Lesson- 2. Spoilage mechanism during storage

2. Introduction

The nature of the deteriorative reactions in foods and the factors that control the rates of these reactions will be briefly outlined. Deteriorative reactions can be enzymic, chemical, physical, and biological. Biochemical, chemical, physical, and biological changes occur in foods during processing and storage, and these combine to affect food quality. The most important quality-related changes are as follows:

  • Chemical reactions, mainly due to either oxidation or nonenzymic browning reactions.

  • Microbial reactions, microorganisms can grow in foods. In the case of fermentation this is desired; otherwise, microbial growth will lead to spoilage and, in the case of pathogens, to unsafe food.

  • Biochemical reactions, many foods contain endogenous enzymes that can potentially catalyze reactions leading to quality loss (enzymic browning, lipolysis, proteolysis, and more). In the case of fermentation, enzymes can be exploited to improve quality.

  • Physical reactions, many foods are heterogeneous and contain particles. These    particles are unstable, and phenomena such as coalescence, aggregation, and sedimentation usually lead to quality loss.

The interactions of intrinsic and extrinsic factors affect the likelihood of the occurrence of reactions or processes that affect shelf life. These shelf life limiting reactions or processes can be classified as: chemical/biochemical, microbiological and physical. The effects of these factors are not always detrimental and in some instances they are essential for the development of the desired characteristics of a product.


Table: 2.1




Nonenzymic browning

Chemical reaction (Maillard reaction)

Color, taste and aroma, nutritive value, formation of toxicologically suspect compounds (acrylamide)

Fat oxidation

Chemical reaction

Loss of essential fatty acids, rancid flavor, formation of toxicologically suspect compounds

Fat oxidation

Biochemical reaction (lipoxygenase)

Off-flavors, mainly due to formation of aldehydes and ketones


Chemical reaction

Changes in flavor, vitamin content


Biochemical reaction (lipase)

Formation of free fatty acids and

peptides, bitter taste


Biochemical reaction (proteases)

Formation of amino acids and peptides, bitter taste, flavor compounds, changes in texture

Enzymic browning

Biochemical reaction of polyphenols



Physical reaction

Sedimentation, creaming


Combination of chemical and physical reaction

Gel formation, texture changes


2.2. Chemical/biochemical processes

Many important deteriorative changes can occur as a result of reactions between components within the food, or between components of the food and the environment. Chemical reactions will proceed if reactants are available and if the activation energy threshold of the reaction is exceeded. The rate of reaction is dependent on the concentration of reactants and on the temperature and/or other energy, e.g. light induced reactions. A general assumption is that for every 10°C rise in temperature, the rate of reaction doubles. Specialized proteins called enzymes catalyse biochemical reactions.

2.3. Oxidation

A number of chemical components of food react with oxygen affecting the colour, flavor, nutritional status and occasionally the physical characteristics of foods. In some cases, the effects are deleterious and limit shelf life, in others they are essential to achieve the desired product characteristics. Packaging is used to exclude, control or contain oxygen at the level most suited for a particular product. Foods differ in their avidity for oxygen, i.e. the amount that they take up, and their sensitivity to oxygen, i.e. the amount that results in quality changes. Estimates of the maximum oxygen tolerance of foods are useful to determine the oxygen permeability of packaging materials required to meet a desired shelf life.

Foods containing a high percentage of fats, particularly unsaturated fats, are susceptible to oxidative rancidity and changes in flavor. Saturated fatty acids oxidize slowly compared with unsaturated fatty acids. Antioxidants that occur naturally or are added, either slow the rate of, or increase the lag time to, the onset of rancidity. Three different chemical routes can initiate the oxidation of fatty acids: the formation of free radicals in the presence of metal ion catalysts such as iron, or heat, or light – termed the classical free radical route; photooxidation in which photo-sensitisers such as chlorophyll or myoglobin affect the energetic state of oxygen; or an enzymic route catalyzed by lipoxygenase.

In milk chocolate, the presence of tocopherol (vitamin E), a natural antioxidant in cocoa liquor provides a high degree of protection against rancidity. However, white chocolate does not have the antioxidant protection of cocoa liquor and so is prone to oxidative rancidity, particularly light induced. In snack products and particularly nuts the onset of rancidity is the shelf life limiting factor. Such sensitive products are often packed gas flushed to remove oxygen and packed with 100% nitrogen to protect against oxidation and provide a cushion to protect against physical damage.

Oxidation of lycopene, a red/orange carotenoid pigment in tomatoes, causes an adverse colour change from red to brown and affects flavor. In canned tomato products this can be minimized by using plain unlacquered cans. The purpose of the tin coating is to provide protection of the underlying steel, but it also provides a chemically reducing environment within the can.

Tomato ketchup used to suffer from black neck – the top of the ketchup in contact with oxygen in the headspace turned black. To disguise this, a label was placed around the neck of the bottle, hiding the discoloration. It has since been shown that oxidation depends on the level of iron in the ketchup and blackening has now been prevented.

2.4. Enzyme activity

Fruits and vegetables are living commodities and their rate of respiration affects shelf life – generally the greater the rate of respiration, the shorter the shelf life. Immature products such as peas and beans have much higher respiration rates and shorter shelf life than products that are mature storage organs such as potatoes and onions. Respiration is the metabolic process whereby sugars and oxygen are converted to more usable sources of energy for living cells. Highly organized and controlled biochemical pathways promote this metabolic process. In non-storage tissues where there are few reserves, such as lettuce and spinach, or immature flower crops such as broccoli, this effect is even greater. Use of temperature control reduces the respiration rate, extending the life of the product. Temperature control combined with MAP further suppresses the growth of yeasts, moulds and bacteria, extending shelf life further.

All plants produce ethylene to differing degrees and some parts of plants produce more than others. The effect of ethylene is commodity dependent but also dependent on temperature, exposure time and concentration. 

 2.5.  Microbiological processes

Under suitable conditions, most microorganisms will grow or multiply. During growth in foods, microorganisms will consume nutrients from the food and produce metabolic by-products such as gases or acids. They may release extra-cellular enzymes (e.g. amylases, lipases, proteases) that affect the texture, flavor, odor and appearance of the product. Some of these enzymes will continue to exist after the death of the microorganisms that produced them, continuing to cause product spoilage. In canning, low acid foods are filled into containers that are hermetically sealed and sterilized, typically at 115.5–1210C or above, to ensure all pathogens, especially Clostridium botulinum, are destroyed. Low temperatures might inhibit the growth of an organism and affects its rate of growth. Some microorganisms are adapted to grow at chill temperatures, hence the composition of organisms in the natural microflora will change.

 2.6. Physical and physico-chemical processes

Many packaging functions such as protection of the product from environmental factors and contamination such as dust and dirt, dehydration and rehydration, insect and rodent infestation, containment of the product to avoid leakage and spillage, and physical protection action against hazards during storage and distribution are taken for granted by the consumer. Packaging is very often the key factor to limiting the effects of physical damage on product shelf life. Different forms of this process is


  • Physical damage
  • Insect damage
  • Moisture changes
  • Barrier to odor pick-up

 2.7. Migration from packaging to foods

The direct contact between food and packaging materials provides the potential for migration. Additive migration describes the physico-chemical migration of molecular species and ions from the packaging into food. Such interactions can be used to the advantage of the manufacturer and consumer in active and intelligent packaging, but they also have the potential to reduce the safety and quality of the product, thereby limiting product shelf life.

Last modified: Wednesday, 3 July 2013, 7:24 AM