Food spoilage is a process whereby food products become undesirable and unsuitable for human consumption. One-third of the world’s food products meant for human consumption are lost every year because of food spoilage.
Many outside factors cause food spoilage including how the food is packaged and even stored.
Other causes include bacteria and fungi among many others. These factors cause a change in the physical and chemical properties of food.
Food spoilage is, in fact, no accident. It is a deterioration that is a naturally occurring process. In order to understand how to prevent it, we need to fully understand what causes it in the first place.
We can avoid food spoilage by;
|Proper Storage||Get rid of expired foods|
|Separate Foods||East Leftovers|
|Keep Perishables in plain sight||Shop more frequently|
|Serve Smaller Servings||Cool foods before storing in the fridge|
|Keep track of foods in the pantry||Dry your Foods|
Most natural foods have a very specific limited lifespan. They have a short storage life and can easily spoil. Examples include beef, fish, chicken, vegetables, and milk among many others.
Others naturally decompose over time but measures can be taken to make them last for much longer.
Examples of food spoilage
There exist various types of food spoilage.
- Physical spoilage
- Microbial spoilage
- Chemical spoilage
- Change in food appearance.
Physical spoilage simply refers to damage caused to food during harvesting, processing or distribution.
The way food is handled during harvesting, processing or distribution plays a big role in determining its life span.
Any damage occasioned greatly increases the chances of microbial or chemical spoilage.
Most of the time, the outer protective layer of the food is bruised or broken thus enabling microorganisms to enter the foodstuff much more easily.
A simple example is an apple. Once the apple skin is damaged, it will rot more quickly compared to when its skin is intact.
Microbial spoilage occurs when food comes into contact with microorganisms like fungi (mold, yeast) and bacteria.
The microorganisms spoil food by growing in it. They produce toxins that tend to alter the color, smell and texture of food.
The microorganisms eventually render the food unfit for human consumption. Molds and yeast cover food with furry growth. The texture of the food softens and eventually, the food smells bad.
Examples of microbial spoilage by molds and yeast are the molds on bread, souring of milk, and rotting of fruits and vegetables.
Generally, mold and yeast are rarely harmful to human beings. However, bacterial contamination is dangerous. It is the number one cause of food poisoning.
More often than not, food infected with bacteria does not even look spoilt.
Once microorganisms get access to food, they rapidly multiply by using the nutrients found in the food.
They then alter the food’s taste and synthesize new compounds that are often harmful to human beings.
Chemical reactions are responsible for changes in the flavor and color of foods when they are being processed and stored.
Normally, food is of the best quality when it is fresh. Once plants have been harvested or animals slaughtered, chemical changes automatically begin in the food and this leads to deterioration in the food quality.
These chemical changes are enzymic spoilage and enzymic browning.
All living organisms use enzymes (special protein) to drive a chemical reaction in their cells.
Once the organisms die, the enzymes play a role in decomposition in a process called autolysis, or more commonly known as enzymic spoilage.
Enzymic spoilage fastens the process of decay. On the other hand, enzymic browning occurs when enzymes bring about a chemical reaction to convert colorless compounds to brown-colored compounds.
A good example is when avocadoes are cut and exposed to air. Enzymic browning mostly happens in fruits and vegetables.
If they are cooked immediately after being cut, heat destroys the enzymes thus no browning occurs.
Change in food appearance.
In food spoilage, changes in texture, odor, color, and taste are normally obvious.
Most microorganisms responsible for food spoilage are not toxic to humans.
However, you are not advised to eat spoiled food, mostly because it is not nutritious and may sometimes cause stomach upsets.
Don’t eat spoiled food unless it is a matter of life and death.
Causes of food spoilage
There are various causes of food spoilage.
- Insects, rodents, parasites, and other creatures
- Physical damage
These are substances naturally present in food. They are specifically responsible for the ripening process in fruits and vegetables.
Enzymic action in food begins when plants are harvested or animals killed.
They fasten the decay process and eventually cause food spoilage.
Exposure to air results in a process called oxidation.
Oxidation is a chemical process that results in undesirable changes in taste, color, flavor, and nutrient content of the food.
It causes fats in food to become rancid.
Food exposed to light suffers from color and vitamin loss.
Light is also partly responsible for the oxidation of fats in food.
Temperature generally affects storage time.
Food tends to deteriorate faster at higher temperatures. Pathogenic microorganisms also multiply more at room temperature.
In order to slow down the microbial growth, enzymic spoilage, enzymic browning and oxidation process, food should be stored at low temperatures.
Microorganisms cause food spoilage and food-borne illnesses.
The specific microorganisms that cause foodborne illnesses are referred to as pathogenic microorganisms.
They grow best at room temperature but most of them don’t grow when food is refrigerated. They can grow in food without any noticeable change in appearance, odor, or taste.
Spoilage microorganisms including molds, yeast, and certain bacteria grow and multiply well in temperatures as low as 4O degrees Fahrenheit.
When present, the food either looks or smells awful.
Insects, rodents, parasites and other creatures
These living creatures require food to survive.
As a result, they damage food especially the outer protective layer of the food thus enabling microorganisms to enter the foodstuff much more easily and as a result, cause food spoilage.
Bruises on raw food products leave areas where microorganisms can easily grow.
Food that has not been packaged properly exposes food to conditions that support food spoilage including air and light.
Food products should be handled gently to maintain their quality and lengthen their lifespan.
Microorganisms need time to grow, multiply and produce toxins.
Oxidation and enzyme action also requires time for them to take place.
You are advised not to purchase large quantities of perishable foods as this would require long-term storage thus giving microorganisms time to grow and multiply.
Humid storage environments are an important factor in the growth of microorganisms.
Storing food in a dry atmosphere makes it less susceptible to the growth and multiplication of microorganisms.
Dry conditions are better for food storage compared to moist conditions.
Ways to prevent food spoilage
The following are ways in which one can prevent food spoilage;
- Proper storage
Store dry foods in a dry atmosphere that has zero moisture.
This will prevent any kind of humidity from coming into contact with the food and it will therefore not be a conducive environment for microorganisms to grow and multiply.
Store perishable foods at a low temperature in your refrigerator. Use a thermometer to ensure that your refrigerator is no warmer than 38 degrees Fahrenheit.
This will prevent bacteria from growing on your food.
Avoid discoloration of light-colored fruits by using antioxidants like citric acid before freezing or by using vapor proof packaging that keeps the air out thus preventing oxidation problems.
Purchase a vacuum packaging machine.
This would extend the shelf life of most of your food in plastic packaging by removing oxygen and consequently avoiding spoilage.
- Always get rid of expired or spoiled food
Make a point of sorting through your refrigerator or pantry regularly and throw out any food product that is moldy, spoiled or past its expiration date.
This will prevent spoiled food from coming into contact with food that is not spoiled and as a result avoiding further food spoilage.
- Separate foods to prevent spoilage
Fruits like bananas and apples release ethylene gas as they ripen.
If stored with foods that don’t release ethylene gas, they may promote food spoilage.
- Eat your leftovers
Eliminate food waste from your kitchen by simply eating your leftovers.
Keep a record of what you have leftover and try to incorporate them into your everyday meals. Leftovers actually make a pretty good option for lunch that you can carry to work or school.
Remember to store those leftovers in airtight containers to avoid spoilage.
Consider freezing them if you want them to last longer.
- Keep perishable food items in plain sight.
Out of sight, out of mind. If you buy food that spoils relatively fast, place them in front of the fridge or counter so that you are more likely to grab them first.
Such products include dairy products and soft fruit.
- Do your grocery shopping a bit more frequently.
This may sound like too much work but shopping regularly means you get to buy food in small quantities and therefore there is a very small chance of spoilage.
- Dish out smaller servings.
Eat off smaller plates. This way less goes into the garbage and there would be no unnecessary leftovers that your family will most likely forget about.
- Cool hot foods before storing them in the refrigerator
Storing hot foods in your fridge increases your refrigerator’s temperature which in turn increases the risk of food spoilage.
- Don’t wash fresh produce before storing it.
Washing the produce makes it damp and this dampness increases the chance of mold growth since molds thrive in humid environments.
- Keep track of the food in your house.
Make a list of all the food you have in your pantry, refrigerator, and pantry. Note any food products that need to be used up quickly.
This way you won’t be at risk of leaving stored food for too long thus avoiding spoilage.
- Dry your food
Use an electric dehydrating machine or your oven on very low heat to dry your food. This will remove moisture from the food thus preventing bacteria from spoiling the food.
You can dry foods with low moisture content like fruits.
You can also dry your meat although it will take much longer to dry.
Reasons for food preservation
Food preservation prevents the growth of microorganisms and slows down the oxidation process. Several processes have been designed to preserve food.
Some of these processes include curing/drying, cooling, freezing, canning, sugaring, pickling, jellying, fermentation among many others.
The following are reasons why people preserve their own food.
- To capitalize on seasonal flavor.
Food preservation when the food is in its natural season keeps the flavors at their peak. You get to enjoy the same great taste after a long period.
Home-canned food does not contain artificial preservatives or artificial ingredients so you get to capitalize on the same great flavor.
- Saves you money.
In order to preserve food, you need to buy it in bulk. Food is actually way cheaper when it is bought in bulk.
Buying a large amount of any food produce lowers the price of individual units. Most suppliers also offer discounts on large purchases since the sale is a sure thing.
- Personal satisfaction.
Preserving your own food means you have the opportunity to experiment with flavors and create combinations that you may most likely not be able to buy at your local grocery store.
- Prevent microbial contamination.
Bacteria and fungi are the major cause of food spoilage and food-borne illnesses.
Food preservation prevents the growth and multiplication of bacteria and fungi on food and consequently prevents contamination and food spoilage.
- To increase the shelf life of food products.
Food products will generally have a longer shelf life when preserved. The longer shelf life guarantees that you can still enjoy your favorite food even when it is out of season.
- To reduce food wastage.
Food preservation significantly reduces food wastage since less food gets spoilt and more is kept for future use.
- Saves time
When you preserve food, you will avoid spending so much time going to the grocery store to buy what you need.
Preserved food also comes in handy when you receive unexpected guests. You can easily prepare a meal from what you have in your fridge or pantry and the meal will have the same great taste.
- It is a healthy option.
You are fully aware of the quality and material in your food when you preserve it.
This enables you to stay healthy by avoiding the artificial preservatives that are put in canned products at the store.