The following points highlight the top ten methods for food preservation. The methods are: 1. Pasteurization and Appertization 2. Aseptic Packaging 3. Irradiation 4. High-Pressure Processing – Pascalization 5. Low-Temperature Storage – Chilling and Freezing 6. Chemical Preservatives 7. ‘Natural’ Food Preservatives 8. Modification of Atmosphere 9. Control of Water Activity 10. Compartmentalization.
Method # 1. Pasteurization and Appertization:
Foods are subject to thermal processes in a number of different contexts (Table 4.2). Often, their main objective is not destruction of micro-organisms in the product, although this is an inevitable and frequently useful side effect.
Credit for discovering the value of heat as a preservative agent goes to the French chef, distiller and confectioner, Nicolas Appert. In 1795 the French Directory offered a prize of 12 000 francs to anyone who could develop a new method of preserving food.
Appert won this prize in 1810 after he had experimented for a number of years to develop a technique based on packing foods in glass bottles, sealing them, and then heating them in boiling water. He described his technique in detail in 1811 in a book called the ‘… Art of Conserving all kinds of Animal and Vegetable Matter for several Years’.
A similar technique was used by the Englishman Saddington in 1807 to preserve fruits and for which he too received a prize, this time of five guineas from the Royal Society of Arts. British patents describing the use of iron or metal containers were issued to Durand and de Heine in 1810 and the firm of Donkin and Hall established a factory for the production of canned foods in Bermondsey, London around 1812.
Appert held the view that the cause of food spoilage was contact with air and that the success of his technique was due to the exclusion of air from the product. This view persisted with sometimes disastrous consequences for another 50 years until Pasteur’s work established the relationship between microbial activity and putrefaction. Today, the two types of heat process employed to destroy microorganisms in food, pasteurization and appertization, bear the names of these eminent figures.
Pasteurization, the term given to heat processes typically in the range 60-80 °C and applied for up to a few minutes, is used for two purposes. First is the elimination of a specific pathogen or pathogens associated with a product.
This type of pasteurization is often a legal requirement introduced as a public health measure when a product has been frequently implicated as a vehicle of illness. Notable examples are milk, bulk liquid egg and ice cream mix, all of which have a much improved safety record as a result of pasteurization.
The second reason for pasteurizing a product is to eliminate a large proportion of potential spoilage organisms, thus extending its shelf-life. This is normally the objective when acidic products such as beers, fruit juices, pickles, and sauces are pasteurized.
Where pasteurization is introduced to improve safety, its effect can be doubly beneficial. The process cannot discriminate between the target pathogen(s) and other organisms with similar heat sensitivity so a pasteurization which destroys say Salmonella will also improve shelf-life.
The converse does not normally apply since products pasteurized to improve keeping quality are often intrinsically safe due to other factors such as low pH. This may be less true in the future, however, following the trend toward less acidic and minimally processed foods.
On its own, the contribution of pasteurization to extension of shelf-life can be quite small, particularly if the pasteurized food lacks other contributing preservative factors such as low pH or Thermoduric organisms such as spore formers and some Gram-positive vegetative species in the genera Enterococcus, Micro-bacterium and Arthrobacter can survive pasteurization temperatures. They can also grow and spoil a product quite rapidly at ambient temperatures, so refrigerated storage is often an additional requirement for an acceptable shelf-life.
Appertization refers to processes where the only organisms that survive processing are non-pathogenic and incapable of developing within the product under normal conditions of storage. As a result, appertized products have a long shelf-life even when stored at ambient temperatures.
The term was coined as an alternative to the still widely used description commercially sterile which was objected to on the grounds that sterility is not a relative concept; a material is either sterile or it is not. An appertized or commercially sterile food is not necessarily sterile — completely free from viable organisms.
It is however free from organisms capable of growing in the product under normal storage conditions. Thus for a canned food in temperate climates, it is not a matter of concern if viable spores of a thermophile are present as the organism will not grow at the prevailing ambient temperature.
Method # 2. Aseptic Packaging:
Up until now in our consideration of appertized foods we have discussed only retorted products; those which are hermetically sealed into containers, usually cans, and then subjected to an appertizing heat process in-pack. While this has been hugely successful as a long term method of food preservation, it does require extended heating periods in which a food’s functional and chemical properties can be adversely affected.
In UHT processing the food is heat processed before it is packed and then sealed into sterilized containers in a sterile environment. This approach allows more rapid heating of the product, the use of higher temperatures than those employed in canning, typically 130-140 °C, and processing times of seconds rather than minutes.
The advantage of using higher temperatures is that the £ value for chemical reactions such as vitamin loss, browning reactions and enzyme inactivation is typically 25- 40 °C compared with 10 °C for spore inactivation. This means that they are less temperature sensitive so that higher temperatures will increase the microbial death rate more than they increase the loss of food quality associated with thermal reactions.
F0 values for UHT processes can be estimated from the holding temperature (T) and the residence time of the fastest moving stream of product, t.
F0=10 (T–121/10)_t (412)
Initially UHT processing and aseptic packaging were confined to liquid products such as milk, fruit juices and some soups which would heat up very quickly due to convective heat transfer. If a food contained solid particles larger than about 5 mm diameter it was unsuited to the rapid processing times due to the slower conductive heating of the particulate phase. Scraped surface heat exchangers have been used to process products containing particles up to 25 mm in diameter but at the cost of over-processing the liquid phase.
To avoid this, one system processes the liquid and solid phase separately. A promising alternative is the use of ohmic heating in which a food stream is passed down a tube which contains a series of electrodes. An alternating voltage is applied across the electrodes and the food’s resistance causes it to heat up rapidly. Most of the energy supplied is transformed into heat and the rate at which different components heat up is determined by their conductivities rather than heat transfer.
A common packing system used in conjunction with UHT processing is a form/ fill/seal operation in which the container is formed in the packaging machine from a reel of plastic or laminate material, although some systems use preformed containers. Packaging is generally refractory to microbial growth and the level of contamination on it is usually very low. Nevertheless to obtain commercial sterility it is given a bactericidal treatment, usually with hydrogen peroxide, sometimes coupled with UV irradiation.
Method # 3. Irradiation:
Electromagnetic (e.m.) radiation is a way in which energy can be propagated through space. It is characterized in terms of its wavelength A, or its frequency v, and the product of these two properties gives the speed, c, at which it travels (3 x 108 m sec _1 in a vacuum).
v = c (4.13)
The range of frequencies (or wavelengths) that e.m. radiation can have is known as the electromagnetic spectrum and is grouped into a number of regions, visible light being only one small region (Figure 4.8).
The energy carried by e.m. radiation is not continuous but is transmitted in discrete packets or quanta; the energy, E, contained in each quantum being given by the expression:
E = hv (4.14)
where h is a constant (6.6 x 10-27 ergs sec –1) known as Planck’s constant. Thus, the higher the frequency of the radiation the higher its quantum energy.
As far as food microbiology is concerned, only three areas of the e.m. spectrum concern us; microwaves, the UV region and gamma rays. We will now consider each of these in turn.
Method # 4. High-Pressure Processing – Pascalization:
Hite, working at the University of West Virginia Agricultural Experimental Station at the turn of the century, showed that high hydrostatic pressures, around 650 MPa (6500 atm), reduced the microbial load in foods such as milk, meats and fruits.
He found that 680 MPa applied for 10 min at room temperature reduced the viable count of milk from 107cfu ml – 1 to 101 -10″ cfu ml-1 and that peaches and pears subjected to 410 MPa for 30 min remained in good condition after 5 years storage. He also noted that the microbicidal activity of high pressure is enhanced by low pH or temperatures above and below ambient.
Since then, microbiologists have continued to study the effect of pressure on micro-organisms, although this work has centred on organisms such as those growing in the sea at great depths and pressures. Interest in the application of high pressures in food processing, sometimes called pascalization, lapsed until the 1980s when progress in industrial ceramic processing led to the development of pressure equipment capable of processing food on a commercial scale and a resurgence of interest, particularly in Japan.
High hydrostatic pressure acts primarily on non-covalent linkages, such as ionic bonds, hydrogen bonds and hydrophobic interactions, and it promotes leactions in which there is an overall decrease in volume. It can have profound effects on proteins, where such interactions are critical to structure and function, although the effect is variable and depends on individual protein structure.
Some proteins such as those of egg, meat and soya form gels and this has been employed to good effect in Japan where high pressure has been used to induce the gelation of fish proteins in the product surimi. Other proteins are relatively unaffected and this can cau6e problems when they have enzymic activity which limits product shelf-life.
Pectin esterase in orange juice, for instance, must be inactivated to stabilize the desired product cloudiness but is very stable to pressures up to 1000 MPa. Non-protein macromolecules can also be affected by high pressures so that pascalized starch products often taste sweeter due to conformational changes in the starch which allow salivary amylase greater access.
Adverse effects on protein structure and activity obviously contribute to the antimicrobial effect of high pressures, although the cell membrane also appears to be an important target. Membrane lipid bilayers have been shown to compress under pressure and this alters their permeability. As a general rule vegetative bacteria and fungi can be reduced by at least one log cycle by 400 MPa applied for 5 min.
Bacterial endospores are more resistant to hydrostatic pressure, tolerating pressures as high as 1200 MPa. Their susceptibility can be increased considerably by modest increases in temperature, when quite low pressures (100 MPa) can produce spore germination, a process in which the spores lose their resistance to heat and to elevated pressure.
Hydrostatic processing has a number of appealing features for the food technologist. It acts instantly and uniformly throughout a food so that the processing time is not related to container size and there are none of the penetration problems associated with heat processing. With the exceptions noted above, adverse effects on the product are slight; nutritional quality, flavour, appearance and texture resemble the fresh material very closely. To the consumer it is a ‘natural’ process with none of the negative associations of processes such as irradiation or chemical preservatives.
At present, commercial application of high-pressure technology has been limited to acidic products. The yeasts and moulds normally responsible for spoilage in these products are pressure sensitive and the bacterial spores that survive processing are unable to grow at the low pH. In 1990, the Meidi-Ya company in Japan launched a range of jams treated at 400-500 MPa in pack.
These have a chill shelf-life of 60 days and have sensory characteristics quite different from conventional heat- processed jams since more fresh fruit flavour and texture are retained. Other products introduced include salad dressings, fruit sauces, and fruit flavoured yoghurts.
In the future, the range of products may be increased by coupling moderate pressure with a heat treatment equivalent to pasteurization. In one trial, shelf stable, low acid foods were produced by combining a pressure of just 0.14 MPa with heating at temperatures of 82-103 °C. Other developments such as equipment capable of semi- or fully-continuous operation will also considerably improve commercial feasibility, so that we may see and hear a lot more about pascalization.
Method # 5. Low-Temperature Storage – Chilling and Freezing:
The rates of most chemical reactions are temperature dependent; as the temperature is lowered so the rate decreases. Since food spoilage is usually a result of chemical reactions mediated by microbial and endogenous enzymes, the useful life of many foods can be increased by storage at low temperatures.
Though this has been known since antiquity, one of the earliest recorded experiments was conducted by the English natural philosopher Francis Bacon who in 1626 stopped his coach in High-gate in order to fill a chicken carcass with snow to confirm that it delayed putrefaction.
This experiment is less notable for its results, which had no immediate practical consequences, than for its regrettable outcome. As a result of his exertions in the snow, it is claimed Bacon caught a cold which led to his death shortly after.
Using low temperatures to preserve food was only practicable where ice was naturally available. As early as the 11th Century BC the Chinese had developed ice houses as a means of storing ice through the summer months, and these became a common feature of large houses in Europe and North America in the 17th and 18th Centuries. By the 19th Century, the cutting and transporting of natural ice had become a substantial industry in areas blessed with a freezing climate.
Mechanical methods of refrigeration and ice making were first patented in the 1830s. These were based on the cooling produced by the vaporization of refrigerant liquids, originally ether but later liquid ammonia. Much early development work was done in Australia where there was considerable impetus to find a way of transporting the abundant cheap meat available locally to European population centres. At the 1872 Melbourne Exhibition, Joseph Harrison exhibited an ‘ice house’ which kept beef and mutton carcasses in good condition long enough for some of it to be eaten at a public luncheon the following year.
This banquet was to send off a steamship to London carrying 20 tons of frozen mutton and beef packed in tanks cooled by ice and salt. Unfortunately it was an inauspicious start, during passage through the tropics the ice melted and most of the meat had been thrown overboard before the ship reached London. Chilled rather than frozen meat had however already been successfully shipped the shorter distance from North America to Europe and by the end of the Century techniques had been refined to the extent that shipping chilled and frozen meat from North and South America and Australia to Europe was a large and profitable enterprise.
Since then, use of chilling and freezing has extended to a much wider range of perishable foods and to such an extent that refrigeration is now arguably the technology of paramount importance to the food industry.
Method # 6. Chemical Preservatives:
The addition of chemicals to food is not a recent innovation but has been practiced throughout recorded history. Doubtless too, there has also always been a certain level of misuse but this must have gone largely undetected until modern analytical techniques became available.
When chemical analysis and microscopy were first applied to foods in the early 19th Century, they revealed the appalling extent of food adulteration then current. Pioneering work had been done by the 18th Century chemist Jackson, but publication of the book ‘A Treatise on Adulterations of Food, and Culinary Poisons’ by Frederick Accum in 1820 marks a watershed.
Accum exposed a horrifying range of abuses such as the sale of sulfuric acid as vinegar, the use of copper salts to colour pickles, the use of alum to whiten bread, addition of acorns to coffee, blackthorn leaves to tea, cyanide to give wines a nutty flavour and red lead to colour Gloucester cheese.
These and subsequent investigations, notably those sponsored by the journal Lancet, led directly to the introduction of the first British Food and Drugs Act in 1860. Despite the protection of a much stricter regulatory framework, occasional triumphs of human cupidity are still recorded today.
Recent examples include the use of ethylene glycol in some Austrian wines, the intrepid entrepreneur who sold grated umbrella handles as Parmesan cheese and the grim case of the Spanish toxic cooking oil scandal which killed or maimed hundreds.
Although some would regard all chemical additions to food as synonymous with adulteration, many are recognized as useful and are allowed. Additives may be used to aid processing, to modify a food’s texture, flavour, nutritional quality or colour but, here, we are concerned with those which primarily effect keeping quality: preservatives.
Preservatives are defined as ‘substances capable of inhibiting, retarding or arresting the growth of micro-organisms or of any deterioration resulting from their presence or of masking the evidence of any such deterioration’.
They do not therefore include substances which act by inhibiting a chemical reaction which can limit shelf-life, such as the control of rancidity or oxidative discoloration by antioxidants. Neither does it include a number of food additives which are used primarily for other purposes but have been shown to contribute some antimicrobial activity. These include the antioxidants, butylatedhydroxytoluene (BHT) and butylatedhydroxyanisole (BHA), and the phosphates used as acidity regulators and emulsifiers in some products.
Preservatives may be microbicidal and kill the target organisms or they may be microbistatic in which case they simply prevent them growing. This is very often a dose-dependent feature; higher levels of an antimicrobial proving lethal while the lower concentrations that are generally permitted in foods tend to be microbistatic. For this reason chemical preservatives are useful only in controlling low levels of contamination and are not a substitute for good hygiene practices.
Recently consumers have shown an inclination to regard preservatives as in some way ‘unnatural’, even though the use of salts, acid, or smoke to preserve foods goes back to the beginning of civilization. Usage of chemical preservatives is now more restricted and controlled than ever and in many areas it is declining.
It is perhaps well to remember though that only the fairly recent advent of technologies such as canning and refrigeration has allowed us any alternative to chemical preservation or drying as a means of extending the food supply.
Method # 7. ‘Natural’ Food Preservatives:
The uncertainty voiced by consumer organizations and pressure groups over the use of food additives including preservatives has already been referred to. One approach to reassuring the consumer has been recourse to methods of preservation that can be described as ‘natural’.
The whole area though is riddled with inconsistency and contradiction; it can be argued that any form of preservation which prevents or delays the recycling of the elements in plant and animal materials is unnatural.
On the other hand there is nothing more natural than strychnine or botulinum toxin. Smoking of foods might be viewed as a natural method of preservation. Its antimicrobial effect is a result of drying and the activity of wood smoke components such as phenols and formaldehyde which would probably not be allowed were they to be proposed as chemical preservatives in their own right.
The use of natural food components possessing antimicrobial activity such as essential oils and the lacto-peroxidase system in milk have attracted some attention in this respect. Attention has also been paid to the bacteriocins produced by food-grade micro-organisms such as the lactic acid bacteria. Nisin is an already well-established example and its use can be extended by expedients such as inclusion of whey fermented by a nisin-producing strain of Lactococcuslactis as an ingredient in formulated products like prepared sauces.
Method # 8. Modification of Atmosphere:
At the start of the 19th Century it was believed that contact with air caused putrefaction and that food preservation techniques worked by excluding air. We have already seen how this misapprehension applied in the early days of canning and it was thought that drying operated in a similar way, expelling air from the interior of food.
Some preservation techniques, such as covering a product with a melted fat and allowing it to set, did in fact rely on the exclusion of air but it is only in the last 30 years or so that shelf-life extension techniques based on changing the gaseous environment of a food have really come to be widely used.
Modified atmospheres exert their effect principally through the inhibition of fast- growing aerobes that would otherwise quickly spoil perishable products. Obligate and facultative anaerobes such as Clostridia and the Enterobacteriaceae are less affected. Thus keeping quality is improved but there is generally little effect on pathogens, if present, and the technique is invariably applied in conjunction with refrigerated storage.
In practice three different procedures are used to modify the atmosphere surrounding a product: vacuum packing, modified-atmosphere packing or gas flushing, and controlled atmospheres. An essential feature of all three techniques is that the product is packed in a material which helps exclude atmospheric oxygen and retain moisture. This requires that it should have good barrier properties towards oxygen and water and be easily sealed.
The packaging materials used are usually plastic laminates in which the innermost layer is a plastic such as polyethylene which has good heat sealing properties. Mechanical closures on packs are far less effective as they often leave channels through which high rates of gas exchange can occur.
Overlying the layer of polythene is usually another layer with much better gas barrier properties. No plastics are completely impermeable to gases, although the extent of gas transmission across a plastic film will depend on the type of plastic, its temperature, the film thickness and the partial pressure difference across the film.
In some cases, it can also be affected by factors such as humidity and the presence of fat. Polyvinylidene chloride, PVDC, is a material commonly used as a gas barrier; the oxygen permeability of a 25/µm thick film is 10 cm3 m-2(24h)-1 atm-1 compared with values of 8500 and 1840 for low density and high density polythene respectively. Higher rates of transfer occur with CO2 for which the permeability values are about five times those for oxygen.
If a film is required to exclude oxygen transfer completely, then a non-plastic material such as aluminium foil must be included. This is seen for example in the bags used to pack wines. In addition to the sealing- and gas barrier-layers, laminates may also contain an outer layer such as nylon which gives the pack greater resistance to damage.
In vacuum packing the product is placed in a bag from which the air is evacuated, causing the bag to collapse around the product before it is sealed. Residual oxygen in the pack is absorbed through chemical reactions with components in the product and any residual respiratory activity in the product and its microflora.
To achieve the best results, it is important that the material to be packed has a shape that allows the packaging film to collapse on to the product surface entirely – without pockets and without the product puncturing the film.
Vacuum packing has been used for some years for primal cuts of red meats. At chill temperatures, good quality meat in a vacuum pack will keep up to five times longer than aerobically stored meats. The aerobic microflora normally associated with the spoilage of conventionally stored meats is prevented from growing by the high levels of CO2 which develop in the pack after sealing and the low oxygen tension.
The microflora that develops is dominated by lactic acid bacteria which are metabolically less versatile than the Gram-negative aerobes, grow more slowly and reach a lower ultimate population.
In recent years vacuum packing has been increasingly used for retail packs of products such as cooked meats, fish and prepared salads. It has been used less often for retail packs of red meats since the meat acquires the purple colour of myoglobin in its un-oxygenated form.
This does not appeal to consumers even though oxygenation occurs very rapidly on opening a vacuum pack and the meat assumes the more familiar bright red, fresh meat appearance of oxymyoglobin. Cured meats, on the other hand, are often vacuum packed for display since the cured meat pigment nitrosomyoglobin is protected from oxidation by vacuum packing.
The expanding range of chilled foods stored under vacuum and the availability of vacuum packing equipment for small-scale catering and domestic use has prompted concern about increasing the risk from psychrotrophic Clostridium botulinum.
A number of surveys have been conducted to determine the natural incidence of C. botulinum in these products and the concensus is that it is very low. In one recent example, workers failed to isolate C. botulinum or detect toxin in more than 500 samples analysed.
When they deliberately inoculated these products with C. botulinum spores and incubated at the abuse temperature of 10°C, only in the case of vacuum packed whole trout was toxin produced within the declared shelf-life of the product.
Nevertheless, misuse of the technique does have the potential for increasing risk and a Government committee has recommended that all manufacturers of vacuum packing machinery should include instructions alerting the user to the risks from organisms such as C. botulinum.
In a variant of vacuum packing, known as cuisine sous-vide processing, food is vacuum packed before being given a pasteurization treatment which gives it a longer shelf-life under chill storage. The technique was developed in the 1970s in France and is said to give an improved flavour, aroma and appearance. It is used for the manufacture of chilled ready meals for various branches of the catering industry and sous-vide meals are also available in the retail market in some European countries.
They have been slow to appear on the UK market due to the lack of appropriate UK regulations and concern over their microbiological safety with respect to psychrotrophic C. botulinum. It has been recommended that sous-vide products with an intended shelf-life of longer than 10 days at <3 °C should receive a minimum heat process equivalent to 90 °C for 10 minutes; 70 °C for 100 minutes , should be sufficient for products with shorter shelf-lives.
In modified atmosphere packing, MAP, a bulk or retail pack is flushed through with a gas mixture usually containing some combination of carbon dioxide, oxygen and nitrogen. The composition of the gas atmosphere changes during storage as a result of product and microbial respiration, dissolution of CO2 into the aqueous phase, and the different rates of gas exchange across the packing membrane. These changes can be reduced by increasing the ratio of pack volume to product mass although this is not often practicable for other reasons.
The initial gas composition is chosen so that the changes which occur do not have a profound effect on product stability. Some examples of MAP gas mixtures used in different products are presented in Table 4.13. Carbon dioxide is included for its inhibitory effect, nitrogen is non-inhibitory but has low water solubility and can therefore prevent pack collapse when ,high concentrations of CO2 are used. By displacing oxygen it can also delay the development of oxidative rancidity. Oxygen is included in gas flush mixtures for the retail display of red meats to maintain the bright red appearance of oxymyoglobin.
This avoids the acceptability problem associated with vacuum packs of red meats, although the high oxygen concentration (typically 60-80%) helps offset the inhibitory effect of the CO2 (around 30%) so that the growth of aerobes is slowed rather than suppressed entirely.
In controlled-atmosphere storage, CAP, the product environment is maintained constant throughout storage. It is used mainly for bulk storage and transport of foods particularly fruits and vegetables, such as the hard cabbages used for coleslaw manufacture. CAP is used for shipment of chilled lamb carcasses and primal cuts which are packed in an aluminium foil laminate bag under an atmosphere of 100% CO2.
It is more commonly encountered though with fruits such as apples and pears which are often stored at sub-ambient temperatures in atmospheres containing around 10% CO2. This has the effect of retarding mould spoilage of the product through a combination of the inhibitory effect of CO2 on moulds and its ability to act as an antagonist to ethylene, delaying fruit senescence and thus maintaining its own ability to resist fungal infection.
Method # 9. Control of Water Activity:
The water activity of a product can be reduced by physical removal of liquid water either as vapour in drying, or as a solid during freezing. It is also lowered by the addition of solutes such as salt and sugar.
The primal role of these techniques in food preservation has been alluded to in a number of places. It was the earliest food preservation technique and, until the 19th Century, water activity reduction played some part in almost all the known procedures for food preservation.
Nature provided early humans with an object lesson in the preservative value of high solute concentrations in the form of honey produced by bees from the nectar of plants. The role of salt in decreasing aw accounts for its extreme importance in the ancient economy as evidenced today in the etymology of the word, salary, and of place names such as Salzburg, Nantwich, Moselle and Malaga.
It can also be seen in the extraordinary hardship people were prepared to endure (or inflict on others!) to ensure its availability; to this day the salt mine remains a by-word for arduous and uncomfortable labour.
Solar drying while perhaps easy and cheap is, in many areas, subject to the vagaries of climate. Drying indoors over a fire was one way to avoid this problem and one which had the incidental effect t of imparting a smoked flavour to the food as well as the preservative effect of chemical components of the smoke.
Salting and drying in combination have played a central role in the human diet until very recently. One instance of this is the access it gave the population of Europe to the huge catches of cod available off Newfoundland. From the end of the 15th Century, salted dried cod was an important item in trans-Atlantic trade and up until the 18th Century accounted for 60% of all the fish eaten in Europe.
It remains popular today in Portugal and in the Caribbean islands where it was originally imported to feed the slave population. Other traditional dried and salted products persist in the modern diet such as dried hams and hard dry cheeses but the more recent development and application of techniques such as refrigeration, MAP, and heat processing and the preference for ‘fresh’ foods has meant that their popularity has declined. Nevertheless this should not obscure the important role that low aw foods still play in our diet in the form of grains, pulses, jams, bakery products, dried pasta, dried milk, instant snacks, desserts, soups, etc.
Among the main features of the effect of aw on the growth and survival of microorganisms it was noted that microbial growth does not occur below an aw of 0.6. This applies to a number of food products (Figure 3.9), but the fact that microbial spoilage is not possible given proper storage conditions, does not mean that they do not pose any microbiological problems. Microorganisms that were in the product before drying or were introduced during processing can survive for extended periods.
This is most important with respect to pathogens if they were present in hazardous numbers before drying or if time and temperature allow them to resume growth in a product that is rehydrated before consumption.
There have been a number of instances where the survival of .pathogens or their toxins has caused problems in products such as chocolate, pasta, dried milk and eggs. Generally Salmonella and Staphylococcus aureus have been the principal pathogens involved – there have been 17 major outbreaks associated with these organisms and dried milk in the last 40 years, but spore formers are particularly associated with some other dried products such as herbs or rice.
Intermediate moisture foods, IMFs, are commonly defined as those foods with an aw between 0.85 and 0.6. This range, which corresponds roughly to a moisture content of 15-50%, prohibits the growth of Gram-negative bacteria as well as a large number of Gram-positives, yeasts and moulds, giving the products an extended shelf-life at ambient temperature.
When spoilage does occur, it is often a result of incorrect storage in a high relative humidity environment. In correctly stored products growth of xerophilicmoulds, osmophilic yeasts or halophilic bacteria may occur, depending on the product, and in many IMFs the shelf-life is further protected by the inclusion of antifungal agents “such as sulfur dioxide or sorbic acid.
At the aw of IMFs, pathogens are also prevented from growing. .Although Staph, aureus is capable of growing down to an aw of 0.83, it cannot produce toxin and is often effectively inhibited by the combination of aw with other antimicrobial hurdles.
There are a number of traditional IMFs such as dried fruits, cakes, jams, fish sauce and some fermented meats. Sweetened condensed milk is one interesting example. Milk is homogenized, heated to 80 °C and sugar added before it is concentrated in a multi-effect vacuum evaporator at 50-60 C. When the product emerges from the concentration stage it is cooled and seeded with lactose crystals to induce crystallization of the lactose.
This gives sweetened condensed milk its characteristic gritty texture. Although the product is packed into cans and has an almost indefinite shelf-life, it is not an appertized food. Its stability is a result of its high sugar content (62.5% in the aqueous phase) and low (<0.86). Spoilage may sometimes occur due to growth of osmophilic yeasts or, if the can is under-filled leaving a headspace, species of Aspergillus or Penicillium may develop on the surface.
Some years ago, our developing understanding of the stability of IMFs led to considerable interest in applying the same principles to the development of new shelf stable foods: Novel humectants such as glycerol, sorbitol and propylene glycol were often used to adjust aw in these products in addition to the solutes salt and sugar.
They were not however well received in the market for human food because of acceptability problems, although a number of successful pet food products were developed. One interesting observation made during this work is that products with the same water activity differ in their keeping quality depending on how they are made. Traditional IMFs are generally made by a process of desorption whereby water is lost from the product during processing but a number of the new IMFs used an adsorption process in which the product is first dried and its moisture content readjusted to give the desired aw.
The hysteresis effect in water sorption isotherms (Figure 3.11) means that although products made using the two techniques will have the same initial aw they will have different moisture contents and so will eventually equilibrate to different aw values. It was found that products made by desorption and having the higher water content were also more susceptible to microbial spoilage.
Solar drying is still widely practiced in hot climates for products such as fruits, fish, coffee and grain. The traditional technique of spreading the product out in the sun with occasional turning often gives only rudimentary or, sometimes, no protection from contamination by birds, rodents, insect and dust.
Rapid drying is essential to halt incipient spoilage; this is usually achievable in hot dry climates, though in tropical countries with high humidity drying is usually slower so that products such as fish are often pre-salted to inhibit microbial growth during drying.
There are a number of procedures for mechanical drying which are quicker, more reliable, albeit more expensive than solar drying. The drying regime must be as rapid as possible commensurate with a high-quality product so factors such as reconstitution quality must also be taken into account. With the exception of freeze- drying where the product is frozen and moisture sublimed from the product under vacuum, these techniques employ high temperatures. During drying a proportion of the microbial population will be killed and sub-lethally injured to an extent which depends on the drying technique and the temperature regime used.
It is however no substitute for bactericidal treatments such as pasteurization. Although the air temperature employed in a drier may be very high, the temperature experienced by the organisms in the wet product is reduced due to evaporative cooling. As drying proceeds and the product temperature increases, so too does the heat resistance of the organisms due to the low water content.
This can be seen for example in the differences between spray dried milk and drum dried milk. In spray drying, the milk is pre-concentrated to about 40-45% solids before being sprayed into a stream of air heated to temperatures up to 260 °C at the top of a tower.
The droplets dry very rapidly and fall to the base of the tower where they are collected. In drum drying, the milk is spread on the surface of slowly rotating metal drums which are heated inside by steam to a temperature of about 150 °C.
The film dries as the drum rotates and is scraped off as a continuous sheet by a fixed blade close to the surface of the drum. Although it uses a lower temperature, drum drying gives greater lethality since the milk is not subject to the same degree of pre-concentration used with spray-dried milk and the product spends longer at high temperatures in a wet state.
Spray drying is however now widely used for milk drying because it produces a whiter product which is easier to reconstitute and has less of a cooked flavour. Milk is pasteurized before drying although there are opportunities for contamination during intervening stages. Most of the organisms which survive drying are thermoduric but Gram-negatives may survive and have on occasion been the cause of food poisoning outbreaks.
The limited lethality of drying processes and the long storage life of dried products means that manufacturers are not exempt from the stringent hygiene requirements of other aspects of food processing. Good quality raw materials and hygienic handling prior to drying are essential.
Outbreaks of Staph, aureus food poisoning have been caused by dried foods which were stored at growth temperatures for too long prior to drying allowing the production of heat resistant toxin which persisted through to the final product. The dried product must also be protected from moisture by correct packaging and storage in a suitable environment otherwise pockets of relatively high aw may be created where microbial growth can occur.
Method # 10. Compartmentalization:
Butter is an interesting example of a rather special form of food preservation where microbial growth is limited by compartmentalization within the product. Essentially there are two types of butter: sweet cream butters, which are often salted, and ripened cream butters. In ripened-cream butters, the cream has been fermented by lactic acid bacteria to produce inter alia acetoin from the fermentation of citrate which gives a characteristically buttery flavour to the product.
They have a stronger flavour than sweet-cream butters but are subject to faster chemical deterioration. Sweet-cream butter is most popular in the United States, Ireland, the UK, Australia and New Zealand whereas the ripened cream variety is more popular in continental Europe.
Butter is an emulsion of water droplets in a continuous fat phase in contrast to milk which is an emulsion of fat globules in a continuous water phase (Figure 4.14). It has a higher fat content than milk (80%) and uses pasteurized cream as its starting point.
Typically, the cream is pasteurized using an HTST process of 85 °C for 15s and held at 4-5 °C for a period to allow the fat globules to harden and cluster together. In making a conventional ripened cream butter, the starter culture is added at this stage and the cream incubated at around 20 °C to allow flavour production to take place.
A more recent method developed at NIZO, the Dutch Dairy Research Institute, employs a concentrated starter added to sweet-cream butter after manufacture. Phase inversion, the conversion from a fat-in-water emulsion to a water-in-fat emulsion, is achieved by the process of churning.
During this process fat globules coalesce, granules of butter separate out, and considerable amounts of water are lost from the product in the form of buttermilk. The buttermilk phase retains most of the micro-organisms from the cream and numbers may show an apparent increase due to the breaking of bacterial clumps.
Traditional farmhouse butter making used wooden butter churns and these were originally scaled up for the earliest commercial butter making. However the impossibility of effectively cleaning and sanitizing wood has led to its replacement by churns made of stainless steel or aluminium-magnesium alloys. After the butter has formed, the buttermilk is drained off, the butter grains washed with water and, in the case of sweet-cream butter, salt is added usually at a level of 1-2%.
The butter is then ‘worked’ to ensure further removal of moisture and an even distribution of water and salt throughout the fat phase. In properly produced butter the water is distributed as numerous droplets (>1010 g-1) mostly less than 10 /µm in diameter. Since the butter should contain at most around 103cfu g– 1 most of these droplets will be sterile.
In those that do contain micro-organisms, the nutrient supply will be severely limited by the size of the droplet. If the butter is salted, the salt will concentrate in the aqueous phase along with the bacteria which will therefore experience a higher, more inhibitory salt level. For example, bacteria in a butter containing 1% salt and with a moisture content of 16% would experience an effective salt concentration of 6.25%.
Few micro-organisms survive pasteurization so the microbiological quality of butter depends primarily on the hygienic conditions during subsequent processing, particularly the quality of the water used to wash the butter. Good microbiological quality starting materials are essential though, as preformed lipases can survive pasteurization and rapidly spoil the product during storage.
Butter spoilage is most often due to the development of chemical rancidity but microbiological problems do also occur in the form of cheesy, putrid or fruity odours or the rancid flavour of butyric acid produced by butterfat hydrolysis. Pseudomonads are the most frequently implicated cause and are thought to be introduced mainly in the wash water.
Psychrotrophic yeasts and moulds can also cause lipolytic spoilage and these are best controlled by maintaining low humidity and good air quality in the production environment and by ensuring the good hygienic quality of packaging materials. In this respect aluminium foil wrappers are preferred to oxygen- permeable parchment wrappers as they will help discourage surface mould growth.
Margarine relies on a similar compartmentalization for its microbiological stability, but uses vegetable fat as its continuous phase. Although skim milk is often included in the formulation, it is possible to make the aqueous phase in margarine even more deficient nutritionally than in butter, thus increasing the microbiological stability further.
With the move towards low fat spreads containing 40% fat, the efficacy of this system is more like y to breakdown. A higher moisture content means that the preservative effect of salt or lactic acid, which is often included, is diluted and that micro-organisms can grow to a greater extent in the larger aqueous droplets. In these cases the use of preservatives may be required to maintain stability.
An approach developed at Unilever’s laboratories in the Netherlands is based on a two stage approach where the composition of the aqueous phase is analysed to determine its capacity to support the growth of different spoilage organisms.
If there is some potential for microbial growth to occur, this is then calculated by working out which fraction of water droplets will be contaminated and then summing the growth in each of them. These models have been incorporated into an expert system to predict the stability of any proposed product formulation so that microbiological stability can be designed into the product.