Food products experience some level of deterioration with the passing of time. This is due to organic molecule breakdown that takes place spontaneously. Additionally, pests like rodents and insects infest food products and also cause spoilage. But the most common reason for food spoilage is the result of microorganisms like bacteria and fungi. These get into food in search of nourishment but their presence has negative results. As they multiply, they produce toxic substances and chemicals making food unsafe for human consumption.
Food storage methods especially during transportation have a great impact on its safety and quality. This is because transportation conditions favor the different deterioration and infestation processes. Therefore, in order to maintain proper quality, food handlers need to limit access to the products by harmful microorganisms and prevent population growth and colonization.
As the name suggests, microorganisms are extremely small and have very high populations. They usually disperse by use of water air or soil and easily get into unprotected food products. Different types of food products require different treatment and storage practices to ensure their preservation.
Let us consider some common food storage methods that can be carried out before and during the transport process to ensure your foodstuffs get to their destination in the proper condition.
- Time and Temperature Control
Proper food safety practices with regards to time and temperature control have a great impact on food safety. Researchers have shown that in certain conditions, one single bacterium multiplies every 20 minutes. They have in fact identified the range between 41 degrees and 135 degrees F as the danger zone. Any food left under such conditions is favorable breeding ground for pathogens.
The most vulnerable food products that need particular attention include meat, dairy products, eggs, milk and most cut fruits and vegetables. The vulnerability of meat in particular explains the high meat industry pollution as it requires higher levels of controlled environments than most other products.
When stored at temperatures below 40 degrees F or lower, food products in general exhibit microbial stability. But this calls for balance because lower temperatures could lead to undesired freezing. Higher temperatures could lower food quality by increasing water loss.
Farm produce for instance is known to have higher respiration rates in high temperature environments. This in turn diminishes carbohydrate content leading to lower nutritional value and also increasing the rate of rot. Some foods therefore require pre-cooling before transporting in refrigerated conditions.
Most of these transportation facilities use complete climate control. This is because humidity levels also affect food quality and safety. Low humidity causes high water loss and makes produce more vulnerable to decay or mold. Alternatively, it would be necessary to use special packaging to maintain food quality and integrity.
This is one of the most common methods used to increase the shelf life of products that need to be transported over long distances. The process is most common for liquid food products like milk. It involves heating the liquid to a specified temperature below its boiling point so as to slow the growth of microbes. It is then cooled rapidly and then sealed.
The process is named after its inventor Louis Pasteur. It was originally used to keep beer and wine from becoming sour but was later applied to milk as well. Milk pasteurization processes differ and determine how long the treated product will last. It can survive for anything between two weeks under refrigeration and several months on the shelf depending on the method chosen.
Canning is a food preservation process that involves storing it in air-tight containers and then applying heat treatment. The process is popularly used for fruits, vegetables, and dairy and meat products. Aluminum is the preferred material for containers used for canning as it is light and does not rust. Food is canned as soon as possible after harvest to ensure the retention of nutrients.
The process starts with cleaning of the harvested product in water tanks or under water sprays. The product is then peeled, sliced, cored or processed in any other desirable way before packing. Most fruits and vegetables require blanching before packing to soften them so as to make the packing process easy. It also deactivates enzymes that would alter the food during storage.
Some products are vacuum packed while others are packed using regular processes then the air is exhausted. The heating process uses a specified temperature for a specific duration so as to achieve desired results. The air-tight sealing keeps microbes outside the food container from entering. The heat treatment on the other hand kills all present microbes. This double protection process ensures that proper food quality is retained during transportation over long periods of time.
This process is used for both liquid and solid food products to remove all microbes. These include bacteria, spores, fungi and viruses. There are numerous methods used for this process including irradiation, heat treatment and the use of chemicals. After the products are treated, they are usually stored in air-tight cartoons or containers.
The main disadvantage associated with this method is that it kills the good bacteria along with the bad. It also alters the taste slightly.
This storage process works by removing moisture content from food. This helps to prevent the growth of microorganisms that usually cause decay and also slows enzyme processes down. This method goes back ages as the sun and wind were among the most common drying methods in early times. It can either be done using evaporation or freeze drying. Evaporation uses the sun, air, smoke or wind to remove moisture. Freeze drying on the other hand involves freezing then water removal using sublimation. Either one of these processes makes the product in question lighter and smaller. But before use one would need to add the water back to restore the original condition.
Technological advancements have made food dehydration rather easy in modern times. Dried foods are also very popular in traditional recipes and as healthy snacks. Dried fruit for instance is a favorite for many young ones and high in nutritional value. The greatest advantage to this process is the weight reduction that makes transportation cheaper.
It is however a delicate process as using the wrong temperature will cook instead of drying. Cooking hardens the pouter surface making it impossible for moisture to escape. This will eventually cause molding. It is also important to choose low humidity surroundings to speed up the process. This is because humid surroundings limit water movement from the products.
Dry Food Storage Guidelines
Dry food products are a lot easier to handle than their perishable counterparts. This makes dry food handlers a lot more lax and at times even careless. However, these too deserve their fair share of attention if at all they are to meet the standards for safe human food. This is the reason why in many countries there are dry food storage guidelines that have to be met for local and imported food products.
Here are some basic considerations to assist you to meet these requirements:
- Food Rotation
All dry foods should be properly labeled and dated. Then the first products in should be the first ones out. This calls for a lot of rotation but it ensures that no food overstays in storage. It is a fact that the value and quality of food decreases with time. This makes it pertinent to use the products before their best-by date.
- Low Humidity
Dry food storage areas require humidity levels of 15% or lower. During certain seasons, this requires mechanical intervention to ensure that optimal conditions are maintained. But in most cases, it suffices to use moisture-proof packaging.
It is best to keep dry foods in the original packages for as long as possible. This is because such packaging is designed for the particular product contained and is mostly moisture-proof. If you find the packaging impractical though, you could opt for air-tight containers.
Dry foods should be stored away from direct sunlight. This is because sunlight causes oxidation which in turn lowers nutritional value and food quality. Artificial light has no negative effect though. That is why most storage facilities are pitch dark and use electric lighting when necessary.
- Floor Contact
Dry foods are best stored some inches off the floor to reduce surface condensation and allow for easy cleaning. This also reduces on the chances of harboring rodents as there is inadequate hiding space.
- Pest Control
Make sure that the storage area is vermin-proof. This involves sealing off doors and windows to prevent their entry. Fumigation should only be carried out when absolutely necessary and it should be done by experts.
A storage room needs to be properly aired, cool and dry. Lower temperatures are more favorable as they reduce enzyme activity as well as respiration. It is best to keep heat-producing equipment like transformers and water pipes away from the area.
Importance of Proper Food Storage during Transportation
We have considered the common storage processes used to ensure food safety and quality during transport. But why is food storage important? Let us examine a few reasons that necessitate these practices.
- To Reduce Wastage
Millions of tons of perishable food are lost somewhere along the food chain process. But the increasing cost of life and world population calls for proper food waste solutions to reduce this waste. Storing food properly during transportation ensures that the products in question retain required quality until they get to their destination. This will reduce the chances of mold or decay and ensure that produce does not go to waste. This makes proper food storage an economically sound choice that will in the long run limit losses for both suppliers and buyers.
- Maximized Shelf Life
The kind of treatment that food products get during transportation determines shelf life. When poorly handled during transportation, even if they happen to survive to the destination, they will not offer the same performance as when the reverse is true. Proper handling on the other hand preserves food and ensures that they maintain freshness for the longest possible duration.
- Pest Protection
When food products are poorly stored they tend to attract pests and rodents. But when properly treated, the chances of infestation are greatly reduced. Various treatment processes are geared towards repelling pests and rodents common to specific areas.
- Food Quality Retention
When a proper method is used to store food then most of the nutrients present at harvesting are retained. This is extremely important as it ensures that the food consumers buy is rich with nutrients. It also helps those exporting to countries with strict food regulations. Samples of food products are at times routinely tested to ensure they meet the market requirements. Proper storage will ensure that your food products pass the test.
- Public Health
Poor hygiene and improper food handling and storage practices account for a high percentage of food-related illnesses. This is especially true in developing countries. in Africa for instance, the tropical climate coupled with limited access to temperature control facilities leads to high disease prevalence and fatalities.
Waystocap – Your Ultimate Food Business Partner
Food transportation causes a high risk of deterioration. It can however be prevented using the methods highlighted above. Everything from the post-harvest treatment, handling and storage as well as choice of transportation has a huge impact on food safety and quality. This calls for caution when choosing service providers to ensure that you do not end up experiencing loss. Waystocap allows you to choose your business partners wisely so as to enjoy high quality services.
We are the first African B2B platform offering a link between this continent and the rest of the world. We offer traders a secure trading platform on which to pick out trustworthy partners for your international trade business. This makes it easy for you to build a reliable network right from suppliers and buyers to logistics companies and insurers.
We help you get everything in order so as to ensure you meet the regulation requirements of your target market. We also help you avoid unexpected losses by connecting you to reliable cargo shippers and helping you get the verification required for international trade. By working with us, you will be able to navigate this tricky terrain and get your food product business off to the right start. So sign up with us and enjoy growing your brand.