Who (or what) is F.A.T.T.O.M?
F.A.T.T.O.M sounds like I’m calling someone “Tom as a fat person”. Which would be rude of me. But, F.A.T.T.O.M is a mnemonic device that identifies the basic 6 factors that contribute to food spoilage.
Food Spoilage is any change to the food that causes it to become either unpalatable or not good for consumption.
The real danger occurs from certain bacteria called pathogens, which are the ones that cause food poisoning. These organisms don’t produce any smell, discoloration, or any other changes you can detect with your senses. You won’t even know they’re there until you start to feel nauseous or crampy or sick.
Since you can’t see, smell, or sense these bacteria, it’s important to store and handle your food in a way that minimizes the opportunities for them to grow.
That is where the FATTOM comes in.
Food rich in protein and carbohydrate is more easily contaminated and have a lesser shelf life when compared to other food. Which clearly means bacteria and pathogens thrive on this food. These are the foods we consider “perishable,” which means they need to be kept in the fridge or freezer or preserved by curing, salting, and pickling.
Examples: eggs, rice, fish, meat, seafood.
pH level is a measurement and intensity of acidity and alkalinity of the food. The lower range 0–7 is considered as acidic, while the range between 7 and above are considered as alkaline. Water is considered to be neutral, with a pH value of 7. Foodborne bacterias and pathogens prefer a pH level of 3.5 to 7. Anything lower than pH 4 inhibits the growth of bacteria. Hence, products like milk or fresh cheese or non-preserved butter tend to get spoiled quickly and have a lesser shelf life.
Also, here comes the twist, when protein- and carbohydrate-rich food are exposed to contamination, their components will turn acidic, which in turn makes them dangerously inedible.
Example:- Vinegar and any citric juices have a pH level ranging between 2 to 2.5, jams of a pH level 3.5. to 4, Ketchup pH level is 3.5 to 4. Any food with a pH lower than 4.5, need not be stored in the chiller or refrigerator. This is a pickling technique, where the food content is immersed in vinegar, salt solution, or any citrus solution.
Every food is meant to get spoiled someday and each of these has its own validity period. These validity periods will majorly depend on the preservation technique, storage, and handling aspects. The difference is here is with preserved food its months or years, whereas with perishable food it is an hourly basis.
For instance, perishable food like fresh seafood can be kept at room temperature for two hours in the aggregate. Meaning if you leave it out for an hour and then put it back in the fridge, that food can still only be out of the fridge for another hour altogether. It doesn’t start over with a fresh two hours and make any difference. This speaks about the validity of the product-in whichever way you try to store or preserve a product like milk or bread, their shelf life period will remain the same.
For instance, cooked food should be consumed within 2.5 hours after preparation. Leaving it under ambient conditions may increase the microbial load.
Bacteria reproduce very rapidly under normal circumstances. They do so by multiplying themselves, which they can do several times an hour. Ensuring perishable items should not be left out for more than two hours which encourages the bacteria’s ability to reproduce. This is important because it’s not just the bacteria themselves that can make you sick. In some cases, it’s also the toxins they produce. You might kill the bacteria by cooking them, but those dangerous toxins will still be present.
One must understand that the Time and Temperature factors go hand-in-hand. Danger Zone Temperature is the temperature where most of the bacteria and foodborne pathogens survive and thrive (5C to 65C- mostly the ambient or the room temperature).
An example is that any gravy or side dish when not served hot, but at ambient, can notice the change in its taste and flavor, also easily prone to get spoilt quickly. Hence, if you see in a buffet counter, the food is kept on a Bain-Marie at a minimum of 65 C for veg and a minimum of 70 C for non-veg. Higher the temperature, the bacteria gets killed. Killing bacteria is a very effective technique for preventing them from reproducing. Hence cooking any food above 65 C, is an ideal temperature to kill these bacteria. The same goes with sanitizing the produce with hot water that can harness the growth of the bacteria.
Microorganisms breathe oxygen too!
The perishable food is to be stored in an airtight container. Any fruit or vegetable, after their skin is removed or peeled, immediately must be consumed or cooked. As they are severely exposed to the air and turn completely black- an example being an apple, potatoes, cucumbers. They lose their vitamins and tend to spoil quickly.
Bacteria multiply in high-moisture conditions, therefore both raw and cooked food has to be stored in dry places. Any food with higher water content, tend to spoil quickly than the dry product. Hence, the cooked food never last beyond 24 hours, or even for that instance, vegetables that have higher moisture content like tomatoes, ladies finger, spoil quickly.
Another example is when we store a dry product in a wet container. the dry product will be contaminated and one can notice mold or fungal growth on them.