Food preservation refers to the processes you use to prepare food for safe, long-term storage, whether you plan to use it at home, for prep in a commercial kitchen, or to sell directly to consumers. Food preservation is any of a number of methods by which food is kept from spoilage after harvest or slaughter.
Such practices date to prehistoric times. Among the oldest methods of preservation are drying, refrigeration, and fermentation. Modern methods include canning, pasteurization, freezing, irradiation, and the addition of chemicals. Advances in packaging materials have played an important role in modern food preservation.
Preservation methods help inhibit bacterial growth and other types of spoilage, meaning the food is safe and satisfying to eat in the future. There are three reasons why food preservation is important:
- Minimize pathogenic bacteria
- Save money
Food preservation methods range from the simple process of chilling to more complex procedures such as canning. Many are creative options that help you mix things up at home or sell food in various forms of packaging. Others help you keep your inventory in a commercial kitchen for much longer, which means you reduce waste and increase profit.
A few food preservation methods you can use and the safest, most effective way to do them can be:
- Set your fridge to a temperature between 1°C and 4°C. The law requires you to store food for commercial use under 8°C.
- Use separate refrigerators, where possible, for raw and high-risk or ready-to-eat food to minimize cross-contamination. If it’s unpractical for you to use separate fridges, you should be aware of which fridge shelves you should store food on. For example, ready-to-eat food should sit above raw food at all times.
- Ensure you label food with best before and use by dates if you remove the original packaging.
- Avoid overloading the fridge or placing food in front of the cooling unit. Ensure there’s plenty of room between foods to allow air circulation.
- Put canned food in a separate container before you refrigerate it. When you refrigerate any open can, a small number of metal transfers to the food which, although not harmful to consumers, gives food an unappetizing taste.
- Set the freezer to a temperature between -18°C and -22°C.
- Place food in air-tight containers or freezer bags before freezing. Proper wrapping is especially important for meat, otherwise, it may get freezer burned and become inedible.
- Only freeze items before their best-before or use-by date.
- Never refreeze defrosted food, as it gives bacteria an opportunity to grow between thawing. You should either use it right away or store it in the fridge for up to 24 hours.
- Defrost the freezer regularly to keep it free of an ice build-up. You should be able to keep frozen food in the fridge for a couple of hours maximum while the freezer defrosts.
- Label food with the date you freeze it. You can refer back to the date to see whether you should use the food before it deteriorates.
All sorts of sugary substances work well to preserve food, including sugar granules, sugar syrup, or honey. Some sugaring recipes even use alcohol alongside sugar to preserve certain foods.
You may use sugaring to preserve foods such as:
- Fruit – apples, peaches, plums, apricots, cherries, and more preserve well when sugared.
- Vegetables – ginger and carrot are commonly sugared and used for relishes or condiments.
- For certain fish and meat – you can combine sugar with salt or another liquid to make a brine that helps preserve meat and reduce saltiness.
Similar to sugaring, salt draws water out of food and stops bacterial growth. In high concentrations, it can even destroy bacteria cells, although by this point the food is likely unappetizing. There are two forms of salting:
- Dry curing – you apply salt to the food, such as meat, and leave it to draw out the water.
- Wet curing – better known as brine, you mix salt with water and add food to the liquid to preserve it, usually together with canning.
Keeping food canned significantly extends its lifespan – but only if done correctly. The canning process preserves food by removing the oxygen through an airtight seal and containing food in an acidic, sugary, or salty environment, where bacteria cannot thrive.
- Heat the jars beforehand in simmering water.
- Prepare the food according to the preservation recipe. You usually need to heat food to boiling.
- Remove jars from the water and loosely fill them with the food.
- Depending on the recipe, you may fill the jar entirely with the food (e.g. jam) or you may need to add an acidic liquid or brine, which you’ll boil beforehand.
- Leave ½ inch of headspace and apply the sealing lid. Adjust the lid until the fit is fingertip tight.
- Submerge the jars in boiling water using your canning rack for the period of time that the recipe states.
- Remove and set aside to cool for as long as stated.
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6. Vacuum Packaging:
Vacuum packing also has value as a preservation method because it preserves the quality without the need for other ingredients (unlike canning). It usually maintains the food’s smell, color, taste, and texture.
This is particularly desirable for meat you intend to cook rare. In the absence of air, vacuum-packed food also retains its moisture, which ensures optimum food quality. To safely vacuum pack food, you should:
- Prepare the food hygienically. Wash fruits and vegetables and trim unwanted skin, fat, and bone from meat.
- Place the food inside a suitable vacuum packing plastic bag.
- Feed the plastic bag into a vacuum packing machine.
- Allow the vacuum packing machine to run.
- Store in the fridge or a cool, dry place.
The process of food preservation is a tedious task in itself. While these are the few methods that can be used to preserve them, there are many other home remedies for the same that various cultures and countries follow.