Air fryer cooking vegetables

Want air fryer cooking instructions on pack? Proceed with caution!

4 November 2022 | David Whittaker, Process Innovation Lead and Greg Hooper, Microwave and Thermal Process Specialist

Why are people using air fryers?

Increasingly popular, air fryers work by circulating hot air around their cooking compartments at speed. The power of the fan in the comparatively small compartment can produce strong air currents and short cook times. Here are just some of the reasons that consumers are turning to these excellent devices:

  • To reduce energy consumption from cooking
  • Potential to reduce pre-heat time and cook time
  • Require less oil / fat than other frying methods (lower calorie / healthier alternatives)
  • Can produce quality and ‘crispness’ comparable to other frying methods
  • Available in a range of sizes / types and can be customised with additional accessories
Vector images of air fryers

So what’s the catch?

In short, variability between different air fryer brands and models.

Despite the popularity and success of air fryers, they present a challenge to the industry with respect to on-pack cooking instructions. Greg Hooper, Instruction Services Manager, and his team have tested a range of air fryer types and models of varying cavity sizes and wattages. The results indicate significant variability in temperature dial accuracy, pre-heat time and required product cooking time.

This makes it difficult to generate, verify and validate ‘one-size-fits-all’ instructions, which if not correct could be a food safety risk to the consumer.

How is this a food safety concern for consumers?

Greg Hooper warned,

We have tested 10 different air fryers and found considerable differences in their ability to safely cook products using one instruction, with different cook times required for the same product when using the same settings. Think of the variability that might be out there with all of the other air fryers that are available!"

He emphasised the potential food safety and quality risks of over and under cooking that could come from attempting to validate instructions for display on pack. This is not to say that air fryers do not work or that they do not cook food safely, but rather that the variable performance currently means it would be challenging to produce a validated instruction that would be guaranteed to work for all air fryers.

But why do we want a “validated” on-pack cooking instruction?

Foods not considered ‘ready-to-eat’ must be heated enough to kill pathogens, so we must ensure that the cooking instruction does not lead to the consumer inadvertently under cooking the product. The BRC Global Standard for Food Safety Clause 5.2.5: Cooking (heating) instruction validation mandates that on-pack cooking instructions be fully verified and validated to ensure the instructions will always deliver the required minimum thermal process.

So can we validate cooking instructions for air fryers?

Currently, it would be a challenge to provide a ‘one-size-fits-all’, validated air fryer cooking instruction for a product. For example, for one frozen burger product we found up to 8 minutes difference in cook time between air fryer models set to 180°C.

So how would you validate a cooking instruction for a frozen burger when we do not yet know the variability of every air fryer on the market? Well, the answer is we can’t without further research.

What services can Campden BRI offer?

Although air fryer cooking instruction validation across the board is difficult, the Instruction Services team at Campden BRI can offer services to support food manufacturers looking to add air fryer instructions. We can provide:

  • Expert advice on air fryer cooking instructions, as well as in depth air fryer testing. Robust scientific rigour is particularly crucial for ready-to-cook products and our service is gold standard for providing this.
  • Consultancy and support on how to approach air fryer cooking instruction development and BRCGS compliance.
  • Recommendations (generation or verification) for air fryer cooking instructions performed using a laboratory procedure that considers the performance of the ten disparate air fryers used in the study detailed in our white paper. The recommended instruction is not guaranteed to be suitable for every possible air fryer design available on the market (it is important that the possible performance variability between air fryers is understood).
  • Bespoke validation / verification services for a specific air fryer model, or selection thereof.

Contact our technical team today to discuss your needs regarding air fryers and ensure that you can take maximum advantage of this consumer trend whilst ensuring the safety of your customers. Air fryer services

Are other companies able to offer instruction validation services?

We recommend scrutinising services offering full air fryer cooking instruction verification or validation at this time. Some suggested points of discussion around any air fryer verification or validation services:

  • Which air fryer models were used in the work and why?
  • Do they account for variability in dial setting across all air fryers?
  • Will the air fryers used be calibrated before use in validation testing (ideally daily)?
  • Have they accounted for variability of heating rate across all air fryers?

We would similarly advise food manufactures performing in-house instruction validation trials to consider these points and speak to us at Campden BRI before undertaking any work.

So how did we manage with microwaves then?

Similar risks manifested in food poisoning cases in the 1990s, which were linked to products cooked in microwave ovens and their differing performance. Are we seeing a similar problem about to evolve with air fryers? This was addressed for microwave ovens through the development of a microwave rating system, which is based on the energy delivered to food (rather than the energy used by the device itself). Could the development of a new rating system be an option for air fryers?

Get in touch with Campden BRI

As summarised by David Whittaker, Process Innovation Lead

A poor-quality cooking instruction generated for a pack could mislead a consumer into under cooking product and result in a potential food safety risk”

We urge you to think very carefully about this topic and get in touch with us if you have any questions or wish to explore some of the services we currently offer.

Check out our follow-up blog and white paper where we deep dive into the work conducted here at Campden BRI that has led to our findings so far.

About David Whittaker

David is a thermal and non-thermal processing specialist and has expertise across many food and beverage sectors.

David also delivers many thermal processing training courses and has a real passion for communication in this area, having spoken at several conferences and seminars on the topic, as well as contributing to Campden BRI guidelines.

Read more...

About Greg Hooper

Greg has worked here at Campden BRI since 1990, after studying Applied Science (Physics and Chemistry). As part of his extensive knowledge and experience in thermal processing and microwave cooking, he was instrumental in setting up the microwave heating category rating system used in the UK, and has travelled internationally assisting and advising on the safe development of microwave products and rating systems.

Read more...

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