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Development and evaluation of alternative processes for sterilization and deodorization of cork barks and natural cork stoppers

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Cork taint, one of the most known off-flavours in wine, is usually attributed to the presence of the aromatic compound 2,4,6-trichloroanisole (2,4,6-TCA) in cork stoppers made from the bark of the cork oak, Quercus suber. There are many major chemical/biochemical pathways through which 2,4,6-TCA can be formed during cork production. The estimated incidence of cork-tainted wine bottles ranges from 2–to 7%, costing global wine industry approximately US$ 10 billion annually. During this study, a laboratory-scale system was designed and constructed, to efficiently treat cork bark and stopper samples using ozone and/or other sterilizing gases, such as steam, via sequential application of pulsed vacuum–pressure cycles. The developed physicochemical processes were studied and evaluated in order to achieve both sterilization conditions and 2,4,6-TCA removal without affecting the mechanical and bottling properties of cork. According to the results, the application of ozone alone seems to be a promising treatment method for cork barks. However, the pulsed treatment ensures both sufficient removal (99%) of both bacteria and moulds from cork stoppers when combined with ozone or steam and satisfactory deodorization of cork stoppers achieving high percentages (90%) of 2,4,6-TCA removal when combined with steam. The operating cost of each alternative process (plain or pulsed, with or without ozone and/or steam) was estimated and compared, in laboratory scale, for the selection of the most efficient process, taking into account technicoeconomical aspects.

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This work has been supported by the EU “Quality of Life and Management of Living Resources” program: “Innovation in the process of cork production for the elimination of odours responsible for cork taint”, INNOCUOUS project (QLK1-CT-2002-01678).

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Correspondence to Michael Kornaros.

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Vlachos, P., Kampioti, A., Kornaros, M. et al. Development and evaluation of alternative processes for sterilization and deodorization of cork barks and natural cork stoppers. Eur Food Res Technol 225, 653–663 (2007).

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