Are you aware of the steps that need to be taken prior to sterilizing your canned foods? Or how to prepare them for sterilization?
To professionally dedicate oneself to the production of gourmet preserves and prepared dishes, it is essential to follow certain guidelines, in order to comply with the current health, hygiene and food regulations in your country. Through this article, TERRA Food-Tech® wants to go deeper into these aspects and also give you tips and tricks to improve your product and/or make your work easier.
Indispensable steps for sterilizing canned foods and/or prepared Meals
1. Food preparation
The first step of any preserve or prepared meal is its preparation. According to the type of preserve, the food will be prepared in one way or another.
If the food is a chopped vegetable, you should examine it carefully, discarding rotten, unripe or stained parts. In addition, a scalding is sometimes applied, which consists of immersing the food in boiling water for a brief period of time with the goal of inactivating the enzymes that cause undesirable changes. After the scalding process, it is necessary to cool down immediately to avoid the proliferation of microorganisms.
On the other hand, some vegetables are blanched, that is, they are semi-cooked to fix the color of the vegetables or to soften their flavor. This method is also applied to seafood, such as shrimps and prawns, because they require very short cooking times. Afterwards, they must be drained and cooled to prevent further cooking and have a smoother appearance.
In the case of fruits, after being washed, disinfected, peeled, and chopped, in some cases, blanching is performed. This process consists of immersing the fruit in hot water, applying steam or immersing it in antioxidant solutions in order to inactivate enzymes that can modify color and smell, to soften the fruit, eliminate unpleasant flavors and reduce the microbial load.
Regarding foods that need to be cooked before heat treatment, it is essential to keep in mind that during the time your product is being pasteurized or sterilized, it will also be cooked. It is important to determine the level of cooking that your canned food should be, in accordance with the characteristics of the food. Particularities such as the pH of the different ingredients.
From this point on, the preparation time will vary. In some cases, it may not be necessary to pre-cook the food, as the time spent in the autoclave may be sufficient. This could be the case for cooked legumes or some pre-prepared dishes with vegetables. Your dish may also need to stew for a few minutes in order to finish its cooking time in the sterilizer. To find out what is best for you, the most effective option is testing. Both during the process and afterwards. The TERRA Food-Tech® team will advise you to determine the most suitable cooking time, pH and temperature for your recipe.
2. Preparation of containers
Before or while you are preparing your preserves, we advise you to check the containers to make sure that you have enough of them, that they are not damaged, perfectly clean and the lids, if they need them, fit tightly.
After such inspection, they must be disinfected and sanitized. Obviously, it would be better if you have a professional dishwasher that can reach 65ºC or higher for a certain period of time. If you have an autoclave and the type of container requires it, you can sterilize them using this equipment.
And, once washed and disinfected, you must drain and dry them completely before packaging the product.
Recuerda no rellenar el envase en su totalidad, ya que durante el proceso térmico los alimentos se dilatan y aumentan por tanto su volumen. Así, evitarás que puedan derramarse o romper el envase debido a su expansión.
For containers with twist-off or screw-on lids, an empty space should be left at the top of the container in order to ensure an airtight seal after performing the autoclave treatment.
4. Pasteurization / sterilization
Pasteurize or sterilize your preserves, that’s the question. It depends on the ingredients of your product and what you are looking for.
The acidity level of food has an impact on its subsequent heat treatment because it determines the development of microorganisms. Therefore, depending on the pH value, you will have to assign a specific temperature and a cycle time to your preserve recipe. This combination will eliminate microorganisms to a greater or lesser extent. Keep in mind that what differentiates one treatment from another is the percentage of microorganisms that are eliminated.
Pasteurization eliminates a large number of microorganisms. However, your gourmet preserve or prepared meal will always have to be refrigerated and will have a much shorter shelf life. On the other hand, in sterilizations, all microorganisms are suppressed, cold storage is not necessary and the shelf life can be up to several years.
Pasteurization or sterilization is mandatory when producing and marketing your preserves. In addition, according to regulations, these processes must be carried out with professional equipment and be recorded, as our autoclaves do.
With TERRA Food-Tech® autoclaves, in addition to pasteurizing or sterilizing and complying with current Safety and Hygiene regulations for preserved foods, you will also be able to carry out an exhaustive control of the entire process, preserving the organoleptic properties of your products and minimizing possible changes in its nutritional characteristics.
Each country has its own regulations about labeling. While it is true that in the case of the countries that are part of the European Union, there are common common regulations for labeling that apply to all state members. And packaged foods must carry the following information on their label as a mandatory requirement:
With regard to the production of labels, and depending on the quantity you need, you can either order them from your local print shop or order them online. Another option is to buy a labeling machine, as long as you can amortize that investment.
Regarding the storage and distribution of your preserves and/or prepared meals, one aspect to take into account is the type of packaging used, since according to its format and material, your products will have to be stored in one way or another. As you can imagine, it is not the same for your preserves to be packaged in a pouch than in a glass jar.
These are the essential steps to follow when pasteurizing or sterilizing your gourmet preserves and/or prepared meals. If you are not yet involved in the production and marketing of preserves and prepared meals, but you are considering it, here is a guide with 5 steps to create your own preserved food business. Moreover, if you wish to meet other small producers and chefs who have already embraced canning as their way of life, we invite you to visit our success stories.