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Open-refrigerated retail display case temperature profile and its impact on product quality and microbiota of stored baby spinach

Liping Kou, Yaguang Luo, David T. Ingram, Shoulei Yan, Wayne M. Jurick
Food control 2015 v.47 pp. 686-692
Food and Drug Administration Food Code, bags, doors, duration, electrolytes, environment, foams, food quality, freezing, fresh-cut produce, insulating materials, microbial growth, microbiological quality, microprocessors, packaging, psychrotrophic bacteria, ready-to-eat foods, refrigeration, refrigerators, sampling, spinach, storage temperature, thermometers, United States
Maintaining proper storage temperature is critical for ensuring the quality and safety of fresh-cut products. The US Food and Drug Administration Food Code recommend that packaged fresh-cut leafy green vegetables be kept no warmer than 5 °C at all times to ensure food safety. Substantial temperature variations, however, within the widely used open refrigerated display cases used in retail stores are known to present the technical challenge of complying with this federal guidance for industry. This study determined the extent of the spatial and temporal temperature variations within two commercial open-refrigerated display cases under different operating conditions, and their impact on the quality and microbial growth of packaged baby spinach products. The packaged products were received within 2 d of commercial processing and temperature data loggers were placed inside-and-outside of each bag. All bags were immediately loaded in the display cases and the overall visual quality, tissue electrolyte leakage, total aerobic mesophilic bacteria and psychrotrophic bacteria were evaluated for each bag. Results from this study showed that the temperature variation in the cases was dependent on spatial location, thermostat setting, and defrost cycle interval and duration of defrost. The largest temperature differentials were found for samples located in the front and back rows of the display cases. Samples located in the front rows had the highest temperature due to heat penetration from the surrounding ambient environment, while those in the back were damaged as temperatures fell below freezing. These products received low quality scores and had higher tissue electrolyte leakage. In order to reduce the large temperature variations in the display cases, insulating foam boards were installed which significantly (P < 0.05) decreased the temperature variation by 3.5 °C and enabled samples in the front rows of the cases to remain less than 5 °C as recommended by the FDA. These results suggest that the quality and safety of packaged ready-to-eat spinach at retail will benefit from improvements in open refrigerated case design or the utilization of insulation, doors or curtains.