Why is Food Canning Popular?
Canning food is an effective technique in extending the shelf life of produce, dairy products, meats, and other perishable items. Canning facilities acquire foods at peak freshness, meaning they harvest produce upon readiness or quickly acquire meat from farmers. By doing so, the process can make unique, flavorful foods available to consumers during off-seasons, or in areas that the food itself is not native to. With this accessibility, canned food often serves as a more cost-effective, long-lasting option for individuals or families who might not otherwise have total access to fresh produce and ingredients.
What are the Steps in the Food Canning Process?
Although the process might vary depending on the product’s characteristics, such as the need to peel an apple or pit a peach prior to packaging, the general process of food canning is relatively straightforward. Upon transportation to the canning factory, the food and the containers for the food are sterilized and disinfected. The product is heated, with aims to decontaminate bacteria and other germs on the food, and then packed into sealed containers, typically with water, spices, juice, or other liquids.
How Can Food be Contaminated in this Process?
Unfortunately, there are a number of ways in which food can be contaminated on their journey from farms to canning factories to grocery store shelves. Upon arrival at the canning factory, the product faces a risk of contamination if the sterilization and heating processes are performed incorrectly. Common foodborne illnesses, such as Norovirus, Salmonella, Escherichia coli (E. coli), if present in a canning facility, could infiltrate the canning process and cause illness for the consumer. If these germs are present in the facility, they’re likely to enter the product through contaminated equipment prior to or during the heating process. Once the product is sealed, there is not a great risk of contamination, as the food is not again opened until it’s off of the shelves, and ideally in a sterile home cooking environment. While it’s important for the consumer to properly prepare the food, a great deal of the work in keeping the food safe is left up to the food canning facility, which is responsible for sterilization before the product is even sent to grocery stores.
How Can Chlorine Dioxide Eliminate Contamination Risks for Canning Facilities?
While preventative measures, such as the CDC’s simple safety tips of “clean, separate, cook, and chill” can be implemented by consumers on the individual level, it’s important for corporations and processing plants to have plans in place in case of an outbreak at a canning site. Chlorine Dioxide (ClO₂) is a powerful yet gentle disinfectant used by many food industry companies to decontaminate or fumigate facilities in the event of an outbreak. Food canning facilities can particularly benefit from ClO₂; if an outbreak occurs, the canned foods affected could be on the shelves for years, posing a risk to consumers for much longer than non-canned foods do.
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