Monday, November 28, 2011


Due to the popularity of subjects like biotechnology, microbiology, bioprocess engineering, there are now many public and private universities offering such courses. Most of these courses or degrees have fermentation technology as a subject in their degree.
But if we bother to surf the websites for additional information and curricula on fermentation technology, we will find that despite the universality of the subject the syllabus varies and so are their fermentation technology facilities.
Some of the laboratories seemed so empty and lacking serious equipments!!!
Surprisingly in most of these universities they do not have sufficient or even fermenters. The practicals or subject of fermentation technology is more a food microbiology course with practicals involving alcoholic fermentation or tapai
What is even more disturbing is the basic subjects needed to do fermentation technology vary. Either the department has no idea what is the basic subject requirement for the fermentation technology course or that they just try to fit any existing subjects into the course. Whether these subjects are relevant is secondary
I often wonder how the division in the education ministry in charge of ensuring the quality of the degrees gives the approval for these courses.
The tragic thing is that most students will not be able to learn fully the subject and even if they worked in the industries they will be laughed at….by their sheer ignorance of the subject.
So don’t blame anyone if they become pseudo fermentation technologists as they are taught by pseudo lecturers and pseudo departments in fermentation technology

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Sunday, November 27, 2011


Many food fermentation industries are facing the problem of when is the right time to terminate a fermentation process and how to terminate the fermentation process?. A fermentation process will keep going on and on until the substrate runs out or there are changes which occur in the fermenting food product which will lead to the slowing down and even the cessation of the fermentation process.
In many food and beverage fermentation once the desired fermentation product is achieved in terms of its nutritional, organo leptic properties, the fermentation broth or the product need to undergo downstream activities such as bottling and repackaging the product.
If the fermentation product is liquid or contain water, there is possibility that even after repackaging or bottling the fermentation process in the bottle or package might still continue. In view of this the continuing fermentation process might still continue changing the biochemical characteristics of the products.
In situation like this how the fermented product is kept under low temperature is important. It is important that the expiry date is adhered to
Then why don’t we just terminate the fermentation process itself? This is easier said than done. The question is how do we terminate the fermentation process? Will the process affect the quality of the fermentation product itself?
Many of the industries producing the fermentation products keep the secret of their fermentation process. Its not so much of the microorganism but the strains it used. They are not keen in allowing their strains in the fermentation products be released to public for free by just buying a few cents of yogurt.
It is important in their case that the strains used will die or becomes non viable once the fermentation is completed. How they do this is their trade secret. However a good microbiologist will be able to reisolate the strain 
Most of the fermentation process is ‘terminated’ by a few available technology such as manipulating the temperature or even using chemicals to inhibit the fermenting microorganisms without affecting the fermentation products.

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Friday, November 25, 2011


The small cottage industries producing fermented foods are facing their greatest challenges today. Not only they have to face the shrinking market due to competition from bigger or medium size fermentation industries, but they are also facing the barriers and limitations enforced by health and GMP. They have no choice that in order to survive they have to expand their market and even going global
However, being in the traditional fermentation industries, small in size and output they lack the capital support and even the scientific technical expertise to ensure their survival. Traditional fermentation cottage industries too are recalcitrant to changes, still practicing the same method of production of their ancestors
They can survive as they are now but they will not be able to expand their market and will always retain their small niche in the market.
Only by increasing their size of production, improving their fermentation process technology can they hope to compete successfully
There are few possibilities they can do to survive:
1 Pooling together of resources by cooperatives to increase the volume of fermented food
2By forming a consortium they can afford to improve their fermentation facilities and employ food scientists to optimize their production
3 pooling together will allow them to invest in expensive scientific equipment and improve their technology of production
4 pooling together will eliminate competition among themselves and instead form a synergy to compete with bigger players
5 pooling together will allow them to acquire transportation to distribute wider their goods and increase the market
They should realize that the big industry players were once small cottage fermentation industries like them but they are willing to risk and take the step further

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Thursday, November 24, 2011


It is generally accepted that educational visits to fermentation factories formed part and parcel of the course in fermentation technology. The objectives of the visits are more towards appreciating and reinforcing the understanding of fermentation technology being applied from what is learned in the lecture halls and the laboratories to real life situations in the fermentation industries
On one hand the visits by colleges and universities are often welcomed by the factories as it forms part of the public relations image and good marketing strategy. It also help to contribute positively to the education of fermentation technology.
However on the other hand, such visits are often regarded as ‘irritation’ to the factory management as there may be ‘secrets’ to hide from the probing eyes and minds of the visitors. The fear of being discovered in coveringcertain aspects of the production process could be disastrous especially nowadays with the ease of information being disseminate through the internet
The fermentation are happier if the visits for the fermentation technology students are the usual ‘walk and pass through’ sessions with little or no probing into the intimate details of the fermentation process. It is not often in their best interests to ‘tell all’ the details of the fermentation process.
So often it is not surprising the information given to the fermentation technology students are the same given to the public, school students and even the kindergarten students!
All will be happy with the visit where they will be served refreshments and ‘goody’packages containing samples of the fermentation products
But sadly, this is not benefitting to the fermentation technology students. Thy came there to visit, to understand and to learn.
In situations like this the fermentation technology students visiting the factories must be prepared to ask important aspects of the fermentation technology that is applied into the industrial process.
It is ideal before the visits are carried out the lecturer in charge brief the students what to expect and the questions that they should be looking into. At the end of the day detailed reports should be submitted to be examined.
In such cases the class should be divided into sub groups to look into various aspects of the fermentation process and the results combined together

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In any fermentation industry, if you are going to carry out a fermentation project it will have to be profitable or at least showing the potential of profitability. Fermentation industries are not charitable organizations that can carry out fermentation research for the purpose of esoteric activity. Money simply does not grow on trees and they have to account for their success or failures to the share holders. Esoteric research can only be carried out in public funded research institutes and universities where financial auditing is not strict and almost unaccountable (at least in this country)
Two of the weakest links in fermentation research here is that:
1 The scientists are very quick to extrapolate the profitability based on incomplete small scale research. This is risky since no scale up studies are properly carried out to test the technical viability of the process
2 They failed to audit the fermentation viability in terms of cost inputs but rather talk about potential market price. This is really a recipe for disaster! A lot of fermentations could be economically non viable if proper financial auditing is carried out
Do not talk about counting the chickens before they are hatched…it is just as good as a pipe dream!
If proper studies are carried out on the costings you might even see the project failure while still on paper
One of the most critical factors influencing the cost of fermentation is cost of energy. In the fermentation industries energy in the form of electrical power are required in so many steps of the fermentation flow
You need energy for heating, cooling, sterilizing, pumping, aerating, stirring and many more. So this must be considered as energy is a limited commodity and will increase in cost in future. Have these factors been thoroughly considered and taken into account before declaring to the world we have the technology to convert biomass to wealth by fermentation?

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Wednesday, November 23, 2011


In the recent BioMalaysia 2011, much attention has been given to the pictures of Prime Minister of Malaysia listening to the briefing and observing one of the exhibits which is the equsains airlift culture. The culture vessel is the product of University Sains Malaysia.
My curiosity is aroused leading me to learn more from the Pecipta exhibition conducted among the universities in Malaysia
The following is the description of the vessel as extracted direcly from the Pecipta:
Top Airlift Plant Propogation Culture Vessel was designed to provide proper contact and sufficient aeration between the culture and the liquid medium, all in a vesselto enhance better growth in an aseptic condition.
The aeration is provided via a 0.2 urn membrane through a glass tube at the lid and the cultures will be well aerated by the formation of fine air bubbles at the end of 4 funnel-shaped filters that are placed near the base of the culture vessel.
The excess air will be removed via a glass vent attached to the lid.
It is a very versatile system and can be used for the propagation of any plant species as long as the proliferation culture medium for that particular plant species is established. This portable culture vessel could be easily used and placed anywhere as long as there is a light source.
On reading in detail of the invention I was overwhelmed by the positive attributes associated with the use of the culture vessel such as the higher yield of plantlets obtained within a shorter period compared to normal plant culture
There seems to be no flaws or no reports with the problems and limitations of using the equisains culture vessel. This is indeed amazing! As through my years of doing fermentation technology, there are many problems associated with the use of bioreactors or fermentors
There was no elaboration on the problems of sterilization, microbial contamination of the broth or cultures and how the process of inoculation, monitoring of the fermentation or the media used to support the growth of the plant tissues
The points raised are:
1 is the culture vessel autoclaved and can it withstand the repeated autoclaving as the vessel is made of glass
2Will continuous exposure of the vessel result in microbial growth that is photosynthetic?
3 How are the aseptic transfers and inoculation of the vessel carried out?
4 What is the likelihood of contaminations in such vessels?
5 Is the aseptic condition stringent throughout the period of growth?

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Monday, November 21, 2011


It’s that time of the year again, when Malaysia showcases its ‘achievements’ in biotechnology. And it seems that this year event is no better than the previous similar events. A lot of hypes, great booths, smart name tags and a lot of hot air. It lacks the presence of renowned international biotechnology experts but overflow with relatively unknown speakers who seem to be keener in ‘advertising’ or ‘marketing’ their companies or products
On the local scene, the speakers or chair persons are more known as heads of departments rather than respected authorities in their own field in biotechnology. I don’t know whether this is more public relation exercise in buttering up certain departments or ministries in the government or its acceptance of the invitation to improve their CV
I have found the titles of the paper presented generally as ‘feel good ‘ papers laced with promises, potentials and not discussing problems and barriers that will be barriers to the commercialization.
It is interesting in this note that Kevin Keebung Rhee in his paper “From Bio Facility to Production” brought out the problems that will be faced in realizing these biotechnological dreams or endeavours
In such important gatherings it is important that the credibility be established from presentations of serious scientific discoveries rather than repacking old wine in new bottles or giving stories from La La Land

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Wednesday, November 9, 2011


It is funny to observe the human behavior. When we say it is FERMENTED food they are willing to consume it eagerly. Yet if we tell them the same food as DECOMPOSED food, they will probably ignore or reject it.
Face the fact, fermentation process is a natural decomposition process which occurs naturally. While it is true in certain ways it is food preservation, the process has to a degree involved decomposition or metabolic transformation
The food preservation aspect is the result of the fermented products such as lactic or acetic acid which prevents the growth of other microorganisms that may enhanced decomposition. Or it could be the effect of high salt which prevent the growth of the other organisms.
The ability to preserve the fermented food is one of the challenges in the fermentation food industries. Too short a shelf life will make it difficult to store the fermented food or limit its availability for safe human consumption.
In cases of certain fermented food attempts to improve the shelf life of the products usually require the manipulation of low temperature or refrigeration combined with high quality packaging. But then again such a system could at best slow down the process of food spoilage and extend to a limit the shelf life of the fermented food. A good case is in the production and transportation and storage of milk based fermented foods
In extending the shelf life of the fermented food is not so much the issue. What is important is that changes that occur with the extended shelf life should not affect the quality and presentation of the fermented products!
This is the problem of marketing fermented foods which limit the volume of its production and the area of its distribution
Modern fermented foods have heavy inputs from food engineering and technology. Ingredients and other additives are frequently added to improve the quality and shelf life of fermented products
But this is only applicable in modern food fermentation industries but not at the level of traditional or small scale food industries

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