Preserving Food Five Methods of Processing

Where food is concerned, the term natural doesn't necessarily translate as "safe" or "good to eat." Food spoils (naturally) when microbes living (naturally) on the surface of meat, a carrot, a peach, or whatever reproduce (naturally) to a population level that overwhelms the food.

Sometimes you can see, feel, or smell when this is happening. You can see mold growing on cheese, feel how meat or chicken turns slippery, and smell when the milk turns sour. The mold on cheese, slippery slickness on the surface of the meat or chicken, and odor of the milk are caused by exploding populations of microorganisms. Don't even argue with them; just throw out the food.

All food processing is designed to prevent what happens to the chicken (or the cheese or the milk). It aims to preserve food and extend its shelf life (the period of time when it's safe to consume and nutritious) by stemming the natural tide of biological destruction. (But wait! Not all microbes are bad guys. We use "good" ones to ferment milk to yogurt or cheese and to produce wines and beers.)

Reducing or limiting the growth of food's natural microbe population not only lengthens its shelf life but also lowers the risk of foodborne illnesses. Increased food safety is a natural consequence of most processing that keep foods usable longer. This section discusses how food processing works.

For simplicity's sake, here's a list of the methods used to extend the shelf life of food. I explain each method in even more detail in Chapter 20, Chapter 21, or Chapter 22.

1 Temperature methods

  • Cooking
  • Canning
  • Refrigeration
  • Freezing i Air control
  • Canning
  • Vacuum-packaging 1 Moisture control
  • Dehydration
  • Freeze-drying (a method that combines methods of controlling the temperature, air, and moisture)

i Chemical methods

  • Acidification
  • Mold inhibition
  • Salting (dry salt or brine) i Irradiation

1 High-pressure processing

Tantalizing tidbit of food nomenclature

Central American Indians dried meat to produce the Southwestern Indians, which eventually chaqui,a name carried north by Spanish explor- became — you saw this coming, right? — jerky. ers who used it to describe the dried meats of

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