
4 Using the right cleaning technology
5 Validating that the cleaning process have been really carried out
In the fermentation industries we are dealing the problems of cleaning at the level of microscopic or nano level. Surfaces exposed to dirt and contaminants occur microscopic level. What appears as a smooth shiny surface could under microscopic observation be rough and craggy giving protection and attachment to the microbes. It is not easy to remove such hidden microbes in the conventional way
Mot of the biofoulings are biofilms which have thick exopolysaccharide to protect the cells. Thus using chemicals does not always guarantee the removal of the cells
Sometimes you need special tools to observe the fouling such as using lights of different wavelength that can detect proteins and other metabolites
The use of wrong biocide regime could instead of removing the biofilm cause it to produce thick biofilms. This is contrary to the purpose
Proper research need to be done at laboratory level to determine the right cleaning regime before the method is applied

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Friday, October 21, 2011


In nature,microbes generally do not occur as individual independent cells. There is the tendency for the microbes to form colonies or aggregates. One form of microbial aggregates commonly found in nature and in fermentation industries are the formation of microbial film or biofoulings.
It is not difficult to understand why microbial films occur especially in systems which provide surfaces for the attachment of the microbes. Other requirements include the presence of water and nutrients. It is only a matter of time when fresh surfaces will be colonized by the microbes or the surfaces undergo biofoulings.
In the fermentation industries the above requirements are easily met. The fermentation systems have lots of surfaces to be colonized by the microbes ranging from the surfaces of fermentors to the various valves and pipes servicing the fermentor
The presence of these biofoulings can constitute serious problems that affect the efficiency of the fermentation industries such as:
1 Microbial induced corrosion, biofouling of probes, sensors and electrodes
2 Pipe cloggings resulting in reduce flow
3 Heat exchangers
4 Microbial contaminations of the fermentation process
5 Wear and tear of pumps
6 Higher energy usage and repairs
7 Loss if downtime of fermentors in repairing and cleaning the biofoulings
All of these factors contributing to increase in costs!!
Preventing and solving the problems of biofoulings in fermentation industries is therefore crucial to the fermentation process

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My, oh my! The local universities are back again offering some sort of fermentation technology workshop. What attract me in the recent brochure is the workshop on fermentor design and scaling up to be carried over four days.
The syllabus is nothing new and in fact never really delves into the ‘twists and turns’ of scaling up studies. Or could I have misread it? Maybe it’s the kind of course for general laymen such as ‘Fermentation technology for Dummies’ series?
Scaling up is a very difficult component in any fermentation technology course ! You could not cover it in just a few hours.
Honestly I cant help feeling the possibility of the participants being taken for a ride.
The only good thing I see in the brochure is that it is dirt cheap, where you only pay about RM 200 per day which includes course materials. Laboratory and refreshments such as breakfasts and lunch.
The added bonus is perhaps you will get a certificate of attendance and a good holiday!
My best wishes to the participants and enjoy the holidays!

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Thursday, October 20, 2011


In the field of fermentation technology, the importance of sampling of samples right from upstream to downstream activities could not be more emphasized. It is from the analyses and measurement of the samples obtained that we derived data or valuable information which tell us about the state of the fermentation process. These data helps us in making decision by analyzing and extrapolating. It might even tell us where, when and how problems developed in the fermentation systems
The processing of the data obtained could even be enhanced further by applying graphics, statistics to even modeling the system so that we will have full control of the fermentation process.
Despite such immense importance of the contribution of samples to the understanding of the process, the desired impact might be erroneous or even negated by not understanding the process of sampling completely.If not done properly any data obtained from the samples and sampling could lead to the wrong conclusions and wrong decisions. This does not even take into considerations the loss of time, money, labour of the company.
In many years of experience in teaching, research and consultations, it is sad for me to conclude that many if not most involved in the field of fermentation technology regarded sampling as a trivial activity and have that couldn’t careless attitude. Their ignorance and lack of understanding of the purpose and factors affecting the sampling process have resulted in the wrong data and wrong decisions that affect the company productivity and efficiency
Again, this might be a syndrome of fear of admitting self ignorance of the subject or being recalcitrant in trying to learn new things despite being expert in the field of fermentation technology
In most if not all fermentation technology courses or textbooks, references to sampling is so brief and too theoretical. Most just cover the definition or explanation of the characteristics of the different type of samplings from off line, on line and in line sampling. There is no real in depth discussion and limitations of good sampling. There is a lack of application of the subject and its importance.
Suffice to say, this has led to the weakness of the students or lack of appreciation of sampling in fermentation system. One good example not often covered is the reliability in sampling systems and analysers

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Wednesday, October 19, 2011


One of the two most common terms used in fermentation technology or fermentation industries is SIP or Steaming In Place; the other term being CIP or Cleaning in Place. While the two terms are often used, many find its confusing in its applications.
CIP refers more to the cleaning, washing and removal of residues or products from the surfaces of the fermentation apparatus, while SIP refers more to the actual sterilization of the fermentor and its processes using steam. However SIP may have the added bonus of cleaning the process and may constitute as part of CIP
In both processes of SIP and CIP, the most common feature is that the two processes are often carried out with little or non dismantling of the fermentation system. It is a fact that it is not easy to dismantle the fermentation systems and then to put it all back again. Lots of labour, time and costs may be incurred in dismantling. However in terms of efficiency of cleaning and sterilization it is more thorough and efficient
Why SIP when you can sterilize using autoclaves? The answer is that the use of autoclaves is quite restricted in situation where the size of the fermentation system such as in industrial fermentation is too large. Using of hot dry steam in SIP sterilization is more efficient and convenient than autoclaves. You can transport and guide the hot steam even in the most difficult and inaccessible places such as piping and hard to reach areas.
Using steam is amenable to manipulation and not so much restricted by the limitation of surface area to volume of fermentors. A good example is in the frequent use of steam injection into the fermentation broth
In using steam as SIP component we need to know the properties of steam. This refers to the quality of steam. In certain situations the steam produced must be filtered with microfilter to ensure the entrance of unwanted particles, organic or inorganic! In such situation the boiler used to generate the steam for SIP must be dedicated
The steam must be produced using boilers and it is important to control the steam pressure by the use of valves, pressure gauges It is important too that the heat loss of steam must be minimized by proper piping
The steam piping needs to be insulated and lagged with material. The cleanliness of the steam must be maintained by the use of proper material such as stainless steel or teflon

The transformation of the steam into its liquid condensate must be properly addressed. This is not easy as we must try to release the condensate without losing the hot steam
The piping must be able to withstand the harsh condition of steam pressure of about 20 psi and temperature of 121 -125 degrees centigrade
The presence of airlocks must be avoided. Since air is a poor conductor of heat, the presence of airlocks will reduce the efficiency of steam heating

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Most fermentation technology graduates are generally pissed off when in their first exposure as attachment students in fermentation industries they are asked to clean floors and fermentors. In their view such a job is so demeaning of their status. In the hierarchy of jobs in the fermentation industries, the job of a cleaner is often looked down upon.
Yet, it is in my opinion it is the most important and responsible job. Cleaning or sanitizing the fermentors or production floors is a very skilled and skilled job. Not only have they taught you discipline and hard work but also the start of understanding the industry from bottom up.
Cleaning the fermentor and the production floor is not identical as cleaning an office or some other janitorial jobs. You are not only trying to keep the place and equipments clean by being methodological and thorough but also in preventing contamination of the plant.
Poor cleaning or sanitizing can cost the fermentation industries great losses.
Once you are expert in cleaning you will begin to appreciate the asepticity of the system and also weak links in the route of the microbial contamination
So you should try to appreciate the opportunity of this ‘demeaning’ skill and do a good job at it!

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It might surprise many to learn that the cleanliness or sanitary conditions of certain fermentation plants or its production floor as being cleaner even compared to the cleanliness of surgical rooms. Of course this statement doesn’t apply to all types of fermentation industries!
By being clean requires a lot of investment in terms of labour, cost and loss of downtime in fermentor operation. However the benefits derived from being clean far outweigh the investments cost. In fact being clean is in most cases part of Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP)
A fermentation plant which is not clean will generate numerous problems ranging from poor quality control of the process to even loss of production due to microbial contamination. It is not a random activity or do as you like attitude in trying to be clean or sanitized. Most fermentation plants require skill operators just to clean the plant. And it is not easy cleaning the fermentation plant as you have not only to clean the fermentors but even the production floors, walls and many other surfaces.
Most of these cleaning activities are complex and require Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) which must not only be adhered to but validated. Any inefficient cleaning will likely be a source of future problems in the fermentation industries.
Cleaning process is basically removing the dirt or contaminating particles. In most cases it is not easy to see these dirty particles with our naked eyes and might even require special advance analytical tools to detect the dirt. Some of these dirty particles are hidden and so inaccessible to normal cleaning procedures that it will always remain in the nooks, corners and crevices. What is even more challenging this dirt is so microscopic and can even hide itself under protective surfaces
As we have said before the danger of not cleaning could be the cause of recurring infection of the fermentation process. To make things worst the remnants of improper cleaning could result in residues of organic particles such as traces of the fermentation broth that not only help in protect the microbial contaminants from the effect of cleaning activities but even support or provide nutrients for further proliferation of the microbial contaminants.
Biofouling of surfaces due to improperly cleaned surfaces could result in many engineering problems such as microbial corrosion ans loss of heat transfers which will ultimately add to the operational cost of the fermentation plant.
So it is wiser if in the first place that cleaning of the fermentation plant be carried out efficiently to prevent secondary problems arising in the later stages!

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Tuesday, October 18, 2011


Being the owner of this fermentation technology blog, I have the opportunity to analyse the data or some surprises that show not only the interests of the blog readers but also the problems they are facing in the understanding the field of fermentation technology.
With currently over 50,000 unique visitors and more than 80,000 pageload activity the conclusions or observations of the blog readers warrant some serious considerations.
Firstly even though the prime intention of this blog is to promote exchange of ideas and discussions among the various people involved in fermentation technology, it is sad to see that most visitors to this blog are more interested in getting ‘free information’ without trying to contribute to the over all well being and understanding of the field of fermentation technology.
Secondly, it is sad to observe that most of the blog readers seems to be lacking the basic understanding of the fermentation technology process. Is this attributed to the poor understanding of the subject by the students or the failure of the College or university lecturers to teach properly the subject of fermentation technology?
The purpose I am having this blog is not so much as trying to teach the students as they should be getting enough of the subjects from books, lectures and laboratory practicals. My intention is to encourage deeper thought on aspect of the subject and to look at the subject from a different perspective so as to give a deeper insight or perspective on the subject.
I have received many emails mostly commenting on the stereo approach of subject as taught by their lecturers or taking notes directly from standard textbooks. The students complained of the lack of hands on or problem approach to the subject. They just were not shown from how the subjects can be applied. In certain instances it is a sin to ask the salesmen who sell the fermentors to teach the students! Is it this predicament associated with little or no knowledge of their lecturers to understand the subject?
Time and again too much stress are given to the yeast growth curve in fermentors ( conical flasks) without knowing the applications or implications
It is such a tragedy as the subject of fermentation technology is so vast and goes beyond plotting growth curve or producing ethanol!

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Soy sauce fermentation is one of the traditional fermentation which was introduced into Malaysia with the influx of Chinese immigrants. With the coming of the Chinese immigrants they brought along with them not only their cultures but also their fermentation technology to make soy sauce or kicap.
The traditional soy sauce fermentation is not really an active fermentation industry but considered more as a passive fermentation industry that rely on low technology. Of course now these traditional technology are slowly being transformed or phase out by the assimilation of modern fermentation technology to be economical and competitive.
What ever the soy sauce produced by the traditional fermentation technology is far more superior in its organo leptic properties and much sought after.
You know when you are in close proximity of the traditional soy sauce fermentation factory. You can smell the unmistakable heavy earthy and salty smell emanating from the various vats that hold the fermenting soy sauce at different stages of the soy sauce fermentation.
If you approach closer you will see rows and rows of earthen fermentation vats containing the fermenting soy sauce exposed to the light and temperature of the searing sun. And it would be a good opportunity to see workers rushing to close the lids of the exposed fermenting vats once they suspect the rain is coming. Sounds of the lids being placed back on the vats sounds more like a orchestra of clashing cymbels
If you look close enough into the fermenting vats you will see thick layer of cooked soya bean cakes floating on the surface of the fermenting broth in various stages of organic decomposition
It is not uncommon due to the strong flavor and smell emanating from the vats to attract numerous unwanted ‘visitors’ ranging from flies to even other animals. Maybe they do contribute to the taste?
In theory the process of making soy sauce is simple but it takes a long fermenting period. Good soy sauce could not be hastened in its fermentation
A good description of how soy sauce fermentation is carried out could be seen in the following url:

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Too much and too many have been said about the wonders of milk fermentation. The media is over whelmed by the goodness derived out of milk fermentation such nutrients, vitamins and digestibility as associated with yogurt.
Yet dangers lurk in milk fermentation especially if the milk fermentation is not carried out properly, contaminated or even consumed after its expiry date. Just how many of us have taken seriously the expiry date notice that is written on the labels?
As we know it milk is a very wholesome and nutritious food. It is not only good for the humans and cows that drink the milk but also it is a wonderful food that is rich and nutrients and can support a lot of fastidious or fussy microorganisms.
While it is true in most modern milk fermentation industries there are controls to prevent microbial contamination, it should also be noted that the actions taken do not really guarantee that the fermented milk is safe.
In most of these modern milk fermentation industries there are steps to reduce or kill the unwanted microbial contaminants. Most of it involved the use of heat to sterilize the milk components. But in reality it is no guarantee. Pasteurisation is not a fool proof method to prevent microbial contamination. The use of high temperature for a long time could in itself denature and spoil the nutritive values of the milk
While still in fermentation the milk could be contaminated by process failures or even poor sanitary conditions of the production floor or poor sanitary conditions of the fermentation plant.
The situation is even more critical in small cottage industries where they lack proper facilities to sample and detect and control the contamination by the unwanted microbes. Although it is recommended that such milk fermentation products be kept in a cold temperature, it is possible that some of the fermented milk products continue carrying the fermentation process resulting in the changes in the biochemical environment such as the ph which could no longer protect the milk fermentation products of its microbe suppressing activity.
At best it can be said drink your fermented milk as soon as possible!

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Monday, October 17, 2011


Two traditional fermentations which are popular and in demand are fish sauce (budu) and soy sauce (kicap) fermentation. Both these fermentations produce products which are used as condiments in a variety of asian dishes.
The setback of these two types of fermentations are that:
1 They take a long time to undergo the fermentation transformations from substrate to products
2 They occupy a lot of land space to hold the large number of fermentation vats
These two considerations could translate to increase costs such as labour and processing which would be added to the costs
The solution to these two types of fermentation would have to depend on such factors such shortening the fermentation time, so that the facilities could carry out more fermentations and recycling the use of the fermentation vats.
It will also reduce the need for a large area to carry out the fermentation process
These objectives could be achieved by accelerating the fermentation process such as:
1 Using enzymes to speed up the hydrolyses of the fermentation substrates
2 Using specialized cultures or inocula that will hasten the fermentation process
3 Having modern fermentation vats that are easily monitored and control
The proposed approaches might accelerate the fermentation process but at the expense of the organo leptic properties or the bouquet of the fermentation products. The fermentation products produced by such rapid methods might not be identical to the original traditional fermentation products.
In view of this problems more research are needed to understand the biochemical and microbiological changes that occur in traditional and accelerated fermentation

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Saturday, October 15, 2011


One of the most favorite traditional food condiments in Malaysia especially in Kelantan is the use of budu. Budu is a form of fermented fish sauce which is derived by the fermentation of fish such as anchovies.
Similar fish fermentation products are to be found in many Asian countries. Differences might be in the type of fishes they used as the fermentation substrate or conditions of the fermentation
The end products of the fish fermentation is the fish sauce which are popularly used to add taste to cooking or even as dipping sauce
In budu fish sauce fermentation it is more considered a protein fermentation rather than a carbohydrate fermentation. Thus the type of fermentation end products differs.
Whatever the fermentation products is it is very important that the characteristics or the taste and smell of the fermentation products be preserved or sustained
I find it strange in the case of budu fermentation that at the end of the fermentation process when the rich supernatant is obtained, it is subjected to high boiling temperature
Now, heating is important in any fermentation process. Its application can be positive or negative depending on purpose, when and where and the exposure of the heat. The use of improper heating might for all defeat the purpose or the characteristics of the fermentation products.
We all know in general fermentation products are volatile and short chain carbon compounds. Applying heat in an inefficient way could result in the loss of aroma and flavours of the fermentation products. So we might get just a rich salty broth which is nutritionally not good but ideal for raising your high blood pressure!
The question now is whether it is really necessary to boil the fish sauce and if so what are the best alternatives of applying the heat with minimum damage to the fish sauce?

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Thursday, October 13, 2011


Diversity of fermentation products has always been the hall mark of Malaysian culture. Almost everywhere we go we are exposed to various types of fermentation food and beverages. In part such diversity is the result of the input and fusion of various races and cultures into what is constitute as Malaysians. This fermentation diversity is enhanced by the diversity of substrates available for fermentation and the variations in the fermentation process carried out by the various races.
However, one of the weakest links in the production of these traditional food and beverages is the reluctance to use modern fermentation technology for a more efficient fermentation which will be more viable in terms of economics and production. Time and traditional methods seems to be the restricting barriers to produce fermentation products on an industrial scale. The archaic taboos of the do’s and don’ts seem to be still having its grip on traditional fermentation.
Connoisseurs even swear that the fermentation products produced traditionally is far better than those that are produced in modern fermentation vats! Is there truth in such allegations? It is possible that modern fermentation is enriched by processes that takes a longer time to mature and produced the bouquet. In the haste of producing fermentation products in the shortest time possible this aspect of the problem is not fully appreciated!
More understanding of the process biochemistry and how to manipulate it needs to be carried out further
Of course this situation is not applicable to all fermentation products. Perhaps the solution to this problem is to integrate traditional fermentation with modern science of fermentation technology in order to achieve the best solution
Modern soy sauce manufacturer such as Kikkoman of Japan has successfully applied this marriage of convenience between traditional fermentation and modern fermentation technology
Let us face it, sooner or later the traditional fermentation will have to give way to modern fermentation technology. The days of the earthen vats and natural inocula will be replaced by shiny stainless steel fermentors and modern industrial strains.

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Phages are basically viruses. Bacteria and virus are one of the most common and feared cause of fermentation contamination. Just like influenza which affect us humans, it’s caused by virus. The only problem is that when fermentors are affected by virus it does not exhibit the common symptoms of humans getting influenza. Fermentors do not have ‘ runny nose’ or sneeze! Hehe. Instead it will target the fermentative microorganisms and will affect the production of the fermentation products.
Virus being virus are sometimes not considered as living things. They appear with crystalline morphology but containing protein and nucleic acids. The trouble with virus or phages they rely on living cells such as bacteria to grow. Once infecting bacteria they will take over the metabolism of the host bacteria and will reproduce much more virus particles that will infect further. To make things worst these virus or phages attack only specific cells or strains. So if the phages targeted the fermentative microorganisms that are the end!
In the fermentation industries such occurrences could be a financial disaster as all those fermentation activities have to cease!
The problem with industrial fermentation using bacteria is that in general they involved high volume cultures of the bacteria or considered as high density cell fermentation. The release of phages into the fermentor could create massive infection.
According to Sinderen (2007) in his situation could result in massive product loss, raw material spoilage, non productive operation costs and plant shutdown for decontamination purposes
It is possible to deactivate or reduce the chances of phages contamination. But with time there is always the risk and possibility of phage infection awaiting to occur at the slightest opportunity.
Broadly the few steps commonly taken in the control of phage infection in the fermentation industries include:
1 Maintenance of sterility or strong aseptic conditions and barriers at the level of the fermentor or its operation

2 Use of alternative cultures as phages are very strain specific or the use of mutants that are phage resistant
3 Use of physical and chemical agents that are phage inhibitors
4 Use of immobilized cells thus restricting the infection by phages

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Tuesday, October 11, 2011


This is the question that has often come to the minds of many Malaysians. And many have been convinced that there are indigenous fermented foods which seem to be their propriety rights! The truth is fermentation process has always been universal where almost every country in the world has their own unique fermentation products to be proud of.
The truth is each country has its own local names in their own language to identify the fermentation products. That does not mean that they have their own ‘copyrights’ over the fermentation products.
It is sad that in one of the states in Malaysia, the people even claimed that the fish sauce or ‘budu’ is their own unique fermented food! If only these believers take the trouble to research or even google that the fish sauce is produced in many countries especially where they have rich resource of fish. The believers are simply too blinded and obsessed with the belief that the fermented fish sauce is their own discovery.
It can be seen that the issue here is not about fermentation but more about semantics
Analyses of the various fermentation industries in Malaysia we could categorise them in the following groups:
1 Traditional fermentation which are often fermentation industries carried out from generation to generation and are often at the scale of cottage industries
2 Large industrial fermentations characterized by high volume low value products such as alcoholic beverages manufactured by giant brewers from the west as foreign investments
3 Limited pharmaceutical fermentations carried under license of giant pharmaceutical companies
4 Medium fermentation industries producing soy sauce, yeasts and the like
The local universities here are still bogged down in the quagmire of doing ‘Mickey mouse’ level of fermentation such as laboratory scale research and isolating strains of potential microorganisms. How many of these works will end up profitably as successful fermentation projects is for us to all wait and see

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I still remember fondly the first time in the seventies when we were taken on a visit to a well known seasoning manufacturing plant in Kuala Lumpur. The field trip is part of our course for those taking the subject of applied microbiology. Though the Professor then or for the matter we the students do not know much of the fermentation process and the various steps involved from substrate to the final product, memories of the visit are still remembered with fondness and perhaps drives me to study in greater detail the field of fermentation technology.
One of the most interesting points of the visit is seeing and understanding the transformation of the fermentation broth at the end of the fermentation process to become the final end product. From the huge vats containing the dark brown fermentation broth removed from the fermentors it is transformed to beautiful shiny crystals of monosodium glutamate ready for packing and distribution.
This whole process was carried out during the downstream stages of the fermentation process.
Many questions entered my mind such as:
1 Why the need to produce the crystal forms of the sodium glutamate?
2 How is the process of crystallization carried out?
In the fermentation industries everything boils down to economics. Even though the process of producing MSG crystals would add cost to the downstream processing costs but at the same time there must be more economic or even marketing benefits derived from such exercise.
In any fermentation products water form the bulk of the product. The presence of high concentration of water will not only add bulk and weight to the product but it will add costs to its packaging and transportation.
The presence of water too will increase the probability of microbial contamination as water tends to encourage microbial growth and deterioration of the products
In its crystal forms, these problems are eliminated. It is concentrated in the form of crystal and will deliver the power of the seasoning. There is also the added marketing value of the product as the crystals look clean and appealing and its purity of the product is assured
The process of forming the crystals is in simplification a kind of chemical precipitation reactions.
It is based on the salt or ionic nature of the products. Adding the Sodium to the glutamate will further stabilize the product to undergo the various harsh downstream reactions. While it is true that the process of crystallization is based on the nucleation and crystal growth of the crystal from a super saturated solution as it cools down, it is of most importance that the solution of MSG from the fermentation broth must be purified so as to produce clear and beautiful crystals.
Various downstream methods are used to obtain this clear broth such as cell separations which include centrifugation and membrane separation. This is followed by various preparatory steps such as ion exchange resin treatment, chromatography and crystallization. And in the crystallization stage there is concentration, neutralization and cooling. Ultimately the final steps include centrifugation, decantation and filtration to obtain the crude crystals
The crystallization process are usually carried out using the crystallizer

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Monday, October 10, 2011


In any industrial fermentation process it is of utmost importance that the fermentation process is carried out under the most optimum conditions. This is translated into an efficient and economical fermentation process in terms of fermentation yield and economic advantages.
There is also the tendency to carry out the fermentation process with minimum labour costs and by going ‘computerised’ or robotic in allowing the process to be run almost independent of human input.
In view of these requirements there is the push towards automatism and letting the computer monitor and control the fermentation process by the use of feedback loops control and the use of sensors which can detect the changes in the various fermentation parameters and interfacing it with computer control.
Such advanced robotics require the use or design of special programmes which will detect the changes of parameters within the narrow windows of optimum fermentation.
This aspect of control rely strongly on feedback control and in line monitoring so that immediate action could be taken by the computers to immediately ratify or bring back the deviation back to within the narrow windows of optimum environmental conditions.
Thus we see in such control the use of feedback is more towards sustaining the constancy of the environmental conditions of the fermentation process and not directly the performance of the fermentative organisms. Any benefit from the process is secondary after the sustained control of the environment. You just cant control or interface directly with the microorganisms ( may be in future years????)
As it is now the problem of feedback loop in computerized fermentation control is not so much limited by the capability of the computers or computer programmes but more by the limitation of the sensors that are suitable for the interface as well as the harsh environmental conditions of the fermentors
Here in lies the problem too the two most common type of sensors used are restricted to the invasive probes or sensors which are introduced into the fermentors or by sensors set in flow through pipes
As we have said it many times before the fermentation process is a complex process in perpetual state of flux. Thus it is difficult to sustain constant efficient fermentation process as other parameters that cannot be controlled keeps changing. There is a goldmine of information in this field of control for those that are willing to take up the challenge!

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