Pepper Microbiological Contamination

Pepper Microbiological Contamination
by John Thug

The traditional methods used in the preparation of black and white pepper result in heavy contamination by micro-organisms, and the levels found are among the highest recorded for commonly used spices (Yesair and Williams, 1942; Strong et al., 1963; Volkova, 1971; Kirshnaswamy et al., 1971; Kormendy, 1973; Julseth and Deibel, 1974). However, no Salmonella or other types of very dangerous organisms have been detected.

The washing and re-drying procedure employed to reduce microbiological contamination is also effective in removing most of the surface insect contamination. In cases of serious infestation, fumigation with methyl bromide and ethylene dibromide has been reported to be successful. Storage and handling recommendations for black and white pepper.

White pepper is prepared from fully ripe, decorticated and dried peppercorns. Harvesting is not undertaken until the berries become bright red; but considerable experience is required in judging the optimum time since undue delay can result in losses from fruit drop and birds.

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The traditional method of preparing the spice was devised in Indonesia. After harvesting, the ripe berries are detached from the spikes and are tightly packed into gunny bags. The bags are then allowed to soak in slow-running water, usually a stream, for between one and two weeks. During this operation, a bacterial retting process occurs which loosens the pericarp from the core of the fruit. The time required for retting is largely dependent upon the state of ripeness of the fruit: fully ripe fruit require a shorter period than fruit harvested when just commencing to turn red. The water used in this operation should be as clear as possible to prevent discoloration of the cores.

On receipt in the importing countries, washing and re-drying the spice may be repeated if contamination is noticeable. (This practice is standard prior to grinding.) The pepper should be stored away from direct sunlight at moderate temperatures and at a low humidity to prevent subsequent deterioration. Whole pepper can be stored under controlled conditions without serious deterioration for a considerable period. More stringent conditions are necessary with the crushed or ground spice and this type of material should be kept in sealed containers to avoid caking and excessive volatile-oil loss.

Sun-drying can take several days to reduce the moisture content to 10-15 per cent and to achieve a cream or white colour. A simple test for the completion of drying involves applying pressure to the peppercorn: if insufficiently dry, it will split into two whereas when throughly dry it. will crumble into small pieces. Approximately 25 kg of dried pepper is obtained from 100 kg of ripe, fresh fruits.

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