Definitions

Before any serious discussion of food deterioration, we need to define several terms that are important in understanding food deterioration.

a. Food Deterioration. The first term is food deterioration. We define this term as a series of continuous degradative changes occurring in a food item which may affect the product's wholesomeness, result in a reduction of its quality, and/or alter its serviceability.

(1) Deterioration is a continuing process that begins the moment an animal is slaughtered or a plant is harvested and continues until the item is no longer recognizable as a food item or is literally reduced to dust.

(2) Some of the techniques that are used to slow down the continuous changes are freezing, drying, blanching, use of additives, and canning.

(3) As a veterinary food inspection specialist, it is your task to recognize early stages of deterioration before the food items reach the consumer.

b. Wholesomeness. Wholesomeness is a term that refers to freedom from pathogenic or otherwise harmful microorganisms. Wholesomeness is a characteristic possessed by a food product that is conducive to good health and well being in the consumer.

(1) Unwholesome. Unwholesome food is food procured, packed, or held under unsanitary conditions that renders it injurious to the health of the consumer, or food or food containers having naturally occurring or added harmful substances, or food found to be filthy, putrid, decomposed, or produced from a diseased animal or an animal that died other than by slaughter.

(2) Off-condition. Off-condition is any variation from the expected appearance, feel, smell, or taste characteristics of a product when it was initially produced or processed for resale. (A product is considered unwholesome if any off-condition affects it in such a way that the product may be injurious to the health of the consumer.)

c. Quality. Quality is a term that refers to the degree of excellence or grade of a product. The quality is important in protecting the financial interests of the Government.

d. Serviceability. Serviceability is a term that refers to the usefulness of a food item. Reduced serviceability in a product may result in the use of additional processing methods to return the food item to its original state.

e. Spoilage. Spoilage is also a term which we often hear in conjunction with deterioration. Often, spoilage is used as a synonym for deterioration. However, we need to make a distinction between these two terms. We define food spoilage as an arbitrary end point of the deterioration process which denotes that a food item is unwholesome and, therefore, is no longer suitable for human consumption.

(1) Spoilage is a result of the deterioration process. We should use the term spoilage as a benchmark--a signal to denote that a food item is unwholesome and is no longer suitable for human consumption.

(2) We know that spoilage can occur anywhere during the deterioration process. The point of spoilage depends upon such factors as type of food (milk vs. beef), storage environment (low-temperature storage vs. high-temperature), and method of preservation (canning vs. freeze dehydration).

f. Abnormal. Abnormal is another term that is commonly used in a discussion on deterioration and spoilage. Abnormal is a sensory evaluation term that refers to those characteristics exhibited by a food item, which is judged to differ from the normal characteristics; the food item does not lie within the permissible variations possessed by high-quality like items.

(1) Knowledge of normal characteristics. Determining the normal characteristics of a food item is an important and vital step in the inspection of subsistence. Without knowing normal characteristics, it is very difficult to determine if a product is deteriorated or spoiled.

(2) Permissible variation. An example of the permissible variation possessed by a high-quality like item would be celery. Celery has a range of colors that varies from light to dark green. All of these would be normal for the product. Abnormal colors would be black, purple, or red.

g. Food Adulteration. Food adulteration is another term we commonly associate with deterioration. A simple definition of this term is an act or process, either intentional or unintentional, of making a food impure.

(1) Reference. A more complete explanation of what constitutes food adulteration is found in Chapter IV, Section 402, of the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.

(2) Stated meaning. Adulterated shall mean the condition of a food:

(a) If it bears or contains any poisonous or deleterious substance in a quantity which may render it injurious to health.

(b) If it bears or contains added poisonous or deleterious substance for which no safe tolerance has been officially established, or in excess of such tolerance if one has been established.

(c) If it consists in whole or part of any filthy, putrid, or decomposed substance, or if it is otherwise unfit for human consumption.

(d) If it has been processed, prepared, packed, or held under unsanitary conditions, whereby it may have become contaminated with filth, or whereby it may have been rendered injurious to health.

(e) If it is in whole or in part, the product of a diseased animal, or an animal which had died other than by slaughter.

(f) If its container is composed in whole, or in part, of any poisonous or deleterious substance that may render the contents injurious to health.

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