How to ensure air fryer cooking instructions deliver consistent food safety and quality

21 December, 2022

Our Head of Cooking Instructions, Natasha Burton, says there are five critical factors to the development of safe and effective on-pack cooking instructions for air fryers.

Air fryers have rapidly become a mainstream domestic device. Research we conducted in September indicates that 30% of UK households own one. Of those that don’t, 22% plan to buy one in the next 12 months. With their increasing popularity, many leading food companies have asked us to develop dedicated on-pack cooking instructions for air fryers over the past three years. We’ve now added air fryers to our UKAS-accredited cooking instruction generation and verification services (UKAS accredited testing laboratory no. 9365).

So, what are the critical factors to bear in mind when developing on-pack instructions for air fryers?

Five tips for air fryer cooking instruction validation

1. Allow for variations between air fryer models

Disparities between air fryer models make things complex, but not impossible. The fundamental goal for validated testing is to achieve a precise temperature across multiple devices then ensure the food specimens are cooked thoroughly in each of them.

As with the development of cooking instructions for gas, electric and fan ovens, or microwaves with different wattages, the testing process needs to account for variability across equipment. Our test kitchen has a wide range of domestic air fryers, and before each testing programme begins, they are calibrated to avoid any discrepancies that might otherwise be caused by wattage, capacity, or dial variations.

2. Evaluate products for compatibility with air fryer baskets

For air fryers to cook food effectively, hot air needs to circulate freely around the product. When it comes to small items like chips, onion rings, fish fingers or meatballs it’s relatively easy to determine the optimum amount to cook at one time. However, our research indicates that air fryer owners are getting more ambitious, with 18% using them to cook whole chickens or joints of meat.

Cooking a larger item in an air fryer can potentially introduce problems because if it touches the sides the air won’t circulate properly. To ensure consumer safety, on-pack cooking instructions need to advise consumers of this risk, explaining that large items may need to be cut into smaller pieces.

The air fryer cooking instructions we develop for food businesses are usually based on cooking chilled or frozen products in a 4 litre model (+/- 0.2L) which is large enough to feed a family of four.

3. Microbial safety is the top priority with air fryer cooking instructions

The UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) suggests that consumers cook food until it has reached at least 70°C and held that temperature for two minutes. While this guidance applies to all foods, it is a critical factor in the safe preparation of raw proteins.

Our accreditation is based on testing time and temperature combinations to ensure the consistent production of safe food using the same cooking instructions across a variety of models. Over the past three years, we’ve developed instructions for chilled and frozen meat and fish products including everything from wings, burgers and meatballs to sausages, steaks and joints. For products where microbial safety could be a concern we err on the side of caution, recommending a slightly longer cooking time if it is on the borderline of the 70°C for two-minutes requirement.

4. Sensory properties of air fried products also need to be factored in

The recent surge in air fryer sales is largely attributed to the cost-of-living crisis, but much of their appeal also relates to the sensory qualities of food prepared in them. Many user reviews focus on the devices’ ability to turn out crispy, crunchy food quickly and with minimal use of oil. However, with battered or breaded products, ‘just’ meeting the 70°C for two-minutes threshold might result in a safe product that comes out soggy. In these situations, a marginal increase to the recommended cooking time can make all the difference.

While the microbial safety of food is the top priority of air fryer cooking instructions, sensory qualities are a close second. This is especially true when we’re testing products such as roast potatoes, hash browns, croquettes and goujons.

5. Take a science-led approach to air fryer cooking instructions validation

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) Global Standard states that where cooking instructions are provided to ensure product safety, they must be fully validated. When the product is cooked according to the instructions, a safe, ready-to-eat product should be consistently produced, and the food company needs to be able to demonstrate that this is the case.

Our test kitchens are fully equipped to undertake scientific product testing using domestic equipment, and our processes ensure consistency is achieved and fully documented. We conduct cooking trials as many times as required to achieve the optimum results. Once the necessary safety parameters and desired sensory characteristics have been reached, the cooking instruction is generated. Then it is verified through repeated tests following the same steps to ensure consistency.

Making air fryer use easy for consumers

Our consumer survey found that 64% of air fryer owners would cook with them more often if more food products came with dedicated on-pack instructions. We’ve certainly seen an increase in food companies approaching us to generate and validate air fryer cooking instructions. Some are looking to ensure entire product ranges can be cooked safely and effectively using these devices.

Once cooking instructions have been tested and validated, it’s important to ensure they are written in an accessible way so that they’re easy for consumers to understand. Any special steps – such as preparing food to fit air fryer baskets and shaking or turning mid-way through cooking – also need to be explained clearly.

Right now, most of the requests we’re receiving for air fryer cooking instructions relate to existing products. However, there is much scope to develop or reimagine products for air fryer compatibility. We’re anticipating a wave of air fryer driven food innovation in the months and years ahead.

More information on our UKAS-accredited cooking instructions services is available here.

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