The foods that we eat are rarely if ever sterile, they carry microbial associations whose composition depends upon which organisms gain access and how they grow, survive and interact in the food over time. The micro-organisms present will originate from the natural micro-flora of the raw material and those organisms introduced in the course of harvesting/slaughter, processing, storage and distribution (see Chapters 2 and
The numerical balance between the various types will be determined by the properties of the food, its storage environment, properties of the organisms themselves and the effects of processing. These factors are discussed in more detail in Chapters 3 and 4. In most cases this microflora has no discernible effect and the food is consumed without objection and with no adverse consequences. In some instances though, micro-organisms manifest their presence in one of several ways:
From the earliest times, storage of stable nuts and grains for winter provision is likely to have been a feature shared with many other animals but, with the advent of agriculture, the safe storage of surplus production assumed greater importance if seasonal growth patterns were to be used most effectively. Food preservation techniques based on sound, if then unknown, microbiological principles were developed empirically to arrest or retard the natural processes of decay.
The staple foods for most parts of the world were the seeds – rice, wheat, sorghum, millet, maize, oats and barley – which would keep for one or two seasons if adequately dried, and it seems probable that most early methods of food preservation depended largely on water activity reduction in the form of solar drying, salting, storing in concentrated sugar solutions or smoking over a fire.