During the last decades, we have witnessed improvements in the eating habits of the population, which seek to promote nutrition and collective health. Hand in hand with these healthy practices of food selection and preparation are the changes in their production and industrialization.
An example of these practices is the exploitation of primary agricultural production and the surplus of the food obtained, both of which avoid food waste and make profitable crops by-products.
Thus, with these changes in the primary production chain come improvements in the processes of food industrialization, under current regulations, with a view to guaranteeing the right to food security. Within the food standards, there are the mandatory practices for obtaining and marketing safe and nutritious food.
Control measures to obtain healthy and safe food cover responsible cultivation, harvesting and processing practices. Furthermore, in order to reach the consumer’s table safely, vegetable or animal canned food must also meet the rigorous sterilization packaging standards of the food industry.
What is the sterilization of canned food?
To produce canned food under good safety conditions and, in addition, that the products can be kept at room temperature, they need to be sterilized.
The final objective and the importance of sterilization lies in the destruction of microorganisms and spores that can contaminate food, without significantly altering its organoleptic and nutritional characteristics. To sum up, the purpose of sterilization is to make food safer for consumption, extend their shelf life and better preserve their nutrients.
In contrast to pasteurization, sterilization removes all kinds of microorganisms and spores. Pasteurization only removes most microorganisms, but not spores. There is some confusion between pasteurization and sterilization when we talk about microorganisms or temperature.
What is food pasteurization?
Pasteurization allows the elimination of microorganisms that cause food adulteration. It is a heat treatment used to disinfect liquid and solid products by controlling the temperature and time of the process. Food is heated to temperatures below 100ºC with different time durations depending on the type of product, its format or type of container. If an exact control of the temperature is carried out, the taste, the smell and the nutritional properties of the food will hardly change.
Pasteurization does not eliminate all the microorganisms, nor the spores, as we mentioned before. Furthermore, food spoilage continues to occur due to microbiological processes, so pasteurized food must always be kept in refrigeration between 3º and 6º, and once opened the period for consumption is short.
What is the difference between sterilization and pasteurization?
Unlike pasteurization, the sterilization process seeks the elimination of all microbiological life, pathogenic or not, that reside in fresh foods and cause their decomposition, through heat treatments above 100ºC.
In this case of food, heating can range from 120ºC to ultra-high temperatures (UHT) of 140ºC, causing complete inactivation of all microorganisms and spores. Because these do not survive, sterilized products have a longer shelf life than pasteurized products, although their disadvantage is that it affects the quality of some products. With high temperatures the nutritional value of the product is lower as vitamins and aromas are destroyed along with all pathogenic or non-pathogenic microorganisms.
Microorganisms are sensitive to a combination of temperature and time. Lower temperature and longer time will kill the same amount as high temperature and short time.
This combination of time with temperature is called the “sterilization value” and is represented by “Fo” when using a temperatures above 100ºC and by “Po” when using temperatures below 100ºC.
Each product has different characteristics that will determine the appropriate type of sterilization technique to use and the combinations of temperature and time.
The tradition of canned food in Spain.
Nowadays, Spain is one of the main producers of preserves in the world, where the variety of canned foods ranges from fruits to meats, seafood and vegetables. Due to this, in recent years gourmet-style preserves have gained significant market share. Unlike the industrialized preserves, those of artisan origin that are made with local products, which are planted and harvested a few kilometers from their distribution, have taken a leading role in the circular economy of Spain.
Gourmet preserves have appeared as an exquisite alternative for the most demanding palates. The production system is what differentiates these gourmet preserves from the standard ones, since an artisanal process that mixes the extensive Spanish culinary tradition and its native products is followed, which result in a unique origin denomination. An example of this would be the anchovies from Mingo de Santoña, produced in Cantabria and recognized as the best in the area.
Another important feature is the packaging, which fulfills the same function in both preserves but which is increasingly more attractive in the case of gourmet preserves, making the product an object of desire and even decoration.
However, artisanal production does not exempt the small producer from risks due to non-compliance with current regulations, that stipulate the demanding quality requirements for food preservation and labeling that guarantee safe food for the consumer.
How to determine if a gourmet can is safe?
The European quality policy recognizes and protects, through labeling, the safety during the production, transformation and distribution of food.
Some of the certifications such as those of origin denomination and proprietary seals can be a distinctive element while choosing canned food. In general, the information taken into account while choosing canned food includes: the name of the food, the ingredients, the detail of allergens or intolerances, the amounts of nutrients, the dates of maximum consumption and expiration, the conservation conditions , the data of the company responsible for the preparation of the preserve, its place of origin, and its nutritional information.
It is important to keep in mind that one of the fundamental elements to guarantee that a gourmet can is safe throughout the distribution chain and consumers, is that it has the corresponding health permits for the distribution of food, issued by the competent authorities in Spain and in the European Union, as the case may be.
The TERRA Food Tech® autoclaves for canned food are a product of the evolution of the Raypa brand. More than 40 years of experience in the manufacture of sterilization equipment endorse these compact autoclaves, developed to meet the demand of small food producers.
Our commitment to the microentrepreneur lead us to offer devices and personalized technical support that guarantee optimal conditions to go to the market for the commercialization of canned food, complying with sanitary regulations. Contact our sales team to find out the autoclave that best suits your business.