Physical Degradation

Insects. During growth, harvesting, and storage, insects may invade and feed on plant products. In some cases, this may directly lead to extensive losses in the product. In other cases, the appearance of the product would be considered unacceptable to the consumer and in this sense could be considered spoiled. Cured meats like country-style hams may also be damaged when insects lay their eggs in the meat. The larvae arising from the eggs burrow and feed on the meat causing a corky appearance. Insects may also serve as the vector for subsequent spoilage of the product. For example, the common fruit fly will transfer the mold that causes soft rot in vegetables (15).

Dehydration. The control of water in foods during storage is essential for fresh and dry foods. In the case of many types of fresh produce, they must be wrapped to prevent transpiration that would cause wilting and shriveling. On the other hand, it is important that the water vapor transfer rate of the wrapping not be too low so as to cause condensation. At 100% relative humidity, an acceptable water vapor transfer rate for packaging of most produce would be between 50 and 100 g/m2/day (16). When the relative humidity in the packaging is less than 80 to 95% of saturation, fruit and vegetables lose moisture, and reduction in quality occurs when as little as 3 to 6% of the produce moisture is lost (17).

Dehydration or loss of moisture is also a problem for food stored in the frozen state. In meats, such moisture loss is often evidenced as freezer burn, a glassy appearance produced by the presence of tiny cavities left behind by sublimated ice. Apart from appearance of the product, loss of moisture will also affect the food's juiciness and texture. Oftentimes this moisture is recrystallized and leads to an unattractive formation of ice within the package.

Absorption of Odors. Many foods high in fat and improperly packaged have the potential to absorb odors from other products. For instance, milk left opened in the refrigerator will pick up odors from other highly volatile opened products in the refrigerator. The presence of odors not normally associated with the product may thus be justification for it being labeled as spoiled.

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