As people progressed from primarily hunting and gathering most of the food consumed to agricultural production, considerations such as food preservation became more and more important. Fast forwarding to the present, foods such as farm crops and animal products are produced in one area and sold thousands of miles away. This includes fresh vegetables and fresh meat. None of this could be possible without effective ways for short and long-term food preservation. While there are many ways to go about this, natural methods continue to be of great interest to a big section of the population.
Examples of Food Preservation
Although we may not be aware of it most of the time, food preservation is everywhere. Without it, many foods go bad in a matter of days or even hours. This short shelf life is a financial and logistical challenge for the retail and food service sectors, as well as a health risk to the consumers. Food preservation applies to a wide variety of foods that may be dry, frozen, or even in a sauce.
Common examples of food preservation include drying, freezing, fermentation, and the use of chemicals. These apply to different food types and different situations. Home food preservation also makes use of some of these methods and particularly the natural ones.
Exploring Natural and Chemical Food Preservation Methods
As people have become more conscious about what they eat, many have questioned some of the ingredients and preservatives used in food over the years. The FDA, which regulates food safety, has tight controls and oversight about what kind of food can be sold commercially. Producers must adhere to a very structured system when it comes to how the food is prepared, stored, preserved, and packaged. This also affects what is written on food labels.
Chemical preservatives that are used in foods must be tested for human safety. Nevertheless, some chemical preservatives such as those used in fruits and vegetables have been linked with some health risks.
Natural or physical methods to preserve food are free of all such chemicals, and this makes them highly popular. The natural food market is expanding, and people have been able to look to tried and tested traditional and new methods of food preservation.
Besides the methods already mentioned, different kinds of food can also be preserved using a water bath or pressure canning, freeze-drying, exclusion of air, preserving with salt or sugar, lacto-fermentation, and alcohol immersion. In many of these methods, the goal is to put an end to all living processes and stopping microorganisms such as yeast and bacteria from growing. This can be through extreme temperatures—hot or cold—or through the removal of water, which is necessary for life. The goal may also be to delay processes such as fat oxidation.
Where natural or conventional food preservation methods are not ideal for the type of food, chemical methods are utilized. Biological methods such as souring or fermentation in cheese and sour milk also achieve the objective to prolong the useful life of these sensitive food items.
New Research on Food Preservation
Food scientists and researchers continue to make use of new knowledge and technology to develop new ways to preserve food. One of these exciting new methods involves using plant-based food preservatives. Plants have many key derivatives such as sugar and acid that can be explored as an alternative to chemical or artificial methods. Some of the plants that are currently being researched for this purpose include the rosemary herb and the medicinal Moringa plant. Another newer method that is already in use is irradiating food to keep it from spoiling. Extreme pressurization and laser ovens are some of the high tech methods of food preservation that are currently being tested.