Module 3. Microbiology of food commodities

Lesson 11

11.1 Introduction

Canning is one of important method of packaging food for long term storage. Normally food is stored in metallic containers along with heat treatment. The heat treatment varies depending upon type of food. There is always a chance that microorganisms may survive if the heat treatment is not proper thereby leading to spoilage of food. Usually the incidences of food spoilage in cans are low. The spoilage of can could be due to biological or chemical reasons or combination of both. The biological spoilage is primarily due to microbial growth while chemical spoilage is due to hydrogen produced due to reaction of acid in food and iron on can. The degree of swelling can also be increased by high summer temperature and high altitudes. Certain other factors such as overfilling, buckling, denting or closing the can while cool may also be responsible for spoilage of foods in cans.

11.2 Causes of Spoilage in Cans

11.2.1 Chemical spoilage

The chemical spoilage in most cases is due to production of hydrogen gas produced in can because of action of acid of food on iron of can. This spoilage is termed as Hydrogen swell. It occurs due to following factors:

a) Increased storage temperature.

b) Increased acidity of food

c) Improper exhaust

d) Presence of soluble sulfur and phosphorous compounds

e) Improper timing and lacquering of can at internal surfaces

11.2.2 Biological spoilage

The cause of biological spoilage is microbial activity. In heat treated cans, the growth of microorganisms occur due to: Leakage of can

It occurs because of manufacturing defects, punctures or rough handling. Bacteria are introduced into can by either in holes or improper seams. In this type, the microorganisms are not usually heat resistant and wide array of organisms had been found to cause spoilage as it is post processing contamination. Microbes may also get entry into can due to cold water, used to cool cans after heat treatment. Leakage may also be responsible for release of vacuum, which can favor the growth of microorganisms. Presence of low heat resistance organisms usually indicates leakage of can. Under processing

It includes sub-optimal heat treatment, faulty retort operations, excessive microbial load and contamination in product, change in consistency of the product.

11.3 Stages in Appearance of Can

A can undergo different transformations from being a normal can to completely spoilt can as it depend upon various factors. All these stages are described based on appearance of can from outside (Table 11.1).

Table 11.1 Various stages of spoilage in can


11.4 Microbial Spoilage of Canned Foods

The microbial spoilage of canned food is classified as caused by thermophilic bacteria and mesophilic organisms. Most common spoilages of microbial origin are known as flat sour spoilage, Thermophilic anaerobic (TA) spoilage and putrefaction. These different types are briefly described here.

11.4.1 Spoilage by thermophilic spore forming bacteria

Spoilage by these types of bacteria is most prevalent in under processed heat treated canned foods. Their spores survive the heat treatment and undergo vegetative cell formation and subsequent growth in canned conditions. Major spoilages by these organisms are:

11.4.2 Flat sour spoilage

This is caused by souring bacteria. One characteristic of this spoilage is that ends of can remain flat during souring. Because of this condition, the detection of spoilage from outside is not possible thereby culturing of contents become necessary to detect the type of organisms. Main organisms involved are Bacillus, while it occurs more frequently in low acid foods. Bacillus spp. has ability to produce acid without gas formation.

11.4.3 TA spoilage

This type of spoilage is caused by thermophilic anaerobe not producing hydrogen sulfide. Clostridium thermosaccharolyticum is the main organism involved. It produces acid and gas in foods. Spoiled food produces sour or cheesy smell.

11.4.4 Sulfur stinker spoilage

This type of spoilage occurs in low acid foods and primarily Desulfotomaculum nigricans is involved. The spores of these organisms are destroyed at optimal heat treatment, thus presence of this organism usually indicates under processing in terms of heat treatment. It produces hydrogen sulfide which produce typical odour.

11.5 Spoilage By Mesophillic Spore formers

Bacillus and Clostridium are involved in this type of spoilage which is usually indicative of under spoilage.

Table 11.2 Characteristics of Mesophilic spore former spoilage in can


11.6 Spoilage by Non-Spore Formers

Presence of non spore formers in cans indicate post processing contamination. The organisms whose vegetative cells are heat resistant are more readily found. Following organisms are more prominent:


Streptococcus thermophilus





Presence of these organisms indicates leakage of container. Cooling water is one of the important source of contamination, thus coilforms also gain entry into the can through leakage.

11.7 Spoilage by Fungi

11.7.1 Yeasts

Yeasts and their spores are not thermo tolerant, thus they are not found in suitably heat treated cans. Their presence indicates under processing or post pasteurization contamination through leakage. Fermentative yeasts are more prominent and they produce carbon dioxide, thus causing swelling of cans. Film yeasts too can grow on the surface of the food products.

11.7.2 Molds

Among molds, Aspergilus and Penicillium are most spoiling organisms. These can grow at high sugar concentration. Acidification is considered method of preventing growth of molds. Some of the molds are resistant to heat. Molds are more common in home canned foods where heating as well as sealing is not under total aseptic conditions.

Last modified: Friday, 2 November 2012, 10:35 AM