The Awesome Truth About Fermented Food

Did you know fermented food is an unregulated food processing technique?

Today the FDA has still not found any cases of food illnesses because this form of fermentation inhibits the growth of most pathogenic bacteria and the formation of bacterial toxins,” according to the World Health Organization.”

Fermentation is different from home canning and pickled foods. When we preserve food is all about the pH, or acid level in the food. It is this acid content that prevents the growth of botulism, a deadly bacteria. Fermentation on the other hand produces acid-loving bacteria, which lowers the overall acid content to a pH below 4.6.

When we address fermentation we are looking at the relationship food nutrients and live bacteria have when preserving food. If you are a cottage food operator who wants to make fermented foods, contact your local cottage food agency or health department for guidance. Please reference Safely Fermenting Food at Home.

Canning food preservation methods like hot water bath canning, pressure canning, and pickling are our only means of preserving food by removing the ability for bad bacteria to grow.

WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN PRESERVATION METHODS and FERMENTATION?

Home Canning

Home canning, hot water bath: uses high-temperature water heat to kill bacteria. Need to regulate the time spent in the hot water. Recommended only for “high acid foods.” High acid foods include, but are not limited to; high acid foods that have a high concentration of hydrogen ions. Fruits, juices, fresh fruits, and anything that is derived from fruits are usually high-acid. Plus, mixing high and low acid foods can result in an overall mixture that has a pH greater than 4.6. Learn about ensuring safe canned food.

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Home canning involves heating up the water even hotter in a sealed canner in order to get the temperature hot enough to kill and pressurize the sealed container in order to prevent bacteria growth. Time and pounds per pressure need to be regulated.

What you are trying to do is prevent the growth of mold in foods. This can raise the pH of the food. This means any home-canned product that shows signs of mold growth should be discarded. USDA and microbiologists now recommend against even “scooping out the mold on jams and jelly products and using the remaining jam or jelly, even though that used to be suggested.”

You also want to prevent botulinum. These spores are hard to destroy at boiling-water temperatures; the higher the can­ning temperature, the more easily they are destroyed.

More about Botulism.

Pickling:

Pickling food involves adding vinegar to the food in order to lower the pH level. Food is then processed in a hot water bath to inhibit bacteria growth.
Vinegar is added to create the formation of acid through the fermentation process decreasing the pH, preventing the growth of C. botulinum.

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Fermentation

The process fo fermenting foods is a natural process where occurring bacteria found on raw vegetables convert the food’s carbohydrates into lactic acid, which lowers the pH below 4.0.
You may be more familiar with a staple in Korean cuisine, Kimchi, a traditional side dish of salted and fermented vegetables, such as Napa cabbage and Korean radish, made with a widely varying selection of seasonings including gochugaru (chili powder), spring onions, garlic, ginger, and other spices.

Fermenting foods is a simple process when “proper” food safety practices are followed, namely salt, a proper water ratio, clean preparation environment, storage time, and the proper temperature are essential to keeping food tasty.

Are you interested in producing fresh food in your garden? Take a look at these four innovative ideas. 

For more information about acidified and low-acid canned foods.

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