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Food Culture

(last updated: May 2015)

Definition of Food Cultures (FC)

Food Cultures (FC) are safe[1] live bacteria, yeasts or moulds used in food production, and they are in themselves a characteristic food ingredient.

Food Cultures (FC) preparations are formulations, consisting of concentrates (> 108 CFU/g or ml) of one or more live and active microbial species and/or strains including unavoidable media components carried over from the fermentation and components, which are necessary for their survival, storage and to facilitate their application in the food production process, and are in some cases standardized to a low count with carriers.

FC includes, but is not limited to  the  terms ; starter cultures, dairy starter, yogurt starters, ripening cultures, meat cultures, sausage starter, protective cultures, wine cultures, malolactic cultures, sourdough starter, probiotics, lactic acid bacteria etc.

FC preparations are traditionally used as food ingredients at one or more stages in the food manufacturing process to develop their desired metabolic activity. They contribute to one or multiple unique properties of food stuff especially in regard to flavour, colour, texture, wholesomeness, health and nutritional benefits and food safety through protection and conservation.

Labelling of food with FC[2]

Regulation (EU) 1169/2011 provides the information which shall be included in the labelling of all foodstuffs, in particular giving the exact nature and characteristics of the product which enables the consumer to choose in full knowledge of the facts.

As FCs are defined as characteristic food ingredients they should be listed on the ingredients label of the final food when they are used in the manufacture or preparation of a foodstuff unless exempted by other regulation. It means that FC must be in the list of ingredients under a generally understood category name or in certain cases the specific species and or strain name.
According to Article 19 1(d) of Regulation 1169/2011 cheese, butter, fermented milk or cream are exempted from carrying a list of ingredients if no other ingredient has been added than lactic products, enzymes and microbial cultures essential to manufacture, or the salt needed for the manufacture of cheese.

Multiple functions of Food Cultures (FC)

- Protective cultures are and have always been an integral part of food cultures.
Fermentation is one of the oldest food processing technologies and Food Cultures have traditionally been used to ferment raw materials such as milk, meat, fish, flour, grapes and vegetables to produce safe foods with distinctive organoleptic properties at the same time improving the shelf life and reducing food waste.
Food legislation worldwide has not specifically identified food cultures or their use. Therefore, the European Food and Feed Cultures Association (EFFCA) suggested in 2010 a definition of “Microbial Food Cultures” which has recently been updated. An extract is quoted below. The complete definition can be found here (EFFCA).
Food Cultures (FC) are safe live bacteria, yeasts or moulds used in food production, and they are in themselves a characteristic food ingredient.
FC includes, but is not limited to the terms; starter cultures, dairy starter, yogurt starters, ripening cultures, meat cultures, sausage starter, protective cultures, wine cultures, malolactic cultures, sourdough starter, probiotics, lactic acid bacteria etc. FC preparations are traditionally used as food ingredients at one or more stages in the food manufacturing process to develop their desired metabolic activity. They contribute to one or more unique properties of the food stuff especially in regard to flavour, colour, texture, wholesomeness, health and nutritional benefits and food safety through protection and conservation.
These unique properties of the fermented food stuff are the results of the presence of FC in food and of their metabolism. Through metabolism, FC
- consume nutrients, setting up a complex system of competition for nutrients and binding sites
- produce metabolites like organic acids, hydrogen peroxide, volatile or low molecular weight compounds (such as ketones and aldehydes) or peptides (eg some bacteriocins) some of which exert inhibitory effect towards other micro-organisms.
The application of FC constitutes among other functions an additional measure to improve food hygiene by outcompeting unwanted micro-organisms and is therefore complementary to good manufacturing practices. In conclusion, inhibition along with other properties of FC is a natural consequence of FC metabolism in food which has been used traditionally worldwide.

 

 

 

 

[1] Bourdichon, F. et al. Bulletin of the IDF No. 455/2012 - Safety Demonstration of Microbial Food Cultures (MFC) in Fermented Food Products page 1-66

[2] Herody, C., Soyeux, Y., Hansen, E. B., Gillies, K. European Food and Feed Law Review, 5, 2010 - The Legal Status of Microbial Food Cultures in the European Union: An Overview page 258-269