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How Does Smoking Preserve Food?

author image Carolyn Robbins
Carolyn Robbins began writing in 2006. Her work appears on various websites and covers various topics including neuroscience, physiology, nutrition and fitness. Robbins graduated with a bachelor of science degree in biology and theology from Saint Vincent College.
How Does Smoking Preserve Food?
Smoked fish is a delicacy in some cultures. Photo Credit: Erwin Purnomo Sidi/iStock/Getty Images

Smoking, as a mode of food preservation, is probably as old as cooking with fire. Heat and smoke infuse a delicate flavor into fish, ham, poultry and meat and can prevent the growth of microbes. While smoking done right is a very effective form of food preservation, care must be taken to avoid contamination and food-borne illness.

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Types of Smoking

Smoking can either be done hot -- in a kiln or smokehouse for a short period -- or cold -- over low heat for up to 24 hours. Hot smoking preserves foods in three ways: Heat kills microbes; chemicals found in the smoke -- including formaldehyde and alcohols -- act as preservatives; and the food dries out so there is less moist area for bacteria to grow. Cold smoked foods are typically preserved in some other way -- fermenting, salting or curing -- before the smoking process begins. Even with additional preservation steps, cold smoked foods should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit before consumption.

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