'COMBO' Preservation Systems Deliver the 'Gold Standard' of food quality

April 1, 2004
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’COMBO’ Preservation Systems Deliver the ’Gold Standard’ of food quality

by Aaron L. Brody, ph. D.

Consumers want safe and nutritionally sound food. But foremost, they want great taste. How can a marketer of packaged foods achieve the “gold standard” of food quality required by professional chefs?
The answer lies in a combination of alternative preservation technologies. Done correctly, this mix of science can produce restaurant-quality foods that establish brand loyalty and steal market share from competitors.
Enhanced chilling preservation technology comes closest to the quality of food prepared from scratch in a restaurant. The goal of this “hurdle” or “combination” technology is to ensure that each component contributes meaningfully to serve up a great food product.
Hurdle technology may encompass a variety of techniques such as:
- pH control.
- Water activity control.
- Pasteurization with mild heat to destroy enzymes and reduce the microbiological load.
- Incorporation of natural antioxidants.
- Incorporation of natural antimicrobials.
- Ultra-clean/aseptic-type handling and filling.
- Rapid reduction of product temperature after cooking.
- Maintenance of chill temperature throughout distribution and storage.
- Reduction of oxygen in and around the product.
- Elevation of carbon dioxide in and around the product.
- Gas-barrier packaging to maintain the internal gas mixture.
- Active packaging such as an oxygen scavenger in the package material.

Reduced doses of these techniques in combination with one another can control food safety, sensory quality retention and nutritional values.
But most professionals do not know the quantitative contributions of each hurdle in concert with the other. Thus, they create chilled product with short shelf lives and marginal sensory quality. A short shelf life may lead to “discounting” as the product nears its expiration date.
With the proper application of hurdle technology, chilled shelf lives of many weeks are possible. Consumers get products that resemble the chef’s vision.
Here’s an example of how it could work for a prepared meat product in sauce.
Quickly cooling the product after cooking reduces the rate of deterioration. “Clean” filling minimizes exposure to microorganisms.
Oxygen reduction lessens oxidation, which severely alters the product over time. Higher carbon dioxide suppresses the growth of most microorganisms.
A hermetical seal with a gas barrier maintains the proper gas mixture inside the package.
This combination of hurdle technologies has the potential to deliver safe foods with good quality retention for up to three weeks. But marketers must maintain the chilled temperatures and the barrier integrity of the packaging during distribution.
Packing the meat and sauce in a sealed barrier polypropylene tray capable of releasing steam adds
convenience. Consumers can reheat the product in about three minutes in a 900-watt microwave oven
with turntable.
Then they can enjoy good-flavored food directly from the tray. And there is no cookware or dishes to clean up.
Marketers who can deliver high-quality food in a convenient format will raise the bar for all prepared food products.
The author, Aaron L. Brody, Ph.D., is President/CEO of Packaging/Brody Inc., a consultancy in food, packaging technology and marketing. Contact Dr. Brody at 770.613.0991 or aaronbrody@aol.com

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