MRO Q&A: What Economical Processes are Available to Eliminate Salmonella Components?

MRO Q&A is a Food Processing series addressing maintenance, repair and operational issues in food plants.

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Q. We manufacture Indian spice products. We use chili, coriander, cumin, fenugreek, pepper, asafetida, mustard seeds, sesame, cinnamon, caper, clove, cardamom, salt, groundnut oil, and pulses. The process involves roasting of the items to about 40 degrees C (104 F). We would like to know if any economical process is available to eliminate Salmonella components.

A. Generally speaking, salmonella growth is inhibited at temperatures below 4.4 Degrees C (40 degrees F) and salmonella is killed at temperatures above 60 degrees C (140 degrees F). While operating your roasters at a temperature of 40 degrees C (104 degrees F) may be just right for the flavor, taste, and color of your product, this operational temperature range does leave your product in what could be considered the danger zone for salmonella growth.

Recently, due to the presence of salmonella in some spice products, major recalls have been required. As a result, the FDA has requested that spice handlers use one of three approved methods to rid spices of bacteria. These method are: irradiation, steam heating or fumigation with ethylene oxide. Since irradiation and fumigation with ethylene oxide may cause marketing concerns for some manufacturers, steam heating, using batch or continuous autoclave units, has become a popular alternative.

When evaluating the economic issues regarding any process method, the focus should be on your total pounds per hour, as well as the impact of time/temperature exposures to your final product quality. It is also imperative to understand the impact each method has on removing the risk of salmonella from your product. It is recommended you consult with various companies providing irradiation, steam heating and fumigation equipment specifically for the food industry for more detailed information regarding products, operational specifications, and prices.

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