Chapter 3 Deterioration factors and their control

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A summary of overall deterioration reactions in fruits and vegetables is presented below.

3.1 Enzymic changes

Enzymes which are endogenous to plant tissues can have undesirable or desirable consequences. Examples involving endogenous enzymes include a) the post-harvest senescence and spoilage of fruit and vegetables; b) oxidation of phenolic substances in plant tissues by phenolase (leading to browning); c) sugar - starch conversion in plant tissues by amylases; d) post-harvest demethylation of pectic substances in plant tissues (leading to softening of plant tissues during ripening, and firming of plant tissues during processing).

The major factors useful in controlling enzyme activity are: temperature, water activity, pH, chemicals which can inhibit enzyme action, alteration of substrates, alteration of products and pre-processing control.

3.2 Chemical changes

3.2.1 Sensory quality

The two major chemical changes which occur during the processing and storage of foods and lead to a deterioration in sensory quality are lipid oxidation and non-enzymatic browning. Chemical reactions are also responsible for changes in the colour and flavour of foods during processing and storage. Lipid oxidation rate and course of reaction is influenced by light, local oxygen concentration, high temperature, the presence of catalysts (generally transition metals such as iron and copper) and water activity. Control of these factors can significantly reduce the extent of lipid oxidation in foods. Non-enzymic browning is one of the major causes of deterioration which occurs during storage of dried and concentrated foods. The non-enzymic browning, or Maillard reaction, can be divided into three stages: a) early Maillard reactions which are chemically well-defined steps without browning; b) advanced Maillard reactions which lead to the formation of volatile or soluble substances; and c) final Maillard reactions leading to insoluble brown polymers. Colour changes

Chlorophylls. Almost any type of food processing or storage causes some deterioration of the chlorophyll pigments. Phenophytinisation (with consequent formation of a dull olivebrown phenophytin) is the major change; this reaction is accelerated by heat and is acid catalysed.

Other reactions are also possible. For example, dehydrated products such as green peas and beans packed in clear glass containers undergo photo-oxidation and loss of desirable colour.

Anthocyanins. These are a group of more than 150 reddish water-soluble pigments that are very widespread in the plant kingdom. The rate of anthocyanin destruction is pH dependent, being greater at higher pH values. Of interest from a packaging point of view is the ability of some anthocyanins to form complexes with metals such as Al, Fe, Cu and Sn.

These complexes generally result in a change in the colour of the pigment (for example, red sour cherries react with tin to form a purple complex) and are therefore undesirable. Since metal packaging materials such as cans could be sources of these metals, they are usually coated with special organic linings to avoid these undesirable reactions.

Carotenoids. The carotenoids are a group of mainly lipid soluble compounds responsible for many of the yellow and red colours of plant and animal products. The main cause of carotenoid degradation in foods is oxidation. The mechanism of oxidation in processed foods is complex and depends on many factors. The pigments may auto-oxidise by reaction with atmospheric oxygen at rates dependent on light, heat and the presence of pro- and antioxidants. Flavour changes

In fruit and vegetables, enzymically generated compounds derived from long-chain fatty acids play an extremely important role in the formation of characteristic flavours. In addition, these types of reactions can lead to significant off-flavours. Enzyme-induced oxidative breakdown of unsaturated fatty acids occurs extensively in plant tissues and this yield characteristic aromas associated with some ripening fruits and disrupted tissues.

The permeability of packaging materials is of importance in retaining desirable volatile components within packages, or in permitting undesirable components to permeate through the package from the ambient atmosphere.


3.2.2 Nutritional quality

The four major factors which affect nutrient degradation and can be controlled to varying extents by packaging are light, oxygen concentration, temperature and water activity. However, because of the diverse nature of the various nutrients as well as the chemical heterogeneity within each class of compounds and the complex interactions of the above variables, generalizations about nutrient degradation in foods will inevitably be broad ones.

Vitamins. Ascorbic acid is the most sensitive vitamin in foods, its stability varying markedly as a function of environmental conditions such as pH and the concentration of trace metal ions and oxygen. The nature of the packaging material can significantly affect the stability of ascorbic acid in foods. The effectiveness of the material as a barrier to moisture and oxygen as well as the chemical nature of the surface exposed to the food are important factors.

For example, problems of ascorbic acid instability in aseptically packaged fruit juices have been encountered because of oxygen permeability of the package and the oxygen dependence of the ascorbic acid degradation reaction.

Also, because of the preferential oxidation of metallic tin, citrus juices packaged in cans with a tin contact surface exhibit greater stability of ascorbic acid than those in enamelled cans or glass containers. The aerobic and anaerobic degradation reactions of ascorbic acid in reduced-moisture foods have been shown to be highly sensitive to water activity, the reaction rate increasing in an exponential fashion over the water activity range of 0.1-0.8.

3.3 Physical changes

One major undesirable physical change in food powders is the absorption of moisture as a consequence of an inadequate barrier provided by the package; this results in caking. It can occur either as a result of a poor selection of packaging material in the first place, or failure of the package integrity during storage. In general, moisture absorption is associated with increased cohesiveness.

Anti-caking agents are very fine powders of an inert chemical substance that are added to powders with much larger particle size in order to inhibit caking and improve flowability. Studies in onion powders showed that at ambient temperature, caking does not occur at water activities of less than about 0.4.

At higher activities, however, (aw > 0.45) the observed time to caking is inversely proportional to water activity, and at these levels anti-caking agents are completely ineffective. It appears that while they reduce inter-particle attraction and interfere with the continuity of liquid bridges, they are unable to cover moisture sorption sites.

3.4 Biological changes

3.4.1 Microbiological

Micro-organisms can make both desirable and undesirable changes to the quality of foods depending on whether or not they are introduced as an essential part of the food preservation process or arise unintentionally and subsequently grow to produce food spoilage.

The two major groups of micro-organisms found in foods are bacteria and fungi, the latter consisting of yeasts and moulds. Bacteria are generally the fastest growing, so that in conditions favourable to both, bacteria will usually outgrow fungi.

Foods are frequently classified on the basis of their stability as non-perishable, semi-perishable and perishable. For example, hermetically sealed and heat processed (e.g. canned) foods are generally regarded as non-perishable. However, they may become perishable under certain circumstances when an opportunity for recontamination is afforded following processing.

Such an opportunity may arise if the can seams are faulty, or if there is excessive corrosion resulting in internal gas formation and eventual bursting of the can. Spoilage may also take place when the canned food is stored at unusually high temperatures: thermophilic spore-forming bacteria may multiply, causing undesirable changes such as flat sour spoilage.

Low moisture content foods such as dried fruit and vegetables are classified as semi-perishable. Frozen foods, though basically perishable, may be classified as semi-perishable provided that they are properly stored at freezer temperatures.

The majority of foods (e.g. meat and fish, milk, eggs and most fresh fruits and vegetables) are classified as perishable unless they have been processed in some way. Often, the only form of processing which such foods receive is to be packaged and kept under controlled temperature conditions.

The species of micro-organisms which cause the spoilage of particular foods are influenced by two factors: a) the nature of the foods and b) their surroundings. These factors are referred to as intrinsic and extrinsic parameters.

The intrinsic parameters are an inherent part of the food: pH, aw, nutrient content, antimicrobial constituents and biological structures. The extrinsic parameters of foods are those properties of the storage environment that affect both the foods and their microorganisms. The growth rate of the micro-organisms responsible for spoilage primarily depends on these extrinsic parameters: temperature, relative humidity and gas compositions of the surrounding atmosphere.

The protection of packaged food from contamination or attack by micro-organisms depends on the mechanical integrity of the package (e.g. the absence of breaks and seal imperfections), and on the resistance of the package to penetration by micro-organisms.

Metal cans which are retorted after filling can leak during cooling, admitting any microorganisms which may be present in the cooling water, even when the double seam is of a high quality. This fact is widely known in the canning industry and is the reason for the mandatory chlorination of cannery cooling water.

Extensive studies on a variety of plastic films and metal foils have shown that microorganisms (including mounds, yeasts and bacteria) cannot penetrate these materials in the absence of pinholes.

In practice, however, thin sheets of packaging materials such as aluminium and plastic do contain pinholes. There are several safeguards against the passage of micro-organisms through pinholes in films:


3.4.2 Macrobiological Insect Pests

Warm humid environments promote insect growth, although most insects will not breed if the temperature exceeds about 35 C° or falls below 10 C°. Also many insects cannot reproduce satisfactorily unless the moisture content of their food is greater than about 11%.

The main categories of foods subject to pest attack are cereal grains and products derived from cereal grains, other seeds used as food (especially legumes), dairy products such as cheese and milk powders, dried fruits, dried and smoked meats and nuts.

As well as their possible health significance, the presence of insects and insect excrete in packaged foods may render products unsaleable, causing considerable economic loss, as well as reduction in nutritional quality, production of off-flavours and acceleration of decay processes due to creation of higher temperatures and moisture levels.

Early stages of infestation are often difficult to detect; however, infestation can generally be spotted not only by the presence of the insects themselves but also by the products of their activities such as webbing, clumped-together food particles and holes in packaging materials.

Unless plastic films are laminated with foil or paper, insects are able to penetrate most of them quite easily, the rate of penetration usually being directly related to film thickness. In general, thicker films are more resistant than thinner films, and oriented films tend to be more effective than cast films. The looseness of the film has also been reported to be an important factor, loose films being more easily penetrated than tightly fitted films.

Generally, the penetration varies depending on the basic resin from which the film is made, on the combination of materials, on the package structure, and of the species and stage of insects involved. The relative resistance to insect penetration of some flexible packaging materials is as follows:

Some simple methods for obtaining insect resistance of packaging materials are as following: Rodents

Rats and mice carry disease-producing organisms on their feet and/or in their intestinal tracts and are known to harbour salmonella of serotypes frequently associated with food-borne infections in humans. In addition to the public health consequences of rodent populations in close proximity to humans, these animals also compete intensively with humans for food.

Rats and mice gnaw to reach sources of food and drink and to keep their teeth short. Their incisor teeth are so strong that rats have been known to gnaw through lead pipes and unhardened concrete, as well as sacks, wood and flexible packaging materials.

Proper sanitation in food processing and storage areas is the most effective weapon in the fight against rodents, since all packaging materials apart from metal and glass containers can be attacked by rats and mice.



Major causes of food deterioration include the following:

  1. growth and activities of micro-organisms, principally bacteria, yeasts and moulds;
  2. activities of natural food enzymes;
  3. insects, parasites and rodents;
  4. temperature, both heat and cold;
  5. moisture and dryness;
  6. air and in particular oxygen;
  7. light;
  8. time.

Extrinsic factors controlling the rate of food DETERIORATION reactions are mainly:

  1. Effect of temperature;
  2. Effect of water activity (aw);
  3. Effect of gas atmosphere;
  4. Effect of light.

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