HARAHAN, LA. — With the ever-growing demand for ready-to-eat (R.-T.-E.) foods, some processors are faced with the decision of converting their raw, par-baked or ready-to-cook (R.-T.-C.) process to R.-T.-E. This could be a daunting choice, and knowing where to start is the first major challenge.
A good first step is conducting a product risk assessment to determine if the existing microbial kill or reduction step will adequately eliminate the pathogen of concern. AIB International has published a number of calculators that can help. Once the process is validated, the risks for post-process contamination need to be examined. Various tools are available to help. Looking at the separation of raw and R.-T.-E. from building and equipment perspectives is a good starting point, especially if the current process requires a new or modified kill step. From here, the equipment located downstream from the oven needs to be assessed for potential microbial contamination.
Disassembling for deep or detailed clean is likely required to eliminate microbes from harborage points such as overlapping surfaces or sandwiches. Inspection will verify if harborage points contain liquid that may also be contaminated. Other potential sources of contamination that did not present a high risk for the raw products — but will for the new R.-T.-E. products — must be considered.
Using checklists from the Grocery Manufacturers Association or other sources will help assess the equipment and infrastructure. During this phase of the transformation process, the team should swab to confirm that potential niches were cleaned and spoilage and harmful pathogens were eliminated. In most cases, the number of environmental samples taken and the sampling frequency will need to be increased in the new R.-T.-E. area.