How to Prevent Food Spoilage at Your Facility

In food production, you work with many different fresh and processed ingredients.

As a result, it is crucial to know how to prevent food spoilage. If you’re throwing away too much food, you may need to evaluate what’s happening in your facility to keep your customers healthy and your profits out of the dumpster. Here are some tips on protecting each ingredient used in your production line to avoid any ingredient spoilage or contamination issues.

What Causes Food Spoilage?

Fruit and vegetable scraps spill out of a blue plastic garbage bag across a wooden floor.All food and beverages can spoil. Food spoilage is caused by various factors, including the growth of microorganisms (such as bacteria, molds, and yeasts), enzymatic reactions, physical and chemical changes, and exposure to oxygen, light, moisture, and temperature.

Microbial Growth

Microorganisms are found everywhere, and when they grow on food, they cause spoilage. Bacteria, molds, and yeasts are the most common microorganisms that cause perishable foods to go bad. Microorganisms multiply in warm, moist environments and produce unpleasant odors, flavors, and textures in food. Microorganisms grow best at room temperatures (60-90°F), but some microorganisms can thrive in temperatures as low as 40°F (refrigerator temperature).

Enzymatic Reactions

Enzymes are natural food substances that help break down complex molecules into simpler ones. However, when enzymes are activated after harvesting or processing, they can cause spoilage by breaking down nutrients and changing the texture and flavor of food items. This is particularly true for fruits and vegetables.

Environmental and Chemical Changes

Fruits and vegetables can lose moisture and become wilted or shriveled as they dry out. Oxidation occurs when food is exposed to oxygen and can also cause spoilage. The oxidation of fats, for example, can cause meats to become rancid.

Other environmental factors that cause spoilage include light, moisture, and temperature. Light can break down nutrients and cause discoloration. Moisture and temperature play a critical role in the growth of microorganisms. Refrigeration can slow the growth of most microorganisms, especially in meat and dairy products. Therefore, food stored at an inappropriate temperature can quickly spoil.

Food deteriorates much faster at higher temperatures. Here are the recommended temperatures for food storage:

  • Some foods do not need temperature control, but they do need to be stored at a comfortable room temperature that is not too hot. Shelf-stable foods that do not require refrigeration should be kept at 50-70°F.
  • The best temperature for short-term refrigeration storage is 34-40°F.
  • Your freezer should be set at 0°F or below.

Insects, Rodents, Parasites, and Other Creepy Crawlies

Every living thing requires food to survive, and dirty food processing facilities are buffets for all creatures that spread germs and bacteria from surface to surface.

Physical Damage

Foods physically damaged from handling are more susceptible to bacterial growth. Fruits and vegetables are particularly vulnerable to bruising or nicks. Damaged packaging, like dented cans or torn plastic, also allows microbial growth.

How to Prevent Food Spoilage in a Food Processing Facility

A food production facility worker dressed in a white coat, gloves, mask, and hairnet packages baked goods into white boxes.Prevention of food spoilage in a food production facility is critical to ensure the safety and quality of products. Here are ways to minimize mold growth, contamination, and loss due to age.

Implement Current Good Manufacturing Practices (CGMP)

CGMP are guidelines published by the FDA that establish procedures to ensure the safety and quality of food products. Areas covered in the CGMP include:

  • Personal hygienic practices and food handler glove safety
  • Design and construction of food plants
  • Maintenance of plant grounds and plant equipment
  • Sanitary operations and facility sanitation
  • Production and process controls during the production of food

Proper Food Storage

Food products should be stored in appropriate containers under optimal conditions to prevent spoilage. This includes maintaining proper temperature, humidity, and ventilation.

Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) Program

HACCP is a management system used to identify potential hazards, establish critical control points, and implement measures to control risks.

Conduct Regular Inspections

No protocols will work without oversight. Regular inspections of the facility and food products can help identify potential problems before they become serious.

Ongoing Employee Training

Employees should be trained on proper food handling and safety procedures to prevent spoilage. This includes training on GMPs, HACCP, and other food safety programs. Refresher training and updates should be regularly scheduled to keep food workers up to date.

Use Preservatives and Other Food Additives Responsibly

Preservatives and other food additives can help extend the shelf life of food products. However, it is important to use these additives in accordance with regulations, guidelines, and best practices.

Storing Preservatives, Flavorings, and Food Color

Additives are often overlooked when considering food spoilage mitigation, but they can be contaminated like any ingredient. Here are some tips for storing preservative ingredients and common commercial ingredients like flavorings and colorings:

  • Follow the storage instructions on the packaging. Proper storage ensures the ingredients stay fresh and effective.
  • Most preservatives, flavorings, and colorings should be stored in a cool, dry place to prevent moisture buildup and mold growth.
  • Use airtight containers to prevent moisture and air exposure. Glass or plastic containers with tight-fitting lids work well.
  • Label containers clearly with the name of the ingredient, the purchase date, and the expiration date.
  • Keep ingredients away from strong odors. Some ingredients, like flavorings and colorings, can absorb odors from other foods or substances.
  • Store liquid ingredients upright to prevent leaks and spills.
  • Check expiration dates and discard any that are past their prime.

Signs of Food Spoilage

A food production facility worker stands above a rover of floating apples in a food production plant. He holds an apple in one hand and a tablet in the other, examining the apple for quality checks.No matter how hard you work to avoid it, some food spoilage will happen. Fruits and vegetables spoil quickly, followed by other perishable goods.

Train your staff to look for these signs of spoilage:

  • Changes in color, texture, and appearance can be a sign of spoilage. For example, gray or brown meat or fruits and vegetables that are soft, have mushy spots or are wrinkled.
  • An unpleasant odor is a common sign of spoilage. If the food smells sour, rancid, or putrid, it is likely spoiled.
  • Spoiled food may have a slimy or sticky texture. These textures are a sign that microorganisms are present.
  • Visible mold growth is a clear sign of spoilage, often found on fruits, vegetables, bread, cheese, and other dairy products. Some types of mold can produce dangerous toxins, and mold can spread to nearby products, so it’s important to discard any food contaminated with mold growth.
  • Gas bubbles can be a sign of bacterial growth in canned or fermented foods.
  • Cans with a deformed top may have gas buildup inside. Dented cans or damaged food packaging can contribute to food spoilage.
  • Always check the “use by” date of packaged foods and discard any expired products.

It’s important to note that some foods, like aged cheeses or fermented foods, may have a strong smell or flavor that is not necessarily a sign of spoilage.

The keys to the prevention of food spoilage and reducing food waste are training and diligence. Your staff should be able to spot the signs of spoilage and take action before a foodborne illness reaches consumers.

 

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