Food safety

You want to start a tempeh factory and wonder if there are any specific legal standards for the production of tempeh. Most national food laws don’t even mention the word ‘tempeh’. Basically what this means is that you have to do your own food risk analysis and define the critical points that you need to control in order to produce and sell tempeh safely. You must produce tempeh in an inspected facility that is known to the local food authorities. You need to make sure that your tempeh does not contain pathogens and that it complies with your country’s general food laws. The WHO has defined tempeh in a Codex Alimentarius, but this is only a guideline. The State of British Columbia (Canada) has written a detailed assessment document for the production of tempeh and the State of Quebec (also Canada) has defined the microbiological standards for tempeh.

Codex Alimentarius

This international food standard defines tempeh as a compact, white, cake-like product produced from dehulled, cooked soybeans by solid-state fermentation with Rhizopus oligosporus, Rhizopus oryzae and/or Rhizopus stolonifer. Tempeh should have the following organoleptic characteristics: compact structure and not easily disintegrated when sliced with a knife, white colour of luxuriant growth of Rhizopus mycelium. The smell should be characteristic of fresh tempeh with no ammonia smell. The only additives allowed are products to control acidity during the soaking of the beans. Most tempeh factories do not follow these guidelines: some use beans other than soybeans, and many acidify the beans during cooking, not soaking. With regard to microbial contamination, the Codex refers to Guideline CXG 21-1997: Principles and Guidelines for the Establishment and Application of Microbiological Criteria Related to Foods. However, this guideline does not mention specific microbiological criteria for tempeh.

Microbiological standards (Quebec)

Canada’s largest province, Quebec, has established microbiological criteria for tempeh in its document “Guidelines and Standards for Interpretation of Analytical Results in Food Microbiology”. One gram of tempeh may not contain more than 10,000 Bacillus cereus, 100 Eschericia coli and 10,000 Staphylococcus aureus.

B.C. Centre for Disease Control advisory

The British Columbia Centre for Disease Control (BBCDC) has issued an advisory on the fermentation of tempeh. Tempeh starter must be purchased from a commercial supplier and come with a certificate of analysis verifying that the culture is free of Salmonella, Staphylococcus aureus and Bacillus cereus. They also recommend that the soaking water be acidified to below pH 4.6 to prevent the growth of pathogens such as B. cereus. This heat-resistant bacterium can survive the cooking process and later grow in the tempeh. If the tempeh is sold unpasteurised, a statement should be included advising consumers not to eat the product raw and to cook it before consumption.