Chilled foods include a vast range of food products, such as ready-to-eat salads and sandwiches, ready-to-heat meals, pastas and sauces, pizza, desserts, soups, sauces, dressings and doughs. These foods may include both raw and heat-processed ingredients. Further heat processing may or may not be used during the manufacturing process and by the consumer. For these reasons, chilled foods depend on refrigeration as the primary means of preservation.
It is recommended that chilled food manufacturers aim to achieve <5°C in storage and distribution facilities controlled by them. It must however be recognized in the establishment of shelf life that the wider distribution chain, including retail display and consumer refrigerators may operate at higher temperatures. Legislative requirements must also be complied with.
A key criterion for chilled foods is that they must be microbiologically safe at the point of consumption. Pathogens that could result in food-borne illness when consumed must be controlled. Within this context, ensuring the safety and quality of chilled foods is dependent on the integrity of the entire food chain, from production and harvesting of ingredients, through manufacturing and distribution and finally, storage and preparation by the consumer.
Because of the diversity of raw materials, processing conditions and packaging systems that are used in the production of chilled foods, it is not possible to establish a “one size fits all” approach to achieving microbiological safety. Rather, the manufacturer must carefully consider a wide variety of factors and hurdles − raw material quality, hygienic processing, temperature, water activity, acidity, modified atmosphere − in determining ways to control microbiological growth and thus prevent spoilage and/or the development of conditions that can lead to food-borne illness. Via the choice and combination of these elements, the manufacturer is able to determine the optimum shelf life for a product and establish conditions for its use that will ensure safe food products for consumers.
Reference: RECOMMENDATIONS FOR THE PRODUCTION OF PREPACKAGED CHILLED FOOD, ECFF Recommendations December 2006