Saturday, September 13, 2014

Vacuum Sealed Food and Food Safe Temperatures


Vacuumed food and food safe temperatures

Vacuum sealing food is THE way to prolong shelf life, maintain freshness and to increase the overall quality of food, either by chilling, freezing or dry storage.  Vacuuming raw, cooked or dry food alone does not guarantee success, there is a little more to it.

Find your vacuum sealer here:  for USA and for Canada.

Every type of food, whether vacuum sealed or not vacuum sealed need to comply with a set of temperature measures to make them safe for consumption when they need storing for a period of time.

Enforcement at home

These temperature measures apply to all foods, raw, cooked, marinated and also dry foods. Guidelines have been set by various departments of public health, but often apply, or seem to apply to catering businesses and related food retailing businesses like supermarkets, restaurants and cafés, seldom have they referred to households. 

We all know that caterers need compliance with food safety measures, but how do these measure translate when we store and cook food at home. 
Caterers and food retailers basically do the same thing as what homemakers do at home. Food is ordered, received, stored and prepared, quantities may vary, but the principal remains the same.  
Main difference is that caterers and other food handling businesses are checked at intervals by enforcement officers where homemakers are not. Does this mean that we can rely on the integrity of caterers and supermarkets? 
The answer is NO! Homemakers have their own part to play.

When foods are sealed in a vacuum and left unchecked on a kitchen counter they are as much subject to spoilage in a caterer’s kitchen as they are in a domestic kitchen.

Safe temperatures

The danger zone lies between 41 F and 135 F. This is the temperature range bacteria love and multiply at rapid speed. Bacteria multiply individually, meaning one becomes two, two become four and four become eight. If you would start with one bacterium, (which is highly unlikely) you will have 4000 bacteria after 4 hours considering that particular bacteria multiplies every 30 minutes.
This proves the importance of food storage under refrigerated or frozen conditions.

Vacuum packing food, slows the process of bacterial growth considerably, but does not stop it, in fact nothing does, shelf life of vacuum sealed food becomes however interesting prolonged as the chart below will show.   

Vacuum for prolonged shelf life


Stored in
Normal shelf life
Vacuum shelf life
Large cuts of meat, beef, poultry, lamb and pork
6 months
2-3 years
Ground meat: beef, lamb, poultry, pork
4 months
1 year
6 months
2 years
1-3 days
1 week
Cheeses, hard, semi, soft and pasteurized. Soft cheeses should not be vacuumed
1-2 weeks
4-8 months
Cookies, crackers
Room temperature
1-2 weeks
3-6 weeks
Coffee beans
6-9 months
2-3 years
Coffee beans
Room temperature
4 weeks
16 months
6-9 months
2-3 years
Room temperature
4 weeks
16 months
 Source: Dr. G.K.York, Dept. of Food Science & Tech, U of California, Davis

It is important to note that laboratorial test are usually performed under perfect conditions, conditions homemakers cannot comply with, even if they want to.

Food Safety Guide Lines

We don’t walk around with thermometers when we do our grocery shopping, well at least I don’t. It is nevertheless good to keep some guide lines in mind which will help improve food safety standards.

·         Ensure to buy fresh meat and fish that has been stored in a chilled environment.
·         Avoid buying food in damaged packaging, for example: dented cans, damaged caps on jars and other sealed products.
·         Ensure that frozen food is in full frozen condition. (not half soft when handled)
·         When your travel time from store to home is longer than 30 minutes, store fresh food in a cooler box with frozen cooling elements.
·         Store food immediately in the respective storage, freezer or refrigerator, after returning home from the store.
·         Place a refrigerator thermometer in your refrigerator and check regularly if the temperature is constant.

Best temperatures for storage

Refrigerated potentially hazardous food
41 F or below
Frozen foods
0 F or below
Dry storage
50 – 70 F
When cooking food before vacuum seal storage, ensure to cool rapidly!

·         Do not cool at room temperature
·         Use an ice water bath to hasten cooling
·         Divide food in small units or spread it out to make a thin layer and refrigerate
·         Cool the food from boiling temperature to 70 F within 2 hours and then to 41 F within 4 hours.
·         Transfer to food to new clean vacuum seal bags, vacuum pack and freeze or chill immediately.
·         Thaw frozen food overnight in the refrigerator or on the defrost mode in your microwave.
·         Reheat food for consumption to 165 F  

A few simple measures and a bit of common sense, go a long way when it comes to food safety

By: Marinus Hoogendoorn


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