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Research: How to correctly use food preservatives in processed foods

By Habasa Miracle Johnson

Food is so important for the survival, so food preservation is one of the oldest technologies used by human beings to avoid its spoilage. Different ways and means have been found and improved for the purpose. Boiling, freezing & refrigeration, pasteurizing, dehydrating, pickling are the traditional few. Sugar, mineral salt and salt are also often used as food preservatives. Nuclear radiation is also being used now as food preservatives. Modified packaging techniques like vacuum packing and hypobaric packing also work as food preservatives.

Food Preservation is basically done to preserve the natural characteristics of food, to preserve the appearance of food and to increase the shelf life of food etc
In Uganda today, most food processing industries use food preservatives for the above reasons. Although Food preservatives (Food grade) are healthy when used correctly and in the right amounts, they can turn to be health threatening if the users are unformed on their principle usage and mode of action.

The commonly used Chemical food preservatives are; Sodium Benzoate, Potassium sorbet, Sodium metabisulfite etc. But how many SMEs or farmers know how to mix, understand mode of action and possible effects when used against the standard operating procedures (SOPs).
Most SMEs do not have fully fledged Quality Departments or if they do, they employ people who are not qualified to do the job. This puts the product safety and Quality at stake and hence a danger to the customers health.

Technically speaking, Good Manufacturing practices (GMPs) play a big role in ensuring product safety and Quality even before you add your preservatives. Personnel hygiene, cleaning and sanitizing the processing equipments, having a tidy processing area, using proper PPEs, controlling Pests such as rats, houseflies, cockroaches, writing and strictly following standard operating procedures (SOPs) per stage in the production process, documentation etc are very important.

Before using any preservatives, consult technical professionals who can ably help you in deciding which preservatives to use, what amount, at what stage and develop a standard operating procedure to ensure consistency. Most times people use guess work and end up adding too much or too little and the whole batch of product goes bad.
Have you encountered bulging of packaging materials mostly in Bushera, Juice, Yoghurt etc? That is an indication of abnormal microbial growth in the product implying that something wrong happened within the processing line.

Different Food preservatives works at different conditions say PH, temperature etc and target different microbes. Foristance sodium Benzoate is a Bacteriostatic and fungistatic. It is mostly used in acidic foods such as carbonated drinks, fruits and juices etc.
When added in high concentrations it affects the taste of the fruit juice. Sodium Benzoate is usually permitted at a concentration of up to 1.3 g/l of juice. IT SHOULD NOT EXCEED 0.13%

Potassium sorbate is used to inhibit molds and yeasts in many foods such as cheese, wine, yoghurt, soft drinks etc. In wine making 0.02-0.04 % potassium sorbate is mixed in the wine before it can get bottled.

Sodium metabisulfite is used as a disinfectant, antioxidant and preservative agent. Right Quantities and appropriate procedure has to be followed. From experience, Many SMEs buy contaminated packaging materials from manufacturers. These manufacturers e.g store containers in dusty areas, even transportation is quality wise poor.

There are chances of even having plastic chippings in the different plastic containers. Dust, solid particles, microbes are sometimes carried over into empty packaging materials which end up contaminating the food product even if preservatives are there since they will be overwhelmed by the numbers of microbes. It is prudent therefore to consult a technical body such as Quality Control and Assurance Consult U ltd to guide you and guide the packing material manufacturers on how to reduce contamination of packaging materials, we can also guide on which packaging material to use depending on the filling mode such as hot fill or cold fill.

Important to note, always check for the expiry dates on these preservatives or any chemicals used. Suppliers sometimes repackage in different packaging materials or even end up selling expired Food preservatives. These are dangerous to humans and may cause severe health complications.

Some of these chemicals are similar in colour, texture or even packaging. Ensure to clearly label and store them in different locations and as described by the manufacturer.

Quality Control and assurance Consult U ltd offers per time/visiting Quality Controllers. These can monitor your processing together with your personnel so as unnecessary mistakes are avoided during product development and processing. This applies to those with no fully fledged QC/QA department

Do not waste your capital by producing poor Quality and un safe products, Grow your business on the back born of QUALITY and build brands that will last for generations with export potential as we Buy Uganda Build Uganda (BUBU).

The author is a consultant at Quality control and assurance consult U ltd

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