The preservation of meat and fish is a science that has evolved for centuries. The purpose of preservation is to allow food to be stored for longer periods of time without risk of spoiling. Preserving food is a critical step to ensure abundance during certain times of the year when food is scarce.
Man and animals are dependent on foods of plant and animal origin. As nature has taught us, food obtained in a fresh, raw state will spoil quickly. Thus methods to properly preserve foods and extend their shelf life have been developed and improved on over time.
Freshness Factor Affecting Nutrient Density
Some people are concerned about the fact that preserved food is not as healthy as fresh food. Preservation techniques such as freezing and dehydrating decrease the nutritional value of the food. It’s true that fresh food is always preferable and contains the maximum nutrient levels – however preserved food is always a better choice than processed and heat-treated food.
At What Temperature Do Nutrients Become Damaged?
Foods that are heated to a temperature exceeding 118° Fahrenheit will be subjected to a destruction of the vital enzymes and “good bacteria” needed for proper digestion and utilization of nutrients by the body. For this reason, the preferred methods to preserve food (especially raw meat and fish) are through the procedures freezing and freeze-drying.
How Long Can Meat And Fish Be Kept From Spoiling?
Fish spoils quickly and in climates with above normal heat temperatures, it will often spoil in less than 12 hours. A popular method for extending the storage life of fresh caught fish is to cool it with ice or freeze it.
The speed that meat spoils depends on several factors such as: storage temperature, acidity of the meat, structure of the muscle tissue, and the overall hygienic conditions used to process the meat. For example, a firmer muscular tissue, such as beef, spoils less quickly than organ meats. Proper hygiene and clean handling of the carcass has a positive effect on storage life. A good rule of thumb is to preserve the meat as soon as possible after slaughter.
Signs of Spoilage
Spoilage is the deterioration of food, which changes the taste and smell and makes it a carrier of disease and germs. A typical sign of spoilage is when the meat smell is similar to that of rotten eggs.
Consumption of spoiled foods can cause symptoms such as diarrhea, vomiting, stomach pains and nausea. Serious cases can even lead to death.
Bacteria’s Role in Spoilage
Bacteria can only cause spoilage if it is allowed to grow within the fish or meat. Several factors contribute to bacterial contamination:
Damage to the skin of fish or meat allows the bacteria easy access to the flesh, causing it to grow.
Fish and meat contain high levels of internal water content (around 60 to 80% water). Ingredients with this level of moisture allow bacteria to grow rapidly.
Oxygen content is important when processing minced meat. The flesh will spoil very quickly because a lot of air has been mixed into it. Aerobic microorganisms need oxygen for their growth.
Acidity (the normal pH range) of meat and fish is neutral, i.e. 7 Bacteria grow between a minimum pH of 4.5 to a maximum of 8-9. Optimum growth is at 6.5 to 7.5. As a result, fish and meat are very susceptible to spoilage.
One of the most critical factors is the processing temperature. Equally important is the time between contamination and processing or consumption. The best temperature to grow bacteria is between 14°-158° degrees Fahrenheit. Freezing will inactivate microorganisms while long-term heating will destroy all microorganisms, both good and bad. At temperatures above 176° degrees Fahrenheit, they usually die.
The actual rate at which bacteria grow depends on a combination of all the factors listed above. A high moisture product will spoil much quicker than a dry, acidic product.
The Effects of Preservation To Food
Preservation practices can have two important effects on food:
Retention of the original qualities and properties of the food (such as freezing raw dog food).
Creation of a radical change in the composition of the food, which results in a product with completely new properties and quality (such as through the extrusion and heat processing of kibble dry dog food diets).
While there are other preservation techniques such as smoking, drying, corning, canning, and extrusion processing, nothing compares to the quality and integrity that freezing has to food. That is why at BARF World, we don’t employ these other techniques in making our natural raw meat diets for dogs.
Freezing Raw Meat For Optimum Results
The ideal method of preservation meat and fish is to store it at a low temperature of -4° degrees Fahrenheit. This method is one of the best preservation techniques used today.
Special care should be given to fish because it does have a tendency to dry out quicker than other meats. Glazing fish with ice or cold water prior to freezing are both good methods of freezing fish. Freezing reduces enzyme activity in meat and poultry and stops the growth of bacteria and molds. Another great bonus is that it does not tenderize or sterilize your meat guaranteeing it to be as close to it’s fresh state as possible.
Freezing Raw Bones
Fish and meat bones for canine consumption should also be frozen. This offers one of the safest ways to reduce the bacterial contamination levels and extends their shelf life considerably.
What About Freeze-Drying?
Another very popular method of preservation is freeze-drying. This method combines the advantage of minimal heat and vacuum that in combination lowers the moisture content of the food to approximately 2%. Bacteria have a much harder time growing in a low moisture environment. The only disadvantage that I can see with this method is the cost to preserve. Because the freeze-drying process takes quite a bit of time to do, it can significantly increase the ultimate cost of the product.
Proper Handling of Raw Meat – The Best Prevention Method
While manufacturers can do everything right from slaughter to end product, it is also important for the consumer to practice safe handling procedures for raw meat for both their family and pets. Paying attention to the details of handling meat and fish will ultimately render a safe, superior quality product.
We regularly educate consumers to not leave raw meat diets unrefrigerated for long periods of time. If the meat is not going to be consumed right away, it should be stored in a container with a lid and placed in the refrigerator for no more than 24-48 hours. Food left out for long periods of time, especially during the hot summer months or in warmer temperature climates can result in spoiled food and bacteria growth.
When feeding a BARF diet to your pet, it is best to not leave the food left out for too long. If your dog does not eat the food right away, cover their serving dish and put the food back in the refrigerator to be served later in the day. At the end of the day, you should dispose of any uneaten food. This helps to keep food at its peak freshness and avoid any digestive upset.
Robert Mueller, BSc, Pharm. is a registered pharmacist, author of “Living Enzymes: The World’s Best Kept Pet Food Secret”, and co-developer of BARF World’s BARF diets patties, nuggets and supplements – the first company to make the Biologically Appropriate Raw Foods (BARF) diet conveniently available to animals everywhere. He and his wife love to travel around the world with their dog, Moxie – a Yorkshire Terrier/Maltese mix. For more articles like these and to learn more about the benefits of raw food for your pets, sign up for “The Intelligent Pet” monthly e-zine at www.barfworld.com.