In the United States, around 40% of the food supply gets wasted every year. Food waste is expensive and harmful to people and the Earth.
Luckily, there are simple steps we can take to reduce food waste. Interested in learning more?
Here are the common food preservation methods that can make sure food reaches hungry mouths instead of a landfill.
Food storage through preservation offers many benefits in the modern world. For instance, food preservation can help enhance quality or increase food variety, sometimes with enhanced nutritional attributes. Let’s take grapes for example. Jellies, jams, wines, and raisins are all created from different methods of grape preservation.
On top of that, food preservation is important in the following ways:
Food can spoil in many ways after harvest or slaughter when exposed to certain conditions, such as moisture and oxygen. These conditions fuel yeasts, molds, and bacteria growth. Besides causing food spoilage, these microorganisms can also cause foodborne illnesses. Fortunately, food preservation methods inhibit some of these conditions to prevent spoilage and bacteria growth for longer shelf life.
Think about food preservation beyond spreading supply throughout the year. Storing surplus food today can save a few bucks in a few days to come, translating to hundreds of dollars saved annually per family. In other words, you can buy more food and store it safely if it’s preserved. Moreover, food storage during abundant supply means consumers can enjoy low prices on seasonal crops later in the year.
Food quality naturally starts to deteriorate after harvest, resulting in a loss of quality, texture, and even nutrient concentration. Other factors such as mechanical damage to fresh food during handling may cause the plant or animal tissue to break down even faster. Food preservation methods, such as freeze drying, can prevent all these while also mitigating the development of odd flavors.
Large-scale food preservation by governments and agricultural institutions ensures food availability throughout the year. It’s worth noting that food production all year round is nearly impossible in some regions of the world, such as sub-Saharan Africa, due to irregular rainfall seasons. In that case, preserving fruit, vegetables, and grains after a bountiful harvest prevents hunger disasters during droughts.
Common food preservation methods encompass a mix of innovative and ancient techniques. Whether it’s simply drying fruit, high-pressure processing, or vacuum packing, all these techniques can help preserve food quality for years. That said, here are some of the most common food preservation methods.
Throughout recorded history, humans have been able to store fresh food for longer in cold environments. At first, this only worked for humans living in colder climates. However, mechanical refrigeration makes it possible for many more people today.
In 1924, a man named Clarence Birdseye discovered that if you froze food when it was fresh, you could thaw it out months later and it would still have the same taste and texture as before. This was the birth of frozen food as we know it. Freezing is one of the most common food preservation techniques we have.
Today, there are cold chain programs for every part of the food industry. Restaurants, grocery stores, and packaged food manufacturers all use food freezing. You can buy food already frozen or freeze it yourself at home to keep it from spoiling.
The use of salt or sodium chloride in food preservation dates way back in time, long before the invention of the first refrigerator. Salting preserves food by pulling water out of it. Dehydration inhibits bacteria and other microorganisms, such as yeast and mold from growing.
There are two types of salting, including dry and wet curing. Dry curing entails surrounding the food with salt before leaving it in a cool and dry place. On the other hand, wet curing entails preparing brine (salt-water solution) before dipping your food and leaving it in a cool, dry place. Foods ideal for salting include meats and vegetables, such as runner beans.
Food preservation through sugaring is similar to pickling. Sugaring entails food desiccation by dehydrating before packing it with sugar crystals (table or raw sugar) or liquids with high sugar density, such as honey, molasses, or syrup. Typically, sugar preserves the food’s texture, color, and flavor. Large amounts of sugar can also inhibit microbial activity.
Sugaring is ideal for preserving various foods, including fruits, such as apples, cherries, plums, peaches, and apricots. You can also use the sugaring method to preserve vegetables, such as ginger and carrots.
Canning preservation enhances food safety if done properly. There are up to three types of food preservation through canning, including atmospheric steam canning, pressure canning, and water bath canning. All the same, these methods entail packing foods into jars before heating them to a specific temperature that destroys microorganisms, while preserving nutrients. Canning alters the food’s pH, salinity, and moisture levels to prevent decay. The process also inhibits enzyme activity to increase shelf life.
But how long does canning preserve food? Home-canned foods have a typical shelf life of about a year, while commercially canned foods can last between two to five years from the manufacturing date. Foods ideal for preservation by canning include fruits, grains, vegetables, and dairy products
Vacuum packing predates gas food preservation and entails removing air from a food pack before sealing it. By pulling foods into a cohesive contact with the packaging material, vacuum sealed packing deprives the food of atmospheric oxygen to inhibit fungi or aerobic bacteria growth. This food preservation method also prevents volatile food components from evaporating to retain texture, flavor, and vital nutrients. Vacuum packing food preservation is prevalent in processed or prepared foods, such as cured meats, cereals, cheese, nuts, coffee, potato chips, and smoked fish. This method is also a go-to option for storing fresh foods such as fruit and vegetable produce, or liquids for a short duration.
Fermentation is an ancient food preservation technique that entails breaking down carbohydrates, such as starch and sugar by bacteria. Fermentation enhances the shelf life of acid foods by increasing their alcoholic content and reducing water activity. Reduced water activity inhibits enzyme action and the development of microorganisms.
Moreover, preserving foods through fermentation enriches the diet by developing diversified flavors, textures, and aromas in food substrates. The lactic and acetic acids produced during fermentation can also enrich food substrates with essential amino acids. Prevalent fermented foods include wine, cultured milk, kimchi, tempeh, and sauerkraut.
Pickling is one of the oldest ways to preserve food, likely started in ancient Mesopotamia. Pickled food is preserved in vinegar or another acid often called brine.
There are two reasons that pickling works to prevent food spoilage. First, vinegar is a difficult environment for most harmful bacteria. Soaking the food in vinegar stops or slows the growth of these harmful germs.
Second, some pickled foods also undergo fermentation, depending on their sugar and water content. Fermentation encourages the growth of helpful bacteria, which in turn can fight off the germs that can make people sick.
Preventing food waste is easy with any combination of these food preservation methods.
At Sunleaf, it’s our goal to provide you with healthy plant-based ingredients that always taste their best. Contact us today to find out how we can bring well-preserved foods into your supply chain.