Safety of cooked chilled foods containing vegetables

F. Carlin, Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (INRA), Avignon

11.1 Introduction

Cooked chilled foods also known as REPFEDs (Refrigerated processed foods of extended durabilities) are becoming increasingly popular for retail and catering in developed countries. Consumers enjoy these foods for convenience, taste, variety of recipes and concept of freshness. Production and sales have shown a marked and continuous increase (Hauben, 1999). For instance, the annual turnover of the cooked chilled food sector in France increased twofold between 1990 and 1994, and in 2000 the UK retail prepared chilled food market represented about £5400 million with a market value increase of 19% between 1999 and 2001 (Falconnet and Litman, 1996; Chilled Food Association, 2001). Cooked chilled foods include a wide range of foods. High organoleptic quality is obtained through mild processing and limited use of additives and preservatives. Cooked chilled foods are non-sterile by design and harbour specific microflora. For safety and stability these foods are kept refrigerated during their shelf-life. The shelf-life of cooked chilled foods is highly variable, but is generally extended when compared to that of fresh unprocessed foods or in the catering industry, and always markedly shorter than that of canned, frozen or dehydrated traditional foods. Growth of some bacterial pathogens is possible at temperature as low as 3°C and needs to be controlled to ensure the safety of the consumer. National and international regulations and recommendations have followed the development of the market. Cooked chilled foods have had up to the time of writing an excellent safety record. However, in many cases, the safety margin is unclear and it remains to be established how far the risk caused by microbial hazards may increase in an expanding market.

The aim of this chapter is to give the main technological and microbiological characteristics of cooked chilled foods and the consequences of these characteristics for food safety and to provide some basic principles of control of microbial hazards in cooked chilled foods, focusing on vegetable-based products.

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