Water based chutneys and sauces served at the food establishments need to be processed and handled hygienically according to the food safety standards to ensure – they are safe for the consumers. Chutneys and Sauces are High Risk Foods as these are made of raw foods like fruits or vegetables like tomatoes, green onions and peppers; they can easily become contaminated with harmful bacteria.
Fresh chutney and sauce ingredients like green chilli, coriander, mint or raw mangoes must be thoroughly washed and cleaned. Personal hygiene and cleanliness of knives, chopping boards and grinders is very important as these chutneys are not cooked. Once prepared, they must be refrigerated if they are not being consumed immediately.
Water activity and pH level in chutneys and sauces
Chutneys and sauces that are made for longer use must be processed properly even though they are naturally ‘preserved’ by acidity levels of these foods. Fruits have natural acids but to lower the pH level (acidity level) to about 4.6, vinegar or other acids are used. Low pH levels prevent the growth of bacteria, moulds and yeasts and other contaminants. Water activity is the water that is found in food which can cause bacterial growth. Chutneys and sauces that have water activity of less than 0.85 (vapor pressure is 85% of the pure water) are considered safe regardless of the acidity factor as there will be hardly any water to allow the growth of microorganisms. Proper heating also preserves chutneys and sauces and keeps them safe for longer shelf life.
Food Business Operators must follow these FSSAI guidelines to provide consumers with the safe water based sauces and chutneys:
- Wash all fruits and vegetables properly before processing
- Use only clean and disinfected chopping boards, grinding stones or mixing machines
- Ensure personal hygiene of food handlers
- Use only safe and potable water in the chutneys
- Use only permitted food additives when required and they should be added in the recommended quantities only
- Discard spoiled products that show signs of spoilage like change in colour, texture or odour
- Store sauces and chutneys in fully intact glass or food grade plastic containers with proper lids
- Refrigerate chutneys and sauces when they are not being used
- Consume immediately those chutneys that are perishable or are not cooked
Moisture and oxygen are two factors that encourage the growth of bacteria and hence they must be reduced to minimum levels possible in sauces and chutneys that are being stored.