Spices are what give food personality and life. Merely smelling them awakens the senses. The spices used in a restaurant’s or commercial facility’s foods are essential to branding. When the moisture content and water activity within spices are not ideal, the ingredients experience quality losses and become vulnerable to spoilage and contamination. By having proper humidity for food facilities and understanding the effects of poor storage, you’ll better ensure that your operation offers customers the most flavorful and safest ingredients.
The Importance of Environmental Controls
As spices age, they naturally lose the essential oils within them. This loss of oils leads to flavor losses. The three biggest threats to spices are light, humidity and oxygen. Light is particularly damaging to dried leafy herbs and pigmented spices, such as turmeric or saffron. When photosensitive elements in spices are exposed to light, they begin to oxidize and break down.
Dry spices absorb moisture in the air. Moisture leads to changes in weight and flavor. When ground spices absorb moisture, they often become lumpy and hard, making them more difficult to incorporate into foods well. Moisture also poses a health hazard as it promotes mold growth, which spoils spices. While many types of mold aren’t harmful, some produce mycotoxins that are genotoxic, carcinogenic or are responsible for food-borne illnesses. Best practices to prevent contaminating foods with dangerous mold and bacteria include humidity control solutions and regular sampling and analysis of stored spices to determine water activity and microorganism levels.
Exposing spices to oxygen, particularly at high temperatures, results in the oxidation of essential oils. Studies found that ground spices are more vulnerable to oxidation because more of the surface is exposed to the elements.
Humidity Control for Food Facilities: Tips for Storing Spices
- Store spices in an area that’s cool, dark and dry. The ideal location is in an area away from refrigeration units, steam and cooking elements. In a restaurant, for example, do not keep spices on a shelf above a grill or sink.
- Minimize light infiltration and slow the oxidation process by storing spices in dark-colored containers and in dark areas.
- Use glass containers. Spices stored in glass containers lose less essential oils than those stored in plastic containers.
- Keep spices in airtight glass containers. Studies found that in ideal environmental conditions, whole spices stored in paper bags lost up to 47 percent of their essential oils and powdered spices lose up to 90 percent in five years. Those kept in airtight containers in a dark area only lost up to 5 percent of their essential oils, regardless of if they were powdered or whole.
- Use a dry spoon or scoop to remove spices from a container.
- Prevent moisture intrusion by not sprinkling spices into a hot or steaming pot directly from its storage container.
Ever since humans learned to cook, spices have had essential roles in civilizations. Because humidity control for food facilities isn’t always simple, Polygon designs custom humidity control solutions to keep food storage, preparation and processing areas at ideal temperatures and relative humidity levels. These solutions maintain optimal environmental conditions, increase worker productivity, and help save energy by reducing the load on the facility’s HVAC system. Get in touch with Polygon to learn more about humidity control for your operation.
[Photo from JD Hancock via CC License 2.0]