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close this bookAppropriate Food Packaging (ILO)
View the documentPreface
View the documentAcknowledgements
Open this folder and view contents1 Food and packaging
close this folder2 Types of food and prevention of deterioration
View the document2.1 Food products that are suitable for small-scale processing
View the document2.2 Types of deterioration
View the document2.3 Extension of shelf-life
View the document2.4 Summary of the chapter
Open this folder and view contents3 Packaging materials
Open this folder and view contents4 Filling and labelling
Open this folder and view contents5 Production, re-use and re-cycling of packaging
Open this folder and view contents6 Implications of introducing packaging
Open this folder and view contents7 Benefits and costs of food packaging
View the documentGlossary
Open this folder and view contentsResources

2.2 Types of deterioration

The section above indicated the types of food that can tee processed on a small scale. The reasons for their selection are mostly concerned with the demand from customers (the popularity of a food) and the feasibility of small-scale production. If it is decided that there is a good demand for a food and that production is feasible, it is then necessary to make sure that processing adequately preserves the food for its expected shelf-life. An understanding of the various factors that cause food to deteriorate is helpful to ensure that the correct processing and packaging is selected. In this section the causes of deterioration of foods are first described and then the different roles of processing and packaging in preservation of the food are described.
The main causes of deterioration of foods are as follows:

- micro-organisms,
- enzymes,
- chemical changes due to water, heat, metals, air or light,
- contamination by soils, stones, insects etc.
- physical (or mechanical) damage.

2.2.1 Micro-organisms

All fresh foods have micro-organisms on their surfaces, often in enormous numbers, and these can grow rapidly to spoil foods. A main purpose of processing foods is to destroy unwanted micro-organisms. Packaging prevents recontamination and together processing and packaging prevent micro-organisms from spoiling the product during distribution and storage (that is to give the food the shelf-life that is expected).

Micro-organisms may be divided into general groups such as bacteria, yeasts or moulds, each of which may be further divided into sub-groups. Of the many microorganisms, the main types of interest are those that cause food spoilage and those that cause food poisoning.

When food is processed correctly, the number of spoilage micro-organisms and their activity is reduced and controlled at known levels. It is when there is a failure in processing conditions or packaging materials that spoilage micro-organisms can have an effect on the food. They can result in the food going mouldy, developing an off-smell or fermenting. The different types of spoilage depend to a large extent on the nature of the food and in particular its acidity and its moisture content.

Food poisoning is mostly caused by bacteria. These are also controlled by the acidity and moisture content of a food as shown in Table 2-3.

Food poisoning micro-organisms may grow in low-acid foods. Heat processing to 121°C for 15-50 minutes in jars or cans is required to destroy these micro-organisms.

Such heating requires the use of pressure cooking and detailed technical knowledge. For these reasons it is strongly advised that these foods are not produced by small-scale processors, especially as a first venture.


Acidic or dry products

Low-acid products

Will support the

Moulds and yeasts

Many types of

growth of:


bacteria (including


food poisoning types)


and moulds

Production errors

Surface mould

Food poisoning

can cause:

growth or

especially from


fermentation. Low



risk of health

vegetables or fish,



meat products

Examples of the

Fruit juices,



yoghurt, jam dried




Table 2-3: Microbial growth on different foods

2.2.2 Enzymes

Enzymes are naturally occurring proteins that act on foods to cause changes in flavour, colour or texture. There are many hundreds of different enzymes but some of the more important spoilage changes include softening of fruits, rancidity of oils, browning of cut fruit or root crops and loss of green colour in vegetables. In general enzymes are either destroyed by heating or prevented from acting by changing the acidity or water content of the food.

2.2.3 Water

Enzymes and micro-organisms can only spoil foods if water is present. If the water is removed or made unavailable they cannot act. Different foods have different water contents (Table 2.4). Some, for example grains, are relatively dry when harvested and these can be easily preserved by removing the remaining water by drying. Other fresh foods such as fruits, vegetables and meat have a much higher water content and this should be made unavailable by either drying or concentration (water removed) or by freezing (water held as ice, which together with the low temperature, prevents micro-organisms and enzymes from acting).

However, removing water only prevents the action of enzymes and micro-organisms, it does not destroy them They can act again when water returns, for example during re-hydration of dried food, thawing of frozen food. Foods are therefore often heated (blanched) to destroy some of the enzymes and micro-organisms before drying or freezing.

Fresh food

Water content (%)

Shelf-life at room


temperature (days)



80 - 95

1 - 30


55 - 70

2 - 7


75 - 90

2 - 20


8 - 14

more than 175

Table 2-4: Water content of some foods

The normal moisture content of a processed food should be maintained during storage. This is a main function of packaging for some foods. If the moisture content falls below an acceptable level in moist foods, the food dries out, shrivels and is seen as spoiled by consumers. Similarly if the moisture content of a dry food is allowed to rise above an acceptable level it will first lose its crispness and become unacceptable to consumers, but it may also gain sufficient moisture to allow micro-organisms to grow and cause further spoilage. The acceptable range of moisture contents is different for each processed food and for some it is a critical factor. Table 2.5 shows some foods that require careful control of the moisture content by processing and packaging to maintain their quality.

2.2.4 Heat


Moisture contents (%)

Cooking oil




Snack foods

1 - 5


2 - 6


trace -10

Dried fish



12 - 14

Dried fruit

15 - 25




30 - 32

Tomato paste

55 - 65

Table 2-5: Foods that require careful control of the moisture content

Higher temperatures increase the rate of spoilage by micro-organisms and enzymes, up to a maximum above which they are destroyed (Figure 2-2).

When foods are heated above 60°C most enzymes and micro-organisms are destroyed - the higher the temperature the faster they are destroyed. This is one of the easiest methods of preservation and includes boiling, frying, baking and pasteurization. However, cooked food can be easily re-contaminated if it is not properly packaged.

Heat can also spoil packaged food. It can melt fats, cause a loss of texture or flavour and cause more rapid changes such as development of rancidity in oils and movement of moisture within a food which in turn leads to spoilage.

2.2.5 Light

Sunlight contains ultra-violet (UV) rays which cause rapid deterioration of some foods (especially oils and fatty foods) or specific components of a food such as certain vitamins. UV can also cause packaging materials to fade or to become brittle and lose their properties (for example polythene in Section 3.2.2). In general all foods should be stored in the shade away from direct sunlight. Electric lights do not have the same effects on foods because they do not contain the UV component.

2.2.6 Air

Some foods, especially those that have a high fat content or those with delicate flavours and aromas, are susceptible to oxidation (attack by air which causes off flavours to develop, known as rancidity). Biscuits, cooking oils, dried fish and other fatly foods are liable to spoilage by rancidity. These foods should therefore be protected from contact with air by storing them in airtight containers.

2.2. 7 Contamination

Foods are often contaminated when harvested or slaughtered and most processing involves a cleaning stage to remove these contaminants. However foods may also be contaminated after processing and this is more serious because the contamination will not be removed before the customer buys the food. The main types of post-processing contamination and possible sources are shown in Table 2-6.


Possible source


Operators, animals

Dust, soil, stones

Workplace, equipment,



Bacteria, moulds

Air, operators, animals,


insects, birds, dust


Animals, insects, birds

Oil, grease

Equipment, transport

Wood, glass, paper, cloth,

Workplace, transport

leaves etc



Equipment, workplace,




Air, workplace,



Table 2-6: Types of post-processing contamination and possible sources

One of the main functions of packaging is to protect foods against contamination from the time it has been processed until it is consumed. It should be noted that the contamination described before is accidential contamination. Contamination that is done deliberately to increase profitability or from malice is named adulteration. Packaging that is intended to prevent or reveal adulteration is described briefly in Chapter 3.

2.2.8 Mechanical damage

Foods are frequently fragile and easily crushed, scratched, split or otherwise damaged during storage and distribution. Damage is caused in four ways:

- by pressure such as that caused by stacking or piling foods too high,
- by impact from hitting or dropping the food,
- by vibration from transport,
- by foods rubbing against each other or against container sides.

Another main function of packaging is to minimise these types of physical damage to foods during transport and storage. This type of packaging is often known as a shipping container and these are described in more detail in Chapter 4. A summary of the different roles of processing and packaging to prevent deterioration described above is shown in Table 2-7. The factors that affect the shelf-life of foods and the protection offered by different packaging materials are shown in Table 2-8.

Table 2-7

Table 2-8

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