How to develop and validate cooking instructions

Most UK adults ‘always’ or ‘often’ use on-pack cooking instructions, so how can food companies ensure they consistently deliver satisfactory outcomes?

Cooking instructions play a vital role in the microbiological safety of food and ensure products deliver optimum taste, appearance, and mouthfeel. We recently surveyed more than 2,000 UK adults to discover how they engage with cooking instructions. Findings indicate that most people follow them rigorously.

Our survey also revealed that 79% of UK adults never or rarely use a temperature probe to check that food is properly cooked. This further underlines the importance of reliable cooking instructions. The British Retail Consortium (BRC) Global Food Safety Standard specifically states that “where cooking instructions are provided to ensure product safety, they shall be fully validated to ensure that when the product is cooked according to the instructions, a safe, ready-to-eat product is consistently produced”.

From calibration to validation

So how are cooking instructions developed and validated? A science-led approach is required, with expert calibration of equipment and a robust testing protocol. Multiple cooking trials are conducted, with each step refined until safety and quality standards are consistently achieved. At this point, the final method is repeated multiple times to prove its validity.

What does ‘safe’ look like?

Food Standards Agency (FSA) advice is to cook food until it has reached >70°C and holds temperature for two minutes. However, other equivalent time and temperature combinations may be used e.g. 75°C for 30 seconds. Temperature can be measured post-cook or in-cook (i.e. during the cooking process). The latter helps determine minimum cook times, which can be useful for products such as fish which are sensitive to overcooking, or to minimise energy use.

How is equipment calibrated?

Whether cooking trials involve thermal or fan ovens, microwave ovens, air fryers, deep fat fryers, hobs, or grills, ensuring consistency is vital. All measuring equipment (e.g. balances and thermocouples) must be calibrated and cooking appliances must be performance checked. Staff should be trained to ensure they can generate true results, and test samples must represent final products in terms of weight, ingredient composition and packaging...continue reading.

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