Can't I Just Cut It Off?


Can't I Just Cut It Off?

Navenia Wellington

Thursday, July 09, 2020

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Food will mean different things to different people; from comfort to survival and everything else in between. However, at any time, discarding food makes us hesitant; even more so when we are going through tough financial times. In these times, we may make a judgement call to eat or not to eat something that seems a little suspicious. Why not just cut off the green fuzzy spots we are seeing on the bread or cheese? Or we may choose to use heavy salt water to wash meat that smells a little off or just cut off the section of the corn the rat nibbled on. With food, those green fuzzy spots and off smells are an indication of spoilage and spoilage is never only at the surface level.

It is important for consumers, food workers and food business operators to understand food spoilage and its causes, as they make decisions about food. This is important along all levels of the food chain, from farm to fork, with more emphasis on the higher risk areas. In addition, how to prevent food spoilage is important. As a food business operator, food spoilage can be a serious economic loss; having the knowledge of cause, effect and prevention will help individuals understand their role and responsibility in preventing food spoilage and food safety risk.

Food spoilage can be considered as changes happening in food that make it unacceptable to be eaten; it can occur at any step of the food chain. These changes may be produced by biological, chemical or physical causes. Biological includes microorganisms such as bacteria, yeast and mould; for example, the green fuzzy spots on breads. Chemical spoilage can be caused by a reaction with light, oxygen or the components in foods; for example, stale bread or rancid cheese. Chemical spoilage can be considered as a food-quality issue, such as stale bread or a food safety issue such as an increase in microbiological growth. Physical spoilage occurs from physical stress and temperature abuse. Additionally, physical spoilage of food is linked to physical damage during harvesting, processing or distribution. This is because the outer protective layer is bruised or broken, increasing the likelihood of contaminants entering the food to cause chemical or microbiological spoilage. Environmental factors such as damage caused by pest, rodents and insect can also be a contributor to food spoilage.

The three main causes of food spoilage do not work in isolation of each other but in combination; for instance, microorganisms and pests causing spoilage in warehouses or cupboards. Since microorganisms are present everywhere — air, water, soil and on foods — they are considered a significant contributor to food spoilage. Furthermore, microorganisms use food supply as their nutrient source for growth, which results in the deterioration of food making it unfit for consumption. Bacteria, yeast and moulds are considered the three major microorganisms that cause food spoilage. The characteristics of food — for example, water, fat, protein content — are also involved in its susceptibility to spoilage. When foods spoil, they lose their quality and value; to prevent this, various preservation techniques or methods are used. Examples of these are freezing, drying, pasteurising and chilling. The main objective of food preservation is to increase the shelf life of foods while keeping the original colour, texture and nutritional value.

If there are observable signs of spoilage, the food should not be eaten. Remember, when in doubt, throw it out.

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