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Proper handling of frozen foods

In spite of the prevailing harsh economic situation in the country, with the resultant lowing purchasing power of the citizens, some families would still be engaged in the handling of large volumes of various food items during the Christmas and New Year festivities. Several weddings, house warming and family gathering celebrations are likely to feature prominently at this period of the year. One of the challenges homemakers will face is that of preservation and storage of foods, such as turkey, chicken, fish, fruit juice, ice cream and sundry packaged drinks. Most of the frozen poultry consumed in Nigeria during this season are imported under unhygienic conditions. That is where freezing comes in.

Freezing of foods by keeping them at temperatures below zero (0) degrees Celsius has been one of the most effective methods of food preservation engaged in by farmers, fishermen and hunters since the early times. While these took place in unheated buildings during the cold season, by 1912 a man called Clarence Birdseye had started to offer quick-frozen foods to the public. The invention of refrigerators and subsequently deep freezers made freezing a household preservative choice from the 20th Century. And soon they became common items in homes of the super-rich and supermarkets.

Additional preservatives are not required as micro-organisms, including the disease-causing ones (pathogens) hardly grow at temperatures below-9.5 degrees Celsius. A chemical called Carboxymethylcellulose (CMC) which is both odourless and tasteless is typically added as a stabilizer because it does not change the textural and organoleptic qualities of the frozen foods.

One of the advantages of freezing is that it slows down the decomposition of the food as residual moisture is converted into ice, thereby inhibiting the growth of most species of bacteria. The process is called Individually Quick Frozen (IQF), However, freezing should be conducted at lower temperatures if the food items are meant to be preserved for longer period of time.

Read also: Nolla Fresh- Frozen Foods makes entry into Nigeria’s retail market

Nutritional losses during Freezing.

Although there are claims that frozen foods retain their colours, taste and texture it is not unusual to find some frozen chicken looking paler than the fresh ones. The freezing of ice into small blocks do crush the tissues thereby making them tender. But of concern to nutritionists is the loss of some vital vitamins as scientific research has shown. These include:

· Vitamin A(Beta Carotene). Found in green, leafy vegetables, eggs, liver, cod liver oil, cheese, palm oil. The loss is little compared to some others during freezing and occurs most if the time for the process lasts long.

· Vitamin B1(Thiamin). Present in enriched cereals and grains. The loss is put at 25 per cent of its content. Thiamin dissolves easily in water and is destroyed by heat.

· Vitamin B2(Riboflavin). Found in milk, yoghurt and enriched cereals. Though research is not conclusive its loss during freezing is put at between 4 and 18 per cent. Loss has been identified because more by the method of preparing the food, especially vegetables for freezing than the freezing process itself.

Factors to be considered during freezing

Since quick freezing does not add to the physical quality of the food, care should be taken so that only good quality, matured and fresh foods are put forward for freezing. To minimise physical and biochemical changes the food to be frozen should b passed through temperatures of between -1 and -5 degrees Celsius quickly.

Also, once it is removed from the freezer, the food should not be exposed to humid or warm environmental conditions.

Ideal packaging for frozen foods

To protect the health of consumers NAFDAC officials should inspect and monitor the cold storage facilities in use in the urban centres. This is also because of the erratic electric power supply here in Nigeria. To prevent any form of contamination, materials used for packaging frozen foods should be of good quality to keep away dust, smoke, unclean water and sources of viruses and bacteria. Cover the frozen chicken or turkey with the recommended cellophane package after washing the exterior.

On the issue of mass production and preservation, each warehouse should be of adequate capacity to take the entire food items. It should be equipped with suitable mechanical refrigeration to provide for, under anticipated conditions of outside temperature and peak loading, maintaining a reasonably steady air temperature of 00F (-18oC) or colder in all cold storage areas in which frozen foods are stored.

Each Storage area should be equipped with two or more accurate and calibrated temperature measuring devices and at least one continuous recording device, installed to reflect the correct average air temperature. The temperature of each area should be recorded and dated each day. A file of such temperatures should be maintained for a period of at least two years. A member of management should review the continuous recording within one business day of its completion to ensure proper temperature have been maintained at all times.

It is recommended that refrigeration equipment installations include an audible or visual alarm system that will activate when refrigeration failure occurs. This alarm mechanism enhances rapid response to frozen foods exposure to adverse storage temperature. Telephone, email, text messaging or other appropriate communication systems should be used to immediately notify responsible parties if temperature deviations occur outside of normal business operating hours (e.g Nights, weekends, and holidays.)

Considering the vast population of Nigerians, many of who will continue to depend more on frozen foods either for consumption or economic gains, there is still much more to do. We have higher temperatures here than in the temperate region. International standards must be set and met. Conditions under which the frozen foods are imported, stored and sold should be of concern to the relevant regulatory agency, NAFDAC.

Nigeria should not be made a dumping ground for expired foreign frozen food. The smuggling of such should be curtailed. That is one of the many reasons NAFDAC should continue to stay at the ports.

Spectrum

Food Quality and Safety Management Systems Training Course

The provision of adequate and safe food at affordable prices is the fundamental basis for food security in Nigeria. It is vital to increase productive capacities and also to ensure the quality and safety of diversified foods products by increasing the application of knowledge and technology to agriculture, manufacturing and food services.

It is for this reason that the course will be organised by the Michael Okpara University of Agriculture, Umudike, Nigeria in Collaboration With Mc Gill University, Montreal, Canada from March 4 – 8, 2013. This course will provide participants with the skills needed to assess existing food and quality management systems, introduce improvements and communicate effectively with policymakers in multi-disciplinary terms.

The Course is:

– Developed by internationally recognized experts in food quality and safety management.

– Ideal for food processing professionals, quality control managers, quality & safety regulators, Senior managers, students and academic & research personnel.

– Certificate of participation from the Department of Bioresource Engineering, Mc Gill University.

Learning Outcomes:

– Assessment and control of food quality and safety

– Evaluation and control of food spoilage and hazards

– Application of the principles of HACCP to a food processing facility

– Adoption of food safety and food quality systems

– Emerging and novel processing and post-harvest techniques.

As NIFST has identified the existing gap between our huge agric resources, which we export raw and the finished products, which we import at the expense of the application of modern technology in processing and preservation, one would urge entrepreneurs and other stakeholders in the food industry to avail themselves of the opportunity for capacity building.

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