A thesis studies the application of high pressures to preserve cured ham and extend its useful life

During the slicing process, the ham that is sold in slices that come in a package may suffer contamination that causes the appearance of microorganisms. Maria Clariana has researched into applying of high hydrostatic pressures for microbial decontamination, a technology that constitutes an alternative to more conventional treatments.

The researcher Maria Clariana has studied the effect of applying high hydrostatic pressures in the preservation process of cured ham. The application of high pressures is used to increase the useful life of food, since it reduces the amount of microorganisms, although it does not eliminate spores. In order for them not to develop, refrigeration is required in order to preserve pressurized food.

The thesis, directed by Dr. José Antonio Garcia Regueiro and entitled “Effect of the application of hydrostatic high pressures on a product of animal origin, cured ham, and in a vegetable product, turnip”, was defended at the University of Girona and had been developed at the Institute of Agrifood Research and Technology (IRTA) in Monells.

Cured ham is a sort of food that can be stored for long periods of time under appropriate temperature and moisture conditions. The marketing of sliced ??and packaged cured ham may cause contamination of the product during the slicing process which may lead to the appearance of microorganisms on it. This contamination can cause alterations in the product that may affect food security and consumer acceptance.

A more appropriate technology
Cured ham is a sort of food that cannot receive conventional heat treatments, as these would alter its taste, color and texture. Therefore, the application of high hydrostatic pressures, a technology that produces minimal alteration of color and flavor of food- may be appropriate for the preservation of this product.

In her research, Maria Clariana has researched into the effect of two different pressures -400 and 600 megapascal (MPa)- on microbial decontamination, oxidative processes and sensory quality (taste, color, and texture) of sliced and packaged ??ham. In this product, oxidation of lipids may alter the flavor but none of the studied pressures caused any changes in oxidation.

Effects of pressurization
Furthermore, the research performed by that Maria Clariana has shown that pressurization alters the flavor, color and texture of cured ham. This may be due to changes in the internal structure of the product, caused by compression of the tissue cells. These changes appeared as an increase in hardness, gumminess, and saltiness perception, while the intense color of cured ham was lost, as it turned lighter. The treatment at 400 MPa slightly modified the sensory quality of cured ham, but also its effect on microorganisms was weaker.

The research has also proved that pressurization at 600 MPa involves a bigger change in color, texture and flavor of cured ham, but when using this pressure, there was an effective microbial decontamination. According to the results obtained, Maria Clariana concluded that the alteration produced by pressurization could be lower if the cured ham had a lower concentration of salt and a longer curation period.

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