Case study: bagged salad
In the last thirty years there have been huge changes in the lifestyle of the modern consumer. Food is now being prepared less at home, and the demand for ready-to-cook or ready-to-eat products has greatly increased. In addition to convenience, many people are more conscious about the nutritional value of what they eat and prefer unprocessed, fresh food.
These trends have pushed the food sector to quickly respond, adapt and meet consumer needs with the invention and development of convenience food. Removing the need for long and complicated preparation, it is now possible to have a delicious and nutritional meal ready in matter of minutes, ready to eat.
Bagged salads are one of these products. The production of bagged salads recreates, at industrial level, all the steps necessary for the preparation of a bowl of salad at home. After being picked from soil, salads are cut, trimmed and washed, and after drying they’re packed at refrigerated temperatures and distributed to their selling points. As it can be imagined, the time needed for you to prepare a meal starting from a bagged salad brought from the supermarket, to buying a headed salad purchased from a local farmers market is very different.
This doesn’t mean producing a bag of ready-to-eat salad is an easy task, as there are a number of factors that have to be taken into consideration. Salads are extremely perishable products due to the fact that they are made of ‘living tissues’, which undergo deterioration from the moment they’re separated from the root system. For this reason, they have to be treated very gently and the only strategy that can be used in order to slow down the decline in quality, is the temperature. The storage of salads throughout its entire supply chain must occur at temperatures from 2 to 4 °C. This storage process is usually referred to as refrigeration, and not only preserves the plant’s tissue integrity, but it’s also essential for decreasing the growth of microorganisms which are responsible for any spoilage that may occur.
Another factor to consider are all the washing steps, which are vital in removing any microbiological and chemical risks. These steps must be performed with water which is safe and strictly controlled. In this context, bagged salad producers have to implement a number of procedures to safeguard the quality and the safety of these products. Microbiological and chemical analysis are always carried out to check for pathogenic microorganisms and chemical contaminations. Any physical risks (residual soil containing stones, metallic parts etc.) are eliminated through intense washings and metal detectors during production (see Step 2.5).
The consumer demand for fresh produce is also another aspect that’s considered. Salad producers not only face the challenge of maintaining freshness, the product also needs to possess a longer shelf life than fresh untreated salads. This is addressed by developing procedures that minimally impact on the composition and sensory attributes of the salad, but at the same time processed and packed in a way that allow for longer storage in a domestic refrigerator.
Bagged salads are not unprocessed food, and should be considered highly processed because they undergo extensive preparation to allow them to maintain freshness and to be safe to eat (see previous Step). However, it isn’t just unprocessed food that should be considered fresh, the bagged salad proves that highly process food can also be fresh too.
Are there any other food examples you are aware of that follow a strict or long processing journey? Share your comments below.
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