(Editor’s Note: This is an online-only article attributed to the August/September 2017 issue.)
Explore this issueAugust/September 2017
With Chipotle back in the news with its food safety woes, it’s a good opportunity to be reminded that there are some promising technologies and food service equipment being developed to answer the call of increased food safety among restaurant food chains across the U.S. To meet the ever-increasing demand for health-conscious consumers and overall food safety among patrons, restaurants chains have made it a top priority to invest in proven technology without spreading themselves too thin.
Investing in Digital Technology to Educate Workers in Food Safety
Implementing smart initiatives that raise food safety awareness among workers and employing digital means to educate staff is an effective tool. Furthermore, regulating safe temperatures for food as well as using preventative measures to stop the spread of foodborne illness contribute to the latest effort of restaurant chains stepping up their food safety awareness.
Using Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points, or HACCP, which is specifically designed to help workers arm themselves with the proper tools to safeguard against the spread of foodborne illness, effectively cuts the risk of unsafe food conditions in the kitchen.
Hot Intervention Technology
A simple and effective technological method used to inactivate or reduce microbial life in food products is hot intervention technology. To better preserve products and avoid an unfortunate event like that of Chipotles’ 2015 burrito endemic, this method relies on “heat and kill” sterilization technology, making use of extremely high temperatures and quick pasteurization processes designed for liquid as well as solid foods.
Microwave and Radio Frequency Electric Field Heating
Using microwave and radio frequency electric field heating is another cost-effective and reliable method to ensure high-quality food products are maintained; keeping bacteria, spores, and germs at bay.
By employing electromagnetic waves of specific frequency length, the generated heat can be harnessed to warm up the materials. Overall, microwave and radio frequency electric field heating may be one of the best options out there, as this method typically takes less time to rise to the desired temperature needed to process food material (and is intended for solid and semi-solid foods).
In recent years, this technology hasn’t been fully commercialized, and it remains largely varied in use, as variables like size, shape, composition, presence or absence of metallic material, power level, etc., all play a factor in how effectiveness the technology can be.
This method is dependent on two factors: 1) the time it takes to process food products, and 2) the amount of energy and resources to do it. Considering all of this, this procedure still may be an ideal option out there.
Using extremely high pressure through refrigeration systems can effectively inactivate any harmful bacteria that may exist. Used by countless kitchens and restaurant food chains, this method differs in that it doesn’t use heating to eliminate bacteria, germs, or toxins. Instead, it uses cold temperatures under high pressure, while also retaining nutritional value and consistency of food products to ensure a clean, safe, quality product.
French for “under vacuum,” Sous Vide is a highly effective method that involves placing food material under tightly vacuumed-packed seals, which are heated at medium to low temperatures for elongated periods. This method is effective in not only keeping food product fresh and safe to eat (by eliminating any harmful bacteria), but it has also proven to retain food’s tenderness and overall flavor. Many restaurant chains currently use this method as a cheap and efficient alternative to some of the costlier heating systems and technology.
Maybe one of the most useful technologies available today is that of irradiation/ionizing radiation, which uses a low level of radiation that zeroes in and effectively inactivates microorganisms. It also targets lingering chemical toxins and specific kinds of yeast, molds, and dangerous parasites in food material.
This method has had longstanding use within the produce and restaurant industry. It’s also proven to inactivate E. coli inside food material and on sample surfaces without compromising food quality, which happens to be a great answer for restaurateurs who are looking to maintain food standards, yet unwilling to sacrifice overall quality.
Besides stopping bacteria populations from growing in food products and ridding them of toxins and mold, irradiation/ionizing radiation is also found to target two carcinogens that are common in thermally processed foods: furan and acrylamide. Irradiation technology is also proven to kill L. monocytogenes.
Infrared pasteurization is another effective way to keep food safe. The process is accomplished through infrared lamps that radiate heat at low temperatures. This pasteurization reduces surface bacteria of ready-to-eat food products and is specifically effective for cooked meats.
Infrared lamps also maintain food quality at optimum levels. In a 2004 Food Science and Technology International study, infrared technology was proven to be effective in decontaminating meat surface by destroying L. monocytogenes inoculated on the surface of meat product.
Ohmic heating is a simple process that involves passing an electrical current through foods to kill any bacteria. By rapidly increasing the temperature before cooking, the food product is instantly sterilized. Ohmic heating is best applied to liquid products that contain large particulates, including soups and stews, canned fruits in syrups, juice products, and pulp, as well as liquid egg products.
The electric current essentially sterilizes through rapid and uniform heating that is consistent throughout. Best of all, ohmic heating allows foodstuffs to maintain their quality over other conventional debugging methods that work by heating foods slowly.
Lansdale is the client relations manager at Sharptek Supply. Reach him at email@example.com.