How to develop and validate cooking instructions
Most UK adults ‘always’ or ‘often’ use on-pack cooking instructions, so how can food companies ensure they consistently deliver satisfactory outcomes?
Cooking instructions play a vital role in the microbiological safety of food and ensure products deliver optimum taste, appearance, and mouthfeel. We recently surveyed more than 2,000 UK adults to discover how they engage with cooking instructions. Findings indicate that most people follow them rigorously.
Our survey also revealed that 79% of UK adults never or rarely use a temperature probe to check that food is properly cooked. This further underlines the importance of reliable cooking instructions. The British Retail Consortium (BRC) Global Food Safety Standard specifically states that “where cooking instructions are provided to ensure product safety, they shall be fully validated to ensure that when the product is cooked according to the instructions, a safe, ready-to-eat product is consistently produced”.
From calibration to validation
So how are cooking instructions developed and validated? A science-led approach is required, with expert calibration of equipment and a robust testing protocol. Multiple cooking trials are conducted, with each step refined until safety and quality standards are consistently achieved. At this point, the final method is repeated multiple times to prove its validity.
What does ‘safe’ look like?
Food Standards Agency (FSA) advice is to cook food until it has reached >70°C and holds temperature for two minutes. However, other equivalent time and temperature combinations may be used e.g. 75°C for 30 seconds. Temperature can be measured post-cook or in-cook (i.e. during the cooking process). The latter helps determine minimum cook times, which can be useful for products such as fish which are sensitive to overcooking, or to minimise energy use.
How is equipment calibrated?
Whether cooking trials involve thermal or fan ovens, microwave ovens, air fryers, deep fat fryers, hobs, or grills, ensuring consistency is vital. All measuring equipment (e.g. balances and thermocouples) must be calibrated and cooking appliances must be performance checked. Staff should be trained to ensure they can generate true results, and test samples must represent final products in terms of weight, ingredient composition and packaging.
The cooking instruction validation process
Ultimately, cooking trials will land on an optimum time and temperate combination, along with any additional steps such as stirring or shaking during cooking. At this stage, the entire cooking process must be repeated several times to validate the results, with outcomes properly documented. Then the final instructions can be written with care taken to ensure they are simple, concise, and unambiguous.
A science-led approach is key
A robust approach to cooking instructions development accounts for potential variability in domestic settings. This ensures “a safe, ready-to-eat product is consistently produced”, as per BRC requirements. Individual retailers may have their own policies and protocols, but good science is always critical. Checking and calibrating cooking equipment is an important aspect of this, to ensure true values are given. Validation through multiple tests gives added assurance that the instructions repeatably deliver food that is safe and of optimal quality.
UKAS accredited methods
At Leatherhead Food Research we conduct more than 15,000 cooking trials per year. Testing is conducted using UKAS accredited methods. We were the first cooking instructions provider with United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS) accreditation for thermal oven, microwave oven, grill, hob, deep fat fryer, defrost and in cook temperature measuring (testing lab no 9365). In August 2022, we added air fryers to our UKAS-accredited cooking instruction generation and verification services. All microwave testing uses a fixed voltage supply for consistent microwave power. Find out how we can help with cooking instruction generation and validation.