In this article, we will look at the basic requirements for the display, storage and temperature of food products.
The temperature control and measurement of food products play an essential part in Food Safety. It goes hand in hand with food hygiene.
Incorrect temperature control and measurement of food are one of the leading causes of foodbourne illnesses globally.
The microorganisms you find in and on food thrive in ideal conditions. Temperature control is one of the best methods to combat the multiplication of microorganisms, by either hindering the growth and/or killing the microorganisms.
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Let’s look at the basic requirements for the display, storage and temperature of food.
This article refers to the requirements of Regulation 8 (STANDARDS AND REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DISPLAY, STORAGE AND TEMPERATURE OF FOOD) of Regulations R638 of 2018, which governs the general hygiene requirements for food premises, the transport of food and related matters in South Africa.
This article also provides more information for clarity.
Please read our Disclaimers and Disclosures page. We do not provide legal advice.
Requirements for the Display and Storage of Food
- Storage and display areas: Stored and displayed food should not be in direct contact with a wall, floor, any ground surface or ceiling.
- Food storage and display shelves and cases: Food storage and display shelves and cases must be kept clean. No dust or any other contaminants should be visible or present.
- Non-prepacked food in open containers: Think ready-to-eat meals, buffets and salad bars (to only mention a few). Protect non-prepacked food displayed in open containers against pests, dust, droplet contamination or bare hands.
Why Storing Food on the Floor, Against a Wall or Near a Ceiling is a Bad Idea
Before we get to the reasons why you should not store food directly on the floor, against a wall and close to a ceiling, let’s quickly evaluate floors, walls and ceilings in general.
Floors can accumulate dust and dirt quickly. Depending on the conditions and food types, walls tend to build up condensation, and the wall temperature and higher temperatures close to ceilings can also negatively affect food.
There are 3 main reasons why you should not store or display food directly on a floor, against a wall or close to a ceiling:
- Hinders cleaning: Floors, walls and ceilings in food storage, display and handling areas must be kept clean. Storing food directly on the floor, against the wall and close to the ceiling will hinder the cleaning process and thus promote the accumulation of dirt and other contaminants.
- Hinders pest inspections and encourage pest harbourage: Even more crucial than cleaning is to do your regular pest activity inspections effectively. If food is stored directly on the floor, against walls and near ceilings, it can encourage the harbourage of pests and make it nearly impossible for you to spot pest activity.
- Hinders proper ventilation: Dry storage areas should stay dry and cool. Storing food on the floor, against a wall or near a ceiling will prevent sufficient ventilation and cause inconsistent humidity and temperature of the storage area. High humidity and temperatures can encourage the growth of microorganisms and decrease product quality and shelf-life. It can also cause the breakdown of certain types of packaging materials like metal cans (rust and corrosion) and paper packaging. As soon as packaging material deteriorates, the possibility of food product contamination increases.
Requirements for Food Temperature Control and Measurement
The temperature chart below is regulated by Annexure E of Regulations R638. Temperature requirements can differ from country to country. It’s important to know what temperature requirements apply to your country’s food laws.
Food temperature requirements can also differ for certain Food Safety Management standards and other guidelines.
- Icecream and sorbet (excluding sorbet used for soft-serve purposes)
- Frozen fish
- Fishery products
-18oC or colder
- Any other food marketed as a frozen product
-12oC or colder
- Raw unpreserved fish
- Edible offal
- Poultry meat
4oC or colder
- Any other perishable food that must be kept chilled to prevent spoilage
5oC or colder
- Any perishable food not kept frozen or chilled
60oC or more
Keep food specified in the charts above at a core temperature not exceeding the indicated temperatures during storage, transportation and display.
To clarify, when the regulations refer to “exceeding” in this context, it means the food should not be stored, transported or displayed outside the required limits. For example, heated products with a core temperature of 50oC exceed the required limits. It should be 60oC or more.
Requirements for Food Products Exceeding the Temperature Control Limits
- Chilled and frozen food products: You are not allowed to sell chilled or frozen food products where the core temperature is higher than required, or the surface temperature is more than 2oC higher than the core temperature requirements for the product.
- Heated food products: You are not allowed to sell heated food products where the core temperature is lower than required, or the surface temperature is more than 2oC lower than the core temperature requirements for heated products.
Exceptions for Food Temperature Control Limits
It’s practically impossible to always keep food at the required core temperatures specified in Annexure E of Regulations R638. The following exceptions are allowed:
- Cooling down time: The time it takes for food to cool down to the required temperature. You must follow Good Manufacturing Practices.
- Heating time: The time it takes for food to be heated to the required temperature. You must follow Good Manufacturing Practices.
- Perishable food sold within 4 hours: The provisions do not apply to perishable food sold to consumers within four hours of being processed or prepared. It also includes food consumed on the food premises.
- Venison for 8 hours: The provisions do not apply to venison during the first 8 hours after the animal has been killed, with the condition that the surface temperature of the animal should not exceed 25oC at any given point and time.
- Meat delivery – 1 hour: Freshly caught or harvested raw fish, molluscs, crustaceans, raw meat, edible offal, the carcasses of cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, horses, mules, donkeys, rabbits or ostriches after slaughtering and while being transported for a period not exceeding 1 hour during delivery. The surface temperatures should not exceed 25oC at any given point and time.
- Maturation periods: The provisions do not apply to food exceeding the temperature requirements during a maturation period as part of a manufacturing process. You must follow Good Manufacturing Practices.
Requirements and Limitations for Thawed Food Products
- Refrozen thawed food (excluding frozen fish and seafood): You are allowed to refreeze thawed frozen food, but the following conditions apply:
- The surface temperature should not exceed 5°C.
- The refrozen food product must be handled by following Good Manufacturing Practices.
- Refrozen thawed fish and seafood: Handle the refrozen product in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Compulsory Specifications stipulated by the National Regulator for Compulsory Specifications.
- Refrozen thawed food for further processing: Frozen food thawed for further processing can be refrozen, but the following conditions apply:
- The core temperature of the thawed food does not exceed 5°C.
- The thawing process is as short as possible and does not exceed 10 hours (as the case may be).
- Adequately drain the run-off liquid from the thawing process to prevent cross-contamination.
- The food is handled by following Good Manufacturing Practices.
- The chilling begins at once to comply with the temperatures shown in Annexure E of Regulations R638.
The Code of Practice for Food Temperature Measurement
Annexure G of Regulations R638 explains the code of practice for food temperature measurement. It describes the following:
- Food temperature measurement precautions.
- Prepackaged food temperature measurement methods.
- Core temperature measurement methods for heated, frozen, chilled and unchilled food.
What Precautions to Take During Food Temperature Measurement?
Take care during food temperature measurement procedures not to contaminate food products. Where practically possible, it must be done in an aseptic manner and be free from chemical pollutants.
This means the thermometer must be suitable, clean and sterilised every time it is inserted into a different food product. It will also prevent cross-contamination between food products.
The person measuring the food temperature should follow good personal hygiene practices, for example, proper handwashing and wearing the required protective clothing.
Where possible, don’t remove the food from the chilling, freezing or heating facility during temperature measurement.
Refer to Annexure G of Regulations R638 for the requirements if an inspector wants to remove the food packaging to measure the food’s temperature.
How to Measure the Temperature of Prepackaged Food
If you take the temperature measurement of prepackaged food, it’s unnecessary to damage the packaging to insert the thermometer probe in the food.
You can place the thermometer probe between two or more food packages for at least one minute to get a correct temperature reading.
In the case of a single food package, you can place the thermometer probe on the outer surface of the food package for at least one minute.
If the temperature reading is not in compliance with the core temperatures specified in Annexure E of Regulations R638, or if there are any doubts about the temperature of the food inside the package, measure the surface or core temperature of the food to determine the actual temperature.
How would you measure the temperature of the meat packages in the image above?
You would turn the meat packages over, with the meat sides facing each other and put the thermometer probe between two meat packages to take a reading.
How to Measure the Core Temperature of Food
Let’s first look at the definition of “core temperature” according to Regulations R638. It defines core temperature as the “temperature reading taken in the estimated centre of the food.”
It depends on the type of food and what is considered the centre of the food. For example, if the food is a solid piece of meat like a leg of lamb roast, you will take the temperature from the centre of the thickest part of the food. If it’s a beef stew, you will take the temperature from the centre of the dish.
For frozen food, drill a hole up to the estimated centre of the food product with a sterilised stainless steel bit. The external measurement of the drill bit must be about 4mm. Insert the thermometer probe into the hole to take the core temperature of the food product.
For heated, chilled or unchilled food, insert the sterilised thermometer probe up to the estimated centre of the food to take the temperature of the food product.
NOTE: Regulations R638 says you have to wait at least 2 minutes after inserting the probe before you can take a reading. Give the thermometer time to stabilise for a consistent, correct reading.
2 Minutes is a bit excessive. Depending on the type of thermometer, the temperature can stabilise and show a consistent, correct reading within seconds.
Don’t store food directly on a floor, against a wall or near a ceiling. It hinders cleaning, proper ventilation and pest activity inspections. It also encourages the harbourage of pests.
Keep food storage shelves and cases clean and free from contaminants, even if your food products are prepackaged.
Follow the correct temperature control procedures for all temperature-controlled food products. Food handlers must understand what temperatures apply to which food types, how to control and measure the temperature of these food products and what conditions apply for food not stored, displayed or transported within the temperature limits.
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