The use of high temperature
Heat is one of the oldest methods of destroying microorganisms in food processing and preservation. The greatest advance in food hygiene was inadvertently made when humans discovered the advantage of boiling, roasting, baking and other heat treatments of food, hence preserving the food for longer periods. Food is also rendered safe by the application of heat because most pathogenic microorganisms are comparatively heat-sensitive. Some of the methods of heat treatment used for food preservation are discussed below.
Boiling is the process of applying heat to water until the temperature reaches about 100°C. Boiling foods in water cannot completely destroy all microorganisms, but the vegetative cells of bacteria, yeasts and moulds are generally quickly destroyed at temperatures of 100°C or above. Spores of some bacteria are extremely resistant to heat and are not killed at this temperature, although their growth is prevented. For this reason, boiling food can rarely be relied upon to ensure complete destruction of all organisms. However, most pathogens are killed, provided that sufficient exposure time is maintained. Although the spores of Clostridium botulinum, which causes botulism, are extremely heat-resistant, the toxin produced by this organism is readily destroyed by boiling. However, some toxins produced by other bacteria such as staphylococci are not easily inactivated. Thermophilic (heat-loving) organisms may survive the effects of boiling and can cause food spoilage if environmental conditions are favourable for them.
Bacterial destruction by heat is affected by time and temperature variation. The higher the temperature, the more rapid is the destruction. On the other hand, as the temperature is lowered, the time of exposure (holding time) needs to be longer.
Cooking can have some disadvantages. It can damage the food's appearance, texture and flavour, and may also destroy some important vitamins. Nevertheless, the advantages of cooking outweigh the disadvantages because it inhibits spoilage and possible disease transmission.
Pasteurisation is named after its inventor, Louis Pasteur, a French chemist.
Pasteurisation is a process of heat treatment of milk, beer and some other beverages. It requires sufficient holding time to assure the thermal destruction of pathogens and organisms responsible for spoilage, without altering the nutritional value. It involves heating the food to a specific temperature for a specific time and then cooling rapidly.
Pasteurisation kills most but not all of the microorganisms present. It is a very useful method when more rigorous heat treatment could harm the quality of the product, as in the case of milk, and when the aim is to kill only the pathogens that are not very heat-resistant.
The temperature applied and the holding time of pasteurisation vary with the equipment available and the type of food product. In milk pasteurisation, the time-temperature combination is selected on the basis of the thermal death time of the most resistant pathogens (TB bacilli) that may be present in raw milk, and the maximum temperature and time at which the taste, palatability and nutritive value of milk are maintained. Normally milk is pasteurised at 62.8°C for at least 30 minutes or at 71.7°C for at least 15 seconds, or, if using ultra-high temperature (UHT), at 135°C for 1–2 seconds. UHT milk is sterilised, meaning all forms of life are destroyed. This extends its storage time but does affect the taste.
Blanching is a mild pre-cooking operation which can reduce the bacterial load on vegetables by 90%. It means the application of boiling water or steam for a short time. It wilts some bulky vegetables and prevents discolouring of others. It cleans peas of the moist and sticky material around them. Blanching vegetables prior to canning, freezing or drying helps to remove soil, insects and microorganisms, and destroys or slows the action of enzymes. It sets the green colour and generally facilitates dicing, peeling and packing.
Canning is one of the most widely used modern methods of processing and preserving food. It involves the careful preparation of food packed into a sealed tin, glass or plastic container which is subjected to defined high temperatures (above 100ºC) for an appropriate period of time, and then cooled. Following the thermal (heat) processing, the sealed container must be cooled immediately to a temperature of about 38ºC to prevent unnecessary adverse effects of heat on the texture, flavour or colour of the food.
The canning method involves the following steps: sterilising the food to be canned, packing it in sterile, air-tight stainless metal, glass or plastic containers, and then hermetically sealing (i.e. with a complete, airtight seal) the containers to prevent contamination during handling and storage. In the heat process, all vegetative bacteria are destroyed and spores cannot grow. Any can that is damaged or swollen should not be used. A swollen, bulging can indicates that gas is being produced on the inside and demonstrates there is microbial activity in the food, so it would not be safe to eat.