Processing Acidified Foods

Because high temperatures and pressures are not required for processing acidified foods, the methods for thermal processing may be less complex. Processing acidified foods is often referred to as pasteurization. Pasteurization temperatures are generally at or lower than boiling water temperatures at atmospheric pressures. Pasteurizers, in the form of water baths, atmospheric cookers, or retorts, may be used for processing acidified foods. When a pasteurizer is used, hot or cold product is filled into the containers that are then sealed. The sealed containers are heated in the pasteurizer for a given period of time or until a specific temperature is achieved. Pasteurizers may be batch systems (such as a water bath) or continuous systems. Continuous pasteurizers may use steam, hot water, or cascading hot water as the processing medium. A moving belt or other mechanism is used to move the containers through the processing medium for heating and through cold water or sprays for cooling. The speed of the belt will determine how long the containers are in the pasteurizer. It is essential to operate pasteurizers properly to ensure that all containers achieve the same degree of heating. Improper speed or temperature settings or overloaded belts may have a negative impact on product heating.

Hot-fill-hold procedures are another method of processing commonly used for acidified foods. Hot-fill-hold procedures involve heating the product to a specified temperature, filling hot product into the containers, and holding the filled and sealed container at a minimum temperature for a period of time prior to cooling. Generally the containers will be inverted or tipped after sealing and prior to cooling to allow the hot product to contact and sterilize the inside surface of the lid.

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