The range of foods: a international classification

Foods can be classified in many ways considering different parameters. Ranges is one way. Organising foods into ranges is an unofficial means of international food classification which divides foods into six ranges: I, II, III, IV, V and VI. To do so, different factors are taken into account such as food safety, food shelf life, as well as the way the food is processed and preserved.

Therefore, dividing food into ranges is a very useful tool for understanding the complexity of the food system in which there are currently six groups.

 

Range I: Fresh foods

Range I corresponds to fresh foods. These are all foods which have not been subjected to thermal treatment or pasteurisation, nor require packaging in a controlled atmosphere. Also included in this first range are foods that have undergone processes such as dehydration, fermentation or salting. Likewise, range I foods may have been subject to some type of processing such as washing, peeling, dicing or packaging.

All of them are sold at room temperature or refrigerated between 0 and 6 degrees and, in most cases, they are perishable products. When eating them, precautions must be taken as they are considered raw products. They must be cooked or, when it comes to fruits and vegetables, they must be washed.

Examples: fresh fruits and vegetables; meat products, fish, eggs, rice, pasta, legumes, dehydrated products, cheese and fermented dairy products.

 

 

Range II: Preserved foods

Range II corresponds to preserved or “tinned” foods. Packaging is fundamental for this group as the development of industrial tins has made it possible to extend the shelf life of many foods. Thus, all the properties can remain intact for months and even years. Besides tins, these foods can be found in other types of packaging such as glass jars. In both cases, once hermetically sealed, they’re sterilised in autoclaves.

This second range also includes semi-preserved foods, which are tinned foods that must be stored in refrigerators. Fully preserved foods may be stored at room temperature.

Range II foods are available all year long, and can be immediately consumed. For proper consumption, you just have to pay careful attention to the best by or expiry date.

Examples: tinned fruit in syrup, tinned fish, preserved vegetables and pre-cooked pulses.

 

Range III: Frozen foods

Frozen and deep frozen products, which are sold at less than 0ºC and less than 18ºC, respectively, comprise range III. This includes foods that are frozen when raw as well as those that have been pre-cooked.

In order to preserve the original characteristics of the products, the preparation of third-range foods requires washing the product and freezing it as quickly as possible in addition to maintaining the cold chain. Consumers must also be careful to thaw the products appropriately. Normally this is done in a refrigerator, except when not necessary according to the instructions.

Examples: from frozen animal and plant-based foods to complete dishes that are ready-to-eat after thawing or ready to be cooked after thawing.

 

 

Range IV: Vacuum-packed foods

Range four foods are those that are vacuum-packaged yet not subjected to any type of thermal treatment. They’re raw, meaning their shelf life is short and they must be kept refrigerated.

The manufacturing process for these products includes removing all oxygen, which is responsible for the oxidation that speeds up spoiling. The air in some products is replaced with gases to control deterioration. In these cases, the packaging will indicate they are “in a controlled atmosphere”. They are also habitually subjected to hygiene processes with aqueous solutions containing sodium hypochlorite, hydrogen peroxide or ozone.

Range IV enables offering fresh vegetables ready for consumption, yet which are rather perishable and need refrigeration to remain preserved. Moreover, as they are often diced already, they may spoil faster and there is an increased chance of microorganism growth.

Examples: bags of salad and similar products, such as potatoes, carrots, peppers, and all fruits and vegetables that meet these requirements and are often sold already diced yet always raw.

 

Range V: Pre-prepared foods

The foods in the fifth range have all the characteristics of range II and IV foods since they are vacuum-packed and have been heat processed. They are either sterilised or pasteurised. In this last case, they must be refrigerated and the shelf life is shorter than for sterilised products. These products are prepared, cooked and packaged and ready-to-eat, normally after being heated.

One good way to quickly identify range V foods is the fact they are packaged in glass jars.

Example: pre-cooked pulses (whether alone or combined with other ingredients) and vegetable-based preparations such as soups, broths and creams.

 

Range VI: Dehydrated foods

This sixth range of foods is yet to be defined in the food industry, and has not been as well developed as the others. It includes all partially dehydrated or lyophilised plant-based foods which change in texture from the original raw material. They normally include other ingredients, such as colouring or flavour enhancers.

Partial dehydration and lyophilisation are some of the best preservation strategies, particularly as concerns any possible proliferation of microorganisms. However, it must be kept in mind that after being rehydrated, the product will be as perishable as the original foodstuff.

Examples: texturised soy protein and imitation “spaghetti” produced by lyophilisation and algae texturisation.

 

Range VII: The future

As science and the food industry evolve, it’s quite reasonable to wonder if there is any room for a seventh range of food. A new range is highly likely to come about in order to meet the changing demands in society and in the environment. In any case, the addition of a seventh range would mean revising and updating the current system to take into account all the technological advances and new trends.

This means a possible seventh range could focus on functional foods designed not only to meet basic nutritional needs, but also provide specific health benefits such as a better immune system, digestive health or mental health. Another possibility would be for range VII foods to group together all the foods made with innovative techniques, such as 3D food printing or the use of plant-based ingredients that imitate the texture and flavour of meat.

 

 

 

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