Microencapsulation: A State-of-the-Art Technology to Minimize the Vitamin Loss and Revolutionize Pet Food and Supplement Industry
Nutrient loss over time is a natural process that takes place in a rather slow, and gradual manner. While most of the macro nutrients and minerals are much more stable, its primarily the vitamins that suffer more from degradation and loss of potency. Among macro-nutrients, its mostly the long chain poly-unsaturated fatty acids, such as the omega-3 and omega-6 fats, that are susceptible to oxidative damage leading to rancidity. Regardless, problem occurs when that inherent natural process is expedited by the harsh manufacturing processes and environmental factors post-manufacturing. Here, I primarily discuss the loss of vitamins due to most common manufacturing practices in pet foods and why micro-encapsulation is the technology to substantially minimize or even eliminate that concern.
Vitamins in Pet Foods
Supplementation of vitamins in pet food industry (and human too) is an undeniable and inevitable fact. Whether it is the generally stated “complete and balanced” type foods, the most expensive of the so called natural and whole foods and supplements, the multi vitamin (or otherwise) treats and supplements or the mediocre dry kibble foods, there is almost always some supplementation. It is only the nature and extent, not whether there are any added vitamins in the pet foods. That is because concentration of vitamins in feed ingredients (and food) is not high enough to meet the animal (and human) requirements for optimal health and well-being of the pet as well as highly profitable operations of commercial animals.
Use of added vitamins (and minerals), be they synthetic or otherwise, is not counter to the definition of “natural”. These two critical nutrients are excluded primarily because nutrient requirements of basically any type of animal, whether pets or livestock, based on the currently available scientific research as specified by the NRC, AAFCO and similar scientific and regulatory bodies can’t be met by just using the commercially available ingredients.
Concentrations of vitamins are adversely altered by various manufacturing and processing methods, including milling, cooking, extrusion, fermentation, irradiation, etc. Even as simple a method as washing can contribute to reasonable loss of some vitamins. The loss applies to both externally added vitamins as well as those present inherently in foods in their natural states. While some are more resistant to losses, others may just be on the opposite end of the spectrum. For instance, ascorbic acid, thiamin, and folic acid are highly sensitive.
The time and temperature of processing, nature and composition of the product, and exposure to air, moisture, light, etc. during transportation and storage are all factors that substantially impact the vitamin loss.
Cooking, Extrusion, and Other High Temperature Treatments
Most pet foods, supplements, and treats, except the premixes and some powdered products, are exposed to varying degrees of heat treatments. It does not matter if it’s a so called complete and balanced food, a chew produced by using external heat, a treat to give a specific shape through extrusion at relatively high temperatures, and so forth. Some of them involve high moisture, while others may just be dry heating with higher oil content being used for facilitating the process. There certainly are some purely mechanical extrusion processes, meaning no external heat whatsoever, and cold extrusion, meaning the use of cooling conditions during extrusion process, like actually using air conditioning while extruding. However, they are not as prevalent as one would like. Former does not give necessary strength to the treats and chews to withstand the physical movement and stress associated with consumer retail business, while the latter is limited in scope as to what products can actually benefit from. In this latter case, high amounts of glycerin and lecithin is basically inevitable to provide the necessary lubrication during manufacturing and binding strength post-manufacturing. Neither lecithin nor glycerin can be considered a healthy ingredient, even more so when included in relatively high amounts.
According to Lešková et al. (2006), the most labile vitamins to culinary processes are retinol (vegetable boiling, 33% retention), vitamin C (the most damaging factors being cooking and oxidation), folate (leaching into the cooking water, 40% retention), and thiamin (cooking, retention 20–80%). Some other vitamins, such as niacin, biotin, and pantothenic acid are relatively stable, but information on some vitamins, especially vitamins D and K, may be incomplete. With so much loss during manufacturing alone, it is not surprising to see vitamin deficiency rather commonly in both humans and pets.
Many factors, such as barrel temperature, screw rpm, moisture of ingredients, die diameter, and throughput affect the retention of vitamins in food and feed during extrusion. According to Mian et al. (2009), vitamins most sensitive to the extrusion processes are A and E from fat-soluble group, and vitamin C, B1, and folic acid among water-soluble ones. The other vitamins of the B group, such as B2, B6, B12, niacin, Ca-pantothenate, and biotin, are relatively stable. Vitamin E itself or in its complex form is quite unstable during processing and even in storage of extruded food. Ascorbic acid directly added or coated with fat and then added to feed during extrusion is also very unstable. Vitamins A, C, D, and E are also sensitive to oxidation, so these vitamins have minimum retention during storage of extruded food.
Washing and Leaching
Washing is probably the most common and simplest of the process a food ingredient is exposed to. In the case of veggies and greens, it may occur before or after cutting. In the case of dry foods, such as rice or beans, it may just involve soaking, rinsing or letting the water run through. While the extent of loss may not be as high, there will be some loss. Soaking can lead to leaching of vitamins, most if not all of which would be lost. However, the extent of loss is probably not investigated thoroughly. Niacin is one of the more susceptible ones to leaching, while B2 and B6 exposure to water can also cause leaching and consequent losses. Being water soluble, vitamin C can also leach into water quite easily.
Exposure to Light:
Riboflavin is one of the vitamins that is susceptible to degradation on exposure to light. Vitamin B6 is also susceptible to light induced degradation. Similarly, folic acid is unstable and loses its activity in the presence of light. Use of light-proof packaging material is recommended for preventing deterioration of any of these vitamins.
Irradiation is a method used in reducing the bioburden (number of organisms) contained by a product by exposing it to gamma ionizing radiation from cobalt-60 or some other means. Organisms exposed to gamma irradiation are damaged at the molecular level often with lethal effects. The net result is a decrease in the amount of viable microorganisms present in the product. While it may not be as commonly used to the final pet food product used domestically, individual ingredients considered high bioburden, barley for instance, are often exposed to varying levels of irradiation even if the final product is not exposed to high temperatures. The irradiation dose may vary between 1.0 – 5.0 Mrad (or 10 – 50 kGy).
While there is a great variation in the loss of vitamins due to irradiation, there is some loss none-the-less. Thiamine is the most susceptible one to irradiation and I have seen up to 90% of it getting lost when exposed to 2.0-5.0 kGY. Thiamine being a very critical vitamin, pets can be greatly affected by its deficiency that can potentially lead to death within fairly short period of time.
Why Micro-Encapsulation of Added Vitamins or Vitamin Supplements for Pets?
As is clear by now, addition of vitamins to pet foods is basically inevitable even without any of the loss described above. That’s just the nature of the beast as there is not enough of one or more vitamins in the ingredients commonly used in the industry. The problem is that even the added vitamins are exposed to the same external conditions during manufacturing and the degradation and loss continues to occur post-manufacturing due to further exposure to air, heat, light, moisture, etc. owing to handling, transportation, and storage. As a result, pets are usually in danger of not getting their vitamins in sufficient amounts to lead a long, healthy, and energetic life.
Given the nature, variation, and extent of loss causing potential deficiency of one or more vitamins in pets, it would be highly desirable if we protect the added vitamins from getting lost before reaching the targeted recipient. That’s exactly where micro-encapsulation of vitamins comes into play. It is a state-of-the-art technology by which particles of an active ingredient - vitamins in this case - are stored within a shell, surrounded or coated with some other material to produce particles in the micrometer to millimeter range, for protection and/or later release. Such micro-encapsulated vitamins are released only after reaching your pet's tummy, not before. This ensures your pet will get the full benefit of the vitamin(s) and in the amount the product is supposed to provide.
Moreover, millions of pet owners prepare their own food for their dogs or cats, while millions of yet others buy some raw foods that also need supplementation in the first place. Using micro-encapsulation technology, we can ensure the vitamin and mineral premixes pet lovers buy do actually contain these vital nutrients in amounts the product is supposed to provide. There is yet another group of more economic buyers that usually provide dry kibbles to their pets and they also need high quality vitamins for their furry friends to thrive well and live long. They can also supplement their kibbles with these powdered microencapsulated multi-vitamin supplements. Finally, including such highly protected micro-encapsulated multi-vitamins in the treats or chews would ensure no pet is deficient in vitamins for extending their lifespan in a meaningful way.
We at Science4Pets (www.science4pets.com) are designing and formulating many different products for your four legged family members using these very micro-encapsulated vitamins. On top of that, all our vitamins (as well as all the other ingredients) are of non-China origin which in itself is not so common in the pet food industry. Even the manufacturers claiming US made often use vitamins of China origin as there is not just enough of non-China origin to go around. Both these qualities set us apart from the competition. No one else in the industry has microencapsulated vitamins of non-China origin. Just us. Not yet at least.
For further details about microencapsulated vitamins, please check some of our short videos as well as another blog or two on the topic.
- Lešková, J. Kubíková, E. Kováčiková, M. Košická, J. Porubská, and K. Holčíková. 2006. Vitamin losses: Retention during heat treatment and continual changes expressed by mathematical models. Journal of Food Composition and Analysis, 19:252-276. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jfca.2005.04.014
- Mian, R. M. Asif and R. Ali. 2009. Stability of Vitamins during Extrusion. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, 49:361-368. https://doi.org/10.1080/10408390802067290