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Food Preservation: Natural Doesn’t Mean Easy

BY: Toni Tarver
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spoiled foodFood safety and food preservation are two of the greatest successes of the food industry. Decades of preservation techniques such as lowering the moisture content and the pH of foods have gradually ensured that the modern food system is replete with quality food products that have extended shelf lives. Despite these successes, however, food spoilage continues to be an issue with high economic impact: Foodborne illnesses affect more than 45 million people annually and approximately 25% of the world’s food supply is discarded every year because of spoilage.

During session 008, “Future of Food Preservatives: Emerging Natural and Potent Alternatives,” speakers discussed how these challenges combined with consumer demand for more products with clean labels have led to a growing need for natural preservatives with good antimicrobial capability. New natural antimicrobial preservatives could be far more effective than current methods of preservation, said Ahmed Yousef of Ohio State University, but finding natural preserving agents is just one part of the equation. The other is identifying natural preservatives that are generally recognized as safe (GRAS) or gaining approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to use them as food additives. Yousef said that obtaining GRAS status is much easier than getting approval for food additives.

Larry Steenson of DuPont Nutrition and Health agreed, saying that food companies are eager to find and use natural preservatives to meet consumer demand for natural ingredients but identifying one that works well with different product formulations can be a moving target. Steenson said that companies are combining multiple treatments and/or ingredients to enhance shelf stability, food safety, and food quality. Thus, combinations of organic and other natural options are being employed, but such combinations involve additional considerations, including ease of use, their effect on the food matrix, organoleptic effects, processing effects, regulatory issues, labeling concerns, and cost.

Jairus David of ConAgra Foods added that the food industry puts a lot of resources into determining whether natural antimicrobials work and, more specifically, whether they will work in a particular food product. Consumers want natural or ingredients in their foods, David said, but food companies need to do their due diligence to ensure that they are using natural preservatives that are effective, have sensory neutrality, and can produce a clean label. David and Steenson’s advice: Food companies should explore the entire tool box of natural antimicrobials to ensure optimal outcomes.


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