Food Preservation: Explanation & Importance

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

Did you know there are many different ways we can preserve our food? If we didn't, we could get sick or die from the bacteria that grows in our food. This lesson not only describes ways to keep food safe, but also outlines the major importance of these methods!

Food Preservation

We take it for granted nowadays that we just pop open the fridge, get some leftovers from several days ago, heat them up in the microwave and eat to our heart's desire. This wasn't always the case. Not all that long ago, if you were to leave food out for too long, food that wasn't preserved in something like salt, you'd risk a severe stomach flu at best, if not death.

Let's find out why while we discuss food preservation. Food preservation refers to the conservation of food in a safe manner for future consumption. Meaning, it's the use of various methods to either kill or prevent the growth of potentially deadly microorganisms like viruses and bacteria.

Chemicals, Drying, & Canning

Food can be preserved in many ways. In fact, let's step into Jack's kitchen as he shows us around. The first thing he does is open up a kitchen cabinet. He reaches for a bag and pulls out some chips. He flips the bag over and shows us the ingredients. There is a long list of very odd sounding chemical names. Some of them are natural or synthetic preservatives. One example that can be either a naturally derived or synthetically produced preservative, depending on its actual chemical name in the ingredient list, is vitamin E. Such preservatives help prevent the food from spoiling and tasting bad.

After putting back the bag of chips, Jack reaches for a bag of beef jerky. Beef jerky is known for being really dry. In fact, drying food is one of the oldest ways of preserving food. Why does drying the food help preserve it? Well, one reason is the absence of water. You need water to live, and so do a lot of potentially dangerous microorganisms that eat the same stuff we do. So if we get rid of their water source, the water in the food, we help kill those microorganisms or prevent their growth.

But right after this, Jack shows us he has an entire collection of different beans in cans. They are suspended in various sauces. Those sauces are made with water. So how can those cans preserve food properly if the microorganisms have a ready source of life-sustaining water right in the can? Well, the process of canning uses very high heat. Just as you can die from too much heat, so can the microbes. That's how canning helps preserve our food, by killing the microbes with heat.

Freezing & Salting

Actually, the exact opposite, cold temperatures, can help preserve our food as well. Jack shows us his refrigerator and freezer, which is stocked with everything from leftovers to frozen vegetables. How does refrigeration and freezing help preserve food? Cooler temperatures, such as those in the fridge, slow down the growth rate of microorganisms. This is why you can eat leftovers a few days after cooking but you can't keep them in the fridge forever. They'll eventually spoil, albeit more slowly than if left at room temperature. The microbes continue to grow, just at a slower pace.

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