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Ethnic and Specialty Foods in North Carolina. How do I approach them?. By John E. Rushing, Ph.D., NCSU. How do you evaluate a food product?. Let’s call these unconventional foods, “Specialty Foods”. Mexican Italian Indian Central American Chinese Japanese Bolivian Korean. British

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Ethnic and Specialty Foods in North Carolina

How do I approach them?

By John E. Rushing, Ph.D., NCSU

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How do you evaluate a food product?

Let’s call these unconventional foods, “Specialty Foods”

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Central American








Other Hispanic




Other African

Some New Ethnic Food Restaurants in Cary

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Specialty Foods

  • Ethnic foods commonly are in this category

  • Usually refers to those foods which are not represented by major commodities

  • May use any or a combination of preservation techniques

  • Usually consist of many different ingredients in combination

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Some Characteristics of Specialty Foods

  • Tend to be upscale or gourmet

  • Often preserved by acidity, or low Aw

  • Often sold in specialty shops along with being sold in grocery stores

  • Because they are more expensive, they may be “slow movers”

  • Are an attractive category to entrepreneurs


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Some Types of Specialty Foods

  • Sauces and marinades

  • Pickled products

  • High end baked products

  • Some frozen foods

  • Foods for special diets

  • May include dietary supplements

  • Foods from certain ethnic groups


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Food Safety Concerns for Specialty Foods

  • Produced by knowledgeable persons within the limits of regulations

  • Acidified foods must have been properly acidified

  • Terminal heat treatments

  • Proper packaging and protection from spoilage


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Major Food Preservation Methods

  • Fermenting to achieve a low pH

  • Temperature modification

    • Refrigeration

    • Freezing

  • Canning

    • Retorting and other sterilization processes

    • Acidifying

  • Water activity control

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  • Uses microorganisms to produce acid from sugars

  • Organisms may also produce other antimicrobial compounds

  • Acids will inhibit the outgrowth of bacterial spores

  • The pH is usually well below 4

  • Some foods are naturally acid

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Refrigerated Foods

  • Refrigerated food pathogens are on the rise

  • Refrigerated foods should be kept below 40F and as close to 32 as possible

  • Refrigeration should be used with other hurdles, such as thermal treatments, hygienic packaging, and preservatives

  • Discard or use refrigerated products soon


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Acid and Acidified Foods

  • These foods depend on acids to prevent the growth and toxin production by Clostridium botulinum

  • Acid foods are naturally acid, such as fruits

  • Acidified foods are low acid foods to which acids or acid foods are added to achieve a final equilibrium pHof 4.6 or below


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Acidified Foods

  • Are low-acid foods to which an acid or an acid food has been added to produce a finished equilibrium pH of 4.6 or below

  • “Low-acid foods” are those foods which have a natural pH of above 4.6

  • Are regulated under 21 CFR 114

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21 CFR 114-Acidified Foods

  • Requires that a food plant be registered under part 108

  • Requires filing and adhering to a scheduled process

  • Requires that the scheduled process be determined by a process authority

  • Requires that adherence to the process be supervised by a certified supervisor


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Which are not Acidified Foods?

  • Fermented foods, naturally acid foods, carbonated beverages, jams, jellies and certain salad dressings are not covered by the regulation

  • Foods which have a water activity of .85 or less are not covered

  • Foods with insignificant amounts of low-acid ingredients are not covered

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Safety Concerns for Acid and Acidified Foods

  • Finished equilibrium pH of 4.6 or below

  • Adequate buffering capacity to prevent rapid swings in pH

  • Thermal destruction of pathogens and organisms capable of growing in and spoiling the food

  • Protecting the food from recontamination


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Barriers to Achieving Acidity

  • Inadequate acid in the cover brine to overcome buffering capacity of the food

  • Presence of alkaline compounds from peeling or other processing aids

  • Peels, waxing, or piece size

  • Oil in the product causing a barrier to penetration of the acid


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Processing Acidified Foods

  • Hot fill and hold requires filling at 180F, capping and inverting

  • Many products are pasteurized by processing in the jar to achieve the required thermal process

  • Some products use a steam capper to eliminate the need for inverting

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Acid and Acidified Foods Processed Without Heating

  • Many specialty products do not receive a terminal heat treatment

  • New concerns raised by the finding of acid tolerance response in certain bacteria

  • Salmonella may survive as low as pH 3.0

  • In apple cider outbreaks, E.coli 0157:H7 survived pH 3.7


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Spoilage of Acidified Foods

  • Usually by yeasts and molds

  • Yeasts and molds are killed by pasteurization temperatures

  • Spoilage is from underprocessing or post processing contamination

  • Benzoates and sorbates are used to inhibit yeasts and molds

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Foods With No Thermal Treatment

  • The pH should be below 3

  • Should be supplemented by preservatives such as sodium benzoate or potassium sorbate at 0.1%

  • May be kept refrigerated

  • Even though growth of pathogens is not a concern at low pH, survival is


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FDA Rule for Juice Products

  • Portions of the juice industry are arguing for only a mandated HACCP plan

  • FDA’s advisory panel and consumer groups recommend a 5D thermal process

  • The controversy may extend to other raw food products


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Foods With Reduced Water Activity

  • Water activity (Aw) is not the same as moisture level

  • Think of Aw as the availability of water to bacteria in the food

  • At 0.85, hardy pathogens such as Staphylococcus will not grow and produce toxin


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Some Important Aw Levels for Bacteria

  • 0.98 Optimum growth of most microorganisms in foods

  • 0.97 and below, Gram positives tend to predominate

  • 0.94 Limit of growth for Clostridium botulinum

  • 0.86 Limit of growth for Staphylococcus aureus


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Limit of Growth for Molds and Yeasts

  • Yeasts

  • 0.90 Saccharomyces cerevisiae

  • 0.62 Saccharomyces rouxii

  • Molds

  • 0.93 Rhizopus nigricans

  • 0.77 Aspergillus niger


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Concerns for Low Aw Foods

  • Aw is difficult to measure, and must be maintained by packaging

  • Yeasts and molds must be inhibited in intermediate moisture foods

  • Sorbate and propionate are preferred inhibitors

  • Hygiene is important as organisms are not necessarily killed without a thermal process


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Safety in Low Aw Foods

  • Measure the Aw or refrigerate

  • Don’t vary the formulas for baked goods without refrigeration

  • Protect the food from moist conditions: some dehydrated foods are very hygroscopic

  • Use Aw effectively to make flavored and herbal oils


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Herbal Foods

  • Botanicals must be correctly identified

  • Be sure that the herb is a food and that you are using the proper part or preparation

  • Herbs are to be produced under proper agronomic conditions

  • Use dried herbs in formulations with oil or properly acidify them first


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Dietary Supplements and Nutriceuticals

  • Dietary Supplement and Health Act of 1984 defines dietary supplements

  • Dietary supplements are not foods and cannot be represented for use as a sole item of a meal or of a diet

  • Deemed a food, but excluded from food additive safety and approval requirements when properly labeled


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Temperature Modification

  • Refrigeration increases the lag time for the growth of microorganisms

  • Freezing inhibits the growth of microorganisms by tying up the water

  • Harmful organisms may survive refrigeration and freezing

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Water Activity Control

  • Drying removes water from the system to inhibit growth of microorganisms

  • Salting and sugaring tie water up to make it unavailable to the microorganism

  • A combination of drying and salting and sugaring can be used to produce an intermediate moisture food