Monday, 29 April 2013

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Definitions of Food Related Terms

Adulteration :

The addition or contamination of a food by a substance foreign to the normal product, which debases it or disguises inferior quality.

Botulinum Cook :

The heat treatment given to a low acid canned food (having a pH higher than 4.2) sufficient to inactivate 1012 spores of Clostridium botulinum. This heat treatment is called the Fo value and it is equivalent to a process of 3 mins at 121 degC, 10 mins at 115 degC or 32 mins at 110 degC.

Biopolymer :

A compound consisting of repeating units of a single biologically produced molecule, either straight chain or branched, e.g. amylose, amylopectin and cellulose.

Biotechnology :

The application of biological science to the production, modification or processing of materials. It encompasses long-established activities such as traditional plant and animal breeding, brewing, bread-making and effluent treatment, and the more modern techniques of genetic modification and the use of fermentation technology for the production of some novel protein foods. 

Boiled :

Having been cooked in boiling water (or, by extension, by steaming, as in 'boil-in-the-bag').

Chilled food :

Perishable food which, to extend the time during which it remains wholesome, is kept within a specified range of temperature usually between 2 and 8 degC.

Chilled food chain :

The sequence of temperature controlled operations after initial harvesting, and including chilled transport, cooling during and after production, chilled storage, distribution and retailing, through to domestic storage until preparation for final consumption.

Comercial Sterility :
A sterile product is one free from viable microorganisms, i.e. those capable of reproducing under optimum conditions for growth. 'Commercial sterility' is a term commonly used in the canning industry meaning the condition achieved by the application of heat sufficient to render the processed product free from viable microorganisms (including those of known public health significance), capable of growing in the food under normal non-refrigerated temperatures at which the food is likely to be held during distribution and storage.

Controlled atmosphere packaging :
A procedure whereby residual air in a food pack is replaced by a gas such as nitrogen or carbon dioxide, in order to minimise deteriorative changes on storage. An example is the packaging of peanuts in an atmosphere of nitrogen to inhibit rancidity.

Convenience food :

A manufactured product requiring little or no preparation (other than heating, diluting or dissolving in water, where appropriate) before consumption.

Cooked :
Having been subjected to a heating process sufficient to render the food suitable for consumption.

Critical control point :
Any point in a specific food system where loss of control may result in an unacceptable risk.

Crude fibre :
The structural component of the plant cell wall being the residue obtained after consecutive acid and alkali digestion of a food or food material.

Dairy :
When used as a descriptive term for food, refers exclusively to milk and milk products.

Dairy-free (Non-dairy) :
A description that may be applied to a food that is free from milk products and also from milk derivatives such as lactose, caseinate and whey powder.

Dehydrated (food) :

Food or food products from which all but a small percentage of the water has been removed under controlled conditions.

Designer food(s) :
See Functional Foods and Marketing Terms.

Disinfection :

The application of effective chemical or physical agents or processes to a cleaned surface or to a water supply to reduce the number of microorganisms to a level consistent with good hygiene practice.

Dietary fibre :
In scientific terms, dietary fibre is a mixture of components derived from plant cell wall material and non-structural polysaccharides, as well as non-starch polysaccharides added to foods. It includes non-digestible polysaccharides such as cellulose, hemicelluloses, gums, pectins, mucilages and lignin. From a nutrition point of view, some authorities also include 'resistant starch' (i.e. starch that is resistant to enzymic degradation, usually as a result of processing).

Emulsion :

A term descriptive of a food or food material consisting of a stable blend of two or more otherwise immiscible liquids, usually an oil and an aqueous phase, achieved by appropriate physical means and usually with the incorporation of emulsifying and stabilising agents.

Enriched :

See "fortified foods"

Fast Food :

This term is not descriptive of food per se, but categorises a type of catering outlet, providing, within seconds of being ordered, counter delivery of freshly-prepared food items capable of being eaten without cutlery. This delivery is mainly dependent on scheduling based on accurate anticipation of fluctuating demand, a production system and staff capable of keeping pace with it, and sufficient counter servers to minimise queuing. Because some foods (e.g. burgers) have lent themselves more readily to this type of operation, the term has come to be applied to them too.

Fermentation :

The process of chemical change in animal or plant material, catalysed by enzymes of biological origin. It may be intended, as in brewing of beer or vinegar, or unintended and undesirable, as in food spoilage.

Fermented (food) :

Food material having been subjected to fermentation

Fibre :
Sometimes used synonymously with "dietary fibre"

Flavour/flavoured :

The term 'flavour' may have reference to sensory quality of a food as perceived by a combination of smell and taste. Alternatively, 'flavour' is as a material used to impart odour, taste or both to a food.

Food :

The Codex Alimentarius defines 'food' as "any substance, whether processed, semi processed or raw, which is intended for human consumption and includes drink, chewing gum and any substance which has been used in the manufacture, preparation or treatment of food, but does not include cosmetics or tobacco or substances only used as drugs".

Food hygiene :
All environmental factors, practices, processes and precautions involved in protecting food from contamination by any agency, and preventing any organism present from multiplying to an extent that would expose consumers to risk or result in premature spoilage or decomposition of food.

Fortified (food) :

Three separate circumstances may be defined: Restored, enriched, and fortified foods, as described here:

a. Restore
The addition of nutrients to foods in order to restore the level of those nutrients that were originally present, but have been destroyed or lost in processing.

b. Enrich
The addition to a food of one or more nutrients which were already present in that food in lower than desirable amounts.

c. Fortify
The addition to a food of significant quantities of a nutrient that was not originally present in that food or was present only in nutritionally insignificant amount.

Fresh : 
The condition of a short shelf-life perishable unprocessed food prior to perceptible evidence of physical, chemical or microbiological change. Fresh is normally applied to unprocessed foods e.g. fresh eggs, fresh meat, showing that they are in their original state. It is also used in apparently contradictory terms, e.g. fresh pasteurised cream to distinguish it from more highly processed sterilised cream.

Functional :

Fulfilling a specific physical, chemical or biological function.

Functional food(s) :

The term is to categories foods which are considered or claimed to offer specific health benefits while avoiding the requirement to be licensed medicines

Genetic modification :
The process of making changes to the genes of an organism (whether an animal or plant organism or a microorganism). Genetic changes occur spontaneously in nature over a long period of time, but they may be produced intentionally either by traditional methods of selective breeding of animals and plants, or by modern methods of removal or insertion of genes. The latter method involves four basic steps;
1. the DNA of a cell of the donor organism is broken down and the pieces separated;
2. the desired gene is selected;
3. that gene is copied many times; and
4. nth generation laboratory copies (not the donor's original genes) are then inserted into the DNA of the receiver organism.
'Within-species' genetic modification is essentially similar to traditional breeding methods (except that it is much speedier and much less haphazard). Through 'trans-species' modification, results are obtainable that could not be obtained by traditional breeding methods. In relation to food, the potential scientific benefits of genetic modification are:
1. Improved agricultural performance (yields) with reduced use of pesticides
2. Ability to grow crops in inhospitable environments (e.g. via increased ability of plants to grow in conditions of drought, salinity and extremes of temperature
3. Delayed ripening, permitting improvements in quality and processing advantages. 
4. Altered sensory attributes of food (e.g. flavour, texture, etc.)
5. Improved nutritional attributes e.g. combatting anti-nutritive and allergenic factors, and increased Vitamin A content in rice.
6. Improved processing characteristics leading to reduced waste and lower food costs to the consumer.
Genuine :
'Genuine' in connection with foods means an authentic type or source. It serves to distinguish ingredients which might otherwise be synthetic (e.g. 'vanilla ice cream, made with genuine vanilla') or it may establish the origin or type of a food (e.g. genuine Manzanilla olives, genuine Italian olive oil).

'Good manufacturing practice' (GMP) is that part of a food control operation aimed at ensuring that products are consistently manufactured to a specified quality appropriate to their intended use. It thus has two complementary and interacting components; the manufacturing operation itself and the control system and procedures.


Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) is a preventive system of food control. It involves

1. Hazard analysis - examining and analysing every stage of a food-related operation to identify and assess hazards (q.v., below);
2. determining the 'critical control points' (q.v., above) at which action is required to control the identified hazards;
3. establishing the critical limits that must be met at each critical control point;
4. establishing monitoring procedures;
5. establishing corrective procedures when a deviation is identified by monitoring;
6. establishing verification procedures to demostrate that it is working correctly.
7. Establishing record-keeping and documentation.


Hazard and Operability Studies (HAZOP) is a systematic structured approach to questioning the sequential stages of a proposed operation in order to optimise the efficiency and the management of risk. Thus, the application of HAZOP to the design of a proposed food-related operation, should result in a system in which as many critical control points as possible have been eliminated, making the subsequent application of HACCP during subsequent operations much easier to carry out.

Hazard :

Any intrinsic property of a system, operation, material or situation that could, in certain circumstances, lead to an adverse consequence. In food terms, this particularly refers to an adverse consequence (health risk or loss by spoilage) to the consumer.

Health food :

This is essentially a marketing term, the meaning of which has never been clear. There is no legal basis and no evident objective justification for the term, which implies a superiority over foods not so described.

Hermetically sealed container :
Strictly, an 'hermetically sealed container' is one that is sealed so as to be air-tight. Commercially sterile food products may be packed in non-metallic containers that are not completely air-tight. In the latter context, an 'hermetically sealed container' has been defined as one that is designed and intended to be secure against entry of microorganisms.

Home made :

This term has no defined meaning but it implies that a food has been prepared on a small scale, either on domestic premises or premises not associated with large scale manufacture.

Improved :
Primarily a marketing term, and sometimes used in conjunction with 'new', it may cover a wide variety of circumstances, including minor cosmetic changes, cost-cutting changes, and formulation changes to make the product more acceptable to purchasers. It is the latter case that most properly justifies the use of the term.

Instant :
This term is strictly justified only in the cases of dry powders or mixes which rehydrate instantly, i.e. in a matter of a few seconds (e.g. instant coffee, instant tea) and should be reserved for such speedy action. By extension, however, the term has sometimes been misused by applying it to dry mix products which rehydrate faster than some others but still take a few minutes rather than a few seconds.
Irradiated :
Having been subjected to ionising radiation.
Isotonic :
A term applied to a liquid product, e.g. a drink, having osmotic properties approximating to those of blood serum, i.e. 280 milli-osmoles per kg.
Junk Food :
This term has no specific meaning. It is an invented label which has, for example, been applied indiscriminately to all fast food and all snack foods. It has also been applied to any food high in fat and/or sugar (and so in calories) but low in other nutrients.
Light/Lite :
These terms are used to signify a lower energy or lower fat version of a particular food. That would imply at least 25% reduction of the norm, but some opinion holds that it should mean at least 50% reduction.
Low calorie/low energy :
A description which may be applied to foods which, when ready for consumption, have an energy value no greater than 167 kJ (40 kcal) per 100 g
Manufacture :
The complete cycle of production of a food product from the acquisition of all materials, through all stages of subsequent processing, packaging and storage, to the despatch of the finished product.
Meat :
'Meat' means the flesh, including fat and the skin, rind, gristle and sinew in amounts naturally associated with the flesh, of any animal or bird which is normally used for human consumption. 
Natural :
(a) to describe single foods of a traditional nature to which nothing has been added and which have been subjected only to such processing as to render them suitable for human consumption.; (b) to describe food ingredients obtained from recognised food sources, and which meet the criteria in (a); (c) to describe flavouring substances or permitted food additives obtained from recognised food sources by appropriate physical processes or traditional food preparation processes.

Natural flavouring :
a 'natural' flavouring may be obtained from vegetable or animal material by enzymatic or microbiological methods as well as physical ones

Nature-Identical :
a term applied to flavouring substances or mixtures thereof that have been synthesised or isolated from aromatic raw materials but are chemically identical with substances found in natural products used for human consumption - in the US this is otherwise known as "Artificial flavor".

New :
Primarily a marketing term, and sometimes used in conjunction with 'improved', it may cover a wide variety of circumstances, ranging from a minor formulation or packaging change from a previously marketed product.

Novel (food, process) :
Food or food ingredients produced from raw material that has not hitherto been used (or has been used only to a small extent) for human consumption in the area of the world, or that is produced by a new or extensively modified process not previously used in the production of food.
Nutraceutical :
See Functional food.
Organic :
Organic food can be defined as "the product of a farming system which avoids the use of man-made fertilisers, pesticides, growth regulators and livestock feed additives. Instead the system relies on crop rotation, animal and plant manures, some hand weeding and biological pest control".
Organic processed foods are labelled depending on the proportion of organic ingredients present:
* Category 1: Product contains a minimum of 95% organic ingredients by weight. Product can be labelled 'Organic' eg Organic Cornflakes
* Category 2: Product contains 70 - 95% organic ingredients by weight. Product can be labelled 'Made with
Organic Ingredients' eg Tomato Ketchup made with Organic Tomatoes.
Original :
This adjective may be justified in respect of a well established product, to distinguish it from subsequent variants marketed by the manufacturer. 
Probiotic :
a live microbial preparation, either as a food or animal feed, which can benefit the host through restoring its intestinal microbial balance. The microorganisms most commonly involved as probiotics are the Lactobacilli, Bifidobacteria, Streptococci and some yeasts and moulds. Probiotic preparations may have one or a mixture of organisms of various genera, species, sub-species or strains, and may take a variety of physical forms.

Processed :
Having been subjected to treatment designed to change one or more of the properties (physical, chemical, microbiological, sensory) of food.
Processing aid :
A processing aid is an additive which facilitates processing without significantly influencing the character or
properties of the finished product. Examples would be a tablet release agent used to coat the inside of tablet moulds, or a spray used to allow bread to be released from baking tins or trays. If an anti-caking agent is added to a powder ingredient to facilitate its flow properties while being conveyed to a mixer, where it is incorporated into a liquid product or a dough for baking, the anti-caking agent is used solely as a processing aid, and hence need not be declared. If however, that powder ingredient is directly packed into containers for sale as such, or is incorporated in a dry mix product, the anti-caking agent is not acting solely as a processing aid and must be declared as an additive.
Pure :

This word is used as a marketing term, and is usually applied to a single ingredient with no additions, e.g. pure vegetable oil, pure orange juice, whether in the form of a single ingredients food or when used as a major ingredient of a compound food.
Quality :
Quality may refer to (a) the degree or standard of excellence; or (b) the fitness for purpose; or (c) the consistency of attainment of the specified properties of the food. In the context of food control, it is meaning (c) that applies.
In the earliest or primary state, after harvesting or slaughter, not having been subjected to any treatment apart from cleaning, size grading or size reduction, (e.g. diced raw vegetables, raw minced beef).
Real :
A marketing term, used normally to emphasise the presence of an authentic ingredient in a product, as distinct from a substitute (e.g. biscuits with a real chocolate coating).
Re-formed :
'Re-formed' meat is an artefact having the appearance of a cut, joint, slice or portion of meat, formed by combining pieces of meat which have undergone processes generally including tumbling or massaging or specific alignment of fibres, with or without the addition of finely comminuted meat and/or meat emulsion, and then forming in moulds or into shapes.
Restore :
See Fortified (foods).

Risk :
The probability that a particular adverse consequence results from a hazard within a stated time under stated conditions. "Risk assessment" should take account of both the probability of occurrence and its seriousness if it occurs.

Risk Analysis :

This comprises risk assessment, risk management and risk communication. Risk assessment requires expertise both in the product or process in which the risk has been identified, and in modern risk assessment techniques. While experts also have a responsibility to contribute to risk management. Consultation is part of the process of risk communication, which should take place both before and after risk management.

Selected :
Primarily a marketing term, implying superior quality. It should not be used unless it can be substantiated that the product quality has been enhanced by an actual selection process.

Sensory :
Relating to the use of the sense organs.

Snack :
A small quantity of food, eaten informally between, or in place of main meals.
Snackfood (Snack food) :

A convenient food item specifically manufactured for use as a snack.

Spoilage :
Any perceivable change undergone by a food, through any cause, that renders it unwholesome or unacceptable for use. Spoilage is usually the result of enzyme or microbial action resulting, for example, in lipolytic rancidity, putrefaction, fermentation, or mould growth; but food can also spoil by other means, for example overlong storage, non-enzymic browning, or exposure to air or light. In practice the term is most frequently applied to categorising such deteriorative changes (other than food infection or intoxication) when caused by microorganisms.
Steak :
Steak has been taken to mean a cut or thick slice from the beef animal.
Traditional :
One way of defining 'traditional' in relation to foods and food processes is to say it is the opposite of 'new' or 'modern'. It can also be applied to a particular characteristic of a food; for example 'traditional flavour', 'made in the traditional way'.

Unadulterated :
A food material containing no additions or contaminants foreign to the normal product which otherwise would debase it or confer or disguise inferior quality.

Wholefood :
Any food which contains all its naturally occurring components, (e.g. pulses, raw vegetables) and without the addition of other substances. A wholefood can be a mixture of wholefoods.

Wholesomeness :
'Wholesomeness' is a convenient single term which embodies a large number of aspects and attributes of a food. In summary, a wholesome food is one that satisfactorily meets the expectations of the segment of consumers at which it is aimed; and that has been made, stored and handled in compliance with any relevant legislative standards and with all of the principles of good manufacturing practice.

When used in the labelling, advertising or description of a food, the main (and sometimes total) role of the terms listed under this heading is to promote the sale of the product rather than provide necessary information to the purchaser. Terms often falling into this category include 'health food', 'designer food', 'functional food', 'improved', 'natural', 'new', 'pure', 'quality', 'selected', 'traditional'.

Author : Paul King

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