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Dried fruits food safety

Dried fruits food safety

Food safety for dehydrated fruit and veggies 

Preserving food when plentiful, to prepare for leaner times, is an ancient practice.  There’s evidence cultures in the Middle East and China were using the sun and wind to preserve food such as fish, meat, fruit and vegetables, as far back as 12,000 years ago. 

Widely use by combat troops during World War II, dehydrated food, unsurprisingly, fell out of favor with the public after the war. It wasn’t until the cultural revolution of the 1960’s, with a renewed focus on all things natural, that dehydrating foods experienced a renaissance of sorts. 

As with all food preservation methods, there are certain steps along the way that present safety issues. Sourcing, producing and storing dehydrated fruits, vegetables and other produce correctly is important. It keeps the food, and the humans who consume it, safe.

Sourcing quality produce 

Dehydrated food is cool again. You only need to check the fruit, veggie and health food aisles. People are living busy lives and want portable, tasty and healthy snacks. And not just snacks. Meals resembling grazing tables are almost the norm in some homes and offices around the world.

With the seemingly endless array of food and diet fads, if people can’t make their own food, they want to know what goes into the foods they do buy.

So, it goes without saying, that means sourcing quality produce.

Locally grown fruits and veggies

There’s never been a better time to support local business and buy locally grown, seasonal produce as often as possible. Farmer’s Markets are a great place to start. You can find local markets here.

Buying in season means you’re:

  • more likely to buy local produce
  • maximizing the nutrient content, and;
  • getting better value for your dollar.

Not sure what’s in season? Check out this seasonal food guide to see what’s best at different times of the year throughout Canada.

Importing fruit and vegetables to Canada

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is responsible for regulating fresh fruit and vegetables imported into Canada. All products must meet Canadian requirements, with some products from specific geographies with elevated safety risks having specific requirements including leafy greens, raspberries, cantaloupe and coriander. 

Before engaging with an importer who brings in fruits and vegetables from outside of Canada, it’s a good idea to ensure they have the appropriate permits, including membership with the Fruit and Vegetable Dispute Resolution Corporation. This gives you the best chance of protection. 


Strategy for the Safety of Imported Food

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency links to recommended codes of practice for the packaging and transport of fresh fruits and vegetables. It’s a good idea for producers of dried fruit and vegetable products to be familiar with these guidelines to maximise safety throughout the chain from sourcing through to processing. The code covers factors like:

  • Modes of transport
  • Recommended storage temperatures and relative humidity
  • Temperature conditions at origin and destination
  • Time in transport
  • The type of produce
  • Cleanliness
  • Air circulation
  • Packaging and types of shipping containers.

It’s worth noting that specific recommendations are in place for ready-to-eat fresh pre-cut fruits and vegetables, as well as sprouts, fresh leafy vegetables, melons and berries. Please review the code if you will be sourcing these products.

Storing and transporting fruits and vegetables 

It’s worth familiarizing yourself with cold chain principles for the storage of fruits and vegetables throughout the process. As The Global Cold Chain Alliance says:

 ‘The cold chain refers to the management of the temperature of perishable products in order to maintain quality and safety from the point of slaughter or harvest through the distribution chain to the final consumer.

The cold chain ensures that perishable products are safe and of a high quality at the point of consumption. Failing to keep product at the correct temperatures can result in a variety of negative attributes including, among others, textural degradation, discoloring, bruising and microbial growth.

Each sector of the chain, from the point at which product is harvested to the point at which it is sold, shares responsibility.’

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency recommends refrigerated food be maintained between 0°C and 4°C and frozen food at -18°C or less.

Those in the cold chain should also regularly review policies and operating procedures as part of Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP) and internal Food Safety Programs.

What the HACCP

Originally developed by NASA and a group of food safety specialists in the ‘60s, Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) is an internationally recognized food safety and risk assessment plan. The plan outlines seven key principles in food safety:

  • Hazard Analysis
  • Critical Control Points
  • Critical Limits
  • Critical Control Monitoring
  • Corrective Action
  • Procedures
  • Record Keeping.

Following HACCP plans isn’t mandatory. However, with many farms shifting towards production, more kinds of food businesses may need to adopt HACCP plans. 


Pre-treating fruits

Some fruits, such as apples, bananas, nectarines, pears, peaches and apricots will benefit from some pre-treatment before drying. Pre-treating with an acidic solution like citric acid or ascorbic acid will:

  • Reduce oxidation
  • Helps destroy harmful bacteria
  • Gives a better color
  • Helps reduce vitamin loss, and;
  • Lengthens shelf life.

Other methods of pre-treating are:

  • Sugaring - soaking fruits in a sugar syrup for up to 18 hours
  • Sulfuring - sulfur is ignited and burned in an enclosed box with the fruit
  • Sulfite dips - sodium bisulfite, sodium sulfite or sodium meta-bisulfite are dissolved in water and used as a fruit soak
  • Fruit juice dip - a juice high in vitamin C, such as lemon or pineapple juice, can be used instead of an ascorbic acid mix
  • Steam blanching - fruit and vegetables are steamed over boiling water. However, this can change the flavor and texture
  • Water blanching - place vegetables in water than has been brought to a rolling boil. Times vary based on the vegetable. 

Drying process

The drying process removes moisture from the food. This also hinders the growth of mold, bacteria and yeast and ensures the dehydrated fruit and vegetables don’t easily spoil. 

A major contributor to drying food is humidity. As drying involves removing the moisture from the food and releasing it into the surrounding air, low humidity helps the drying process. This is why the drying of foods originated in the warmer and drier countries around the planet. Higher humidity will slow down the drying process as the air would also be heavy with moisture. Increasing air flow can speed up the drying process.


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Water activity

Water activity (aw) is a measure of available water in food. That’s not as simple as how much water is in the food though, as some water is bound to other ingredients – like sugar or salt – and isn’t available. In the context of dehydration, this is important as it is the available water that microorganisms will use to facilitate growth.

When too much water is available, microorganisms can grow. Pure water has aw = 1.00 and fresh fruits and vegetables have aw = 0.98. The FDA recommends drying fruits to aw = <0.85 to 0.60 and drying vegetables to aw = <0.60.

The safest and most accurate way to monitor water activity is by using a water activity meter. It is also possible to measure weight loss to determine moisture loss, but this is not recommended for commercial applications. 

Packaging and labelling

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency provides a food labelling tool to help producers navigate specific requirements. This includes:

  • Bilingual labelling
  • List of ingredients and allergens including sweeteners, additives and irraditated foods
  • Quantity
  • Country of origin
  • Nutrition
  • Storage instructions

There are also specific requirements for processed fruit and vegetable products


Storing and shelf life: how long will dehydrated food last? 

Correctly prepared, dehydrated and stored dried fruits and vegetables typically last a year or even longer. Vegetables tend to have a longer shelf life than fruit. Stored at stable temperatures in a cool, dark spot will increase their shelf life. Those foods with the least moisture content will last the longest and vegetables that are cooked prior to dehydration tend to last longer as well. 

Should a package show condensation or other signs of moisture, if it looks unusual or smells funny, it’s likely to have spoiled. And if it’s moldy, throw it away immediately.


Cleaning

There’s a few basic principles to adhere to in any environment where meat and food products are being prepared. These include:

  • Having a safe water supply
  • Maintaining food contact surfaces in clean condition
  • Preventing cross-contamination
  • Hand washing, hand sanitizing and toilet facilities
  • Protecting food, food packaging materials and food contact surfaces from things like lubricants, fuel, pesticides, cleaning compounds, sanitizing agents, and other chemical, physical and biological contaminants
  • Labelling, storing and using toxic compounds safely
  • Controlling employee health
  • Excluding pests
  • Confining and removing wastes

The highest hygiene standards should be maintained every step of the way.  


Cleaning your dehydrator is also essential

Best practice is to clean it between every batch. The trays in our dehydrators are dishwasher safe and the insides of the dehydrator should be cleaned using a cloth and warm soapy water (being careful not to splash water onto the electrical parts). We recommend using a food-safe sanitizer spray to eliminate microbial growth. 

Any cleaning chemicals should be appropriately stored. Staff should be trained how to use cleaning chemicals safely, so as not to cause accidents or contaminate foods.

It’s also important to ensure equipment is thoroughly dried after cleaning to prevent Listeria contamination.

As well as daily cleaning, including throughout the day, regular cleaning and sanitizing should be scheduled for things like cool rooms and drains. It’s also a good idea to regularly clean shelving in chillers, door handles, door seals, switches.


Calibrating equipment

All equipment used for monitoring should be regularly checked and calibrated to ensure accuracy. This includes:

  • Thermometers: check weekly
  • Cool room gauges: check monthly
  • Dehydrator temperature gauges: check monthly
  • Water activity meters: according to manufacturer’s instructions
  • Scales: according to manufacturer, by an approved agency


Got questions about how to use your commercial dehydrator safely?

If you’ve any questions about cleaning your commercial dehydrator, recommended settings, or other aspects to ensure a safe final product, let us know. We’re here to help guide you to producing dehydrated foods that are delicious and healthy.


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Sean Mclellan

His outstanding knowledge with this ins and out of the dehydrators has helped push for the innovation and improvements to the machines that our customers love. He considers himself a bit of a James Bond character, spending late nights at the baccarat table sipping on martinis cracking jokes to random strangers. His pass time passion is smoking and dehydrating meats for poker nights and friends parties.

sales@commercialdehydrators.ca