What do I need to know about temperature and food safety?
Temperature is probable the most important environmental factor regarding food safety.
Food safety specialist, would like that the people know:
- temperature alone is meaningless, should be considered coupled with “time”.
- All reactions with a detrimental effect on foods are speeded up by temperature increase, and usually the increase is exponential. That includes microbial growth.
From low to high temperatures:
- Freezing is great to preserve foods. But again, the reactions and bacterial growth is delayed but not stop. Once the product is thawed microorganisms will start to grow. Freezing does not kill microorganisms. Consider that microbiology labs store their bacterial cultures at - 80 ºC… the bacteria “resuscitate” after 24h at 37 ºC in a nutrient-rich media.
- Refrigeration temperatures are key to extend shelf-life of foods but the reactions are delayed, not stop. Even there are microorganisms (e.g. Listeria monocytogenes) able to grow at refrigeration.
- Most of foodborne pathogens have an optimal temperature for growth at body temperature.
- Temperatures above 42 - 52 ºC starts to delay microbial growth. However, some bacterial spores can germinate and grow in the foods.
- Above 62 - 66 ºC, for 30 min or longer starts to induce a lethal effect on microorganisms, aka. pasteurization. An increase in temperature kills faster vegetative microorganisms. At industrial scale is possible to heat treat foods during seconds guarantee killing more than 99.999% of microorganisms. Only bacterial spores are able to survive
- Above 90 ºC for 10 min (or more) Clostridium botulinum, a bacteria which produce the most lethal toxin, dies.
- Above 100 ºC during seconds it is possible to sterilize foods. That means that the product is free from microorganisms, even bacterial spores dies.
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