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Tomato Talk

SPEC SHEET: Tomato Talk

Canned tomato products are a must-have staple for foodservice operators. Here’s what you need to know when buying these items.

Canned tomato products are ubiquitous in almost every noncommercial foodservice outlet. From diced tomatoes to tomato sauce and tomato paste, this product line cuts through nearly every daypart and every menu segment.

But how much do you know about these storeroom staples? Do you know the basic criteria you should follow when buying canned tomato products? Are you familiar with the proper way to store these products once they are opened?

If not, then you will find this primer especially useful. We’ll look at the variety of canned tomato products on the market today and at the federal guidelines, grades and other regulations tomato canners must follow.

Labor Saving Items

The biggest trend in this market is the proliferation of labor saving, value-added products. Conscious of the staffing challenges foodservice operators are facing and the heightened awareness of food safety issues, many tomato packers have introduced pre-seasoned, pre-chopped or otherwise further-prepared products. In most cases, these products can be used right from the can for a variety of applications.

Also, several manufacturers now offer some tomato products in pouch packs. The packs are generally less expensive (no labeling is required) than traditional #10 cans, take up less shelf space, provide better yield and less waste. However, until new technology is developed, only smooth tomato products (those without any chunks) can be sold in pouch packs.

The main types of canned tomatoes used in foodservice are diced or chopped, crushed and whole. While there are some variations between different manufacturers’ product, most products are similar. The main differences are in the variety of the tomatoes used, how they are processed and what seasoning or additives are added to the final product.

Most diced tomatoes are 3/4" dices. (Some manufacturers make a smaller 3/8" dice, ideal for making salsas). Diced tomatoes are generally peeled and packed in their own juice. (Natural tomato juice and tomato puree are the two most common packing mediums. Some packers add calcium compounds, such as calcium chloride or calcium sulfate, to help the produce maintain its integrity; some add salt and/or citric acid as flavor enhancers).

Crushed tomatoes are tomatoes that have been peeled and broken down to a more concentrated form, while still retaining small tomato bits. Their texture is a cross between tomato sauce and diced tomatoes. They are generally packed with their natural juices. Concentrated crushed tomatoes do not include additional liquid, making them ideal for pizza sauce prep.

Whole tomatoes are also peeled and packed in their own juice. One tomato industry expert says that many operators are moving away from buying whole canned tomatoes because of the additional labor these require and because crushed tomatoes provide more tomato solids and are a better value.

Other canned tomato products include tomato puree (a cross between tomato paste and crushed tomatoes) and tomato sauce.

There are three types of tomatoes used in canned tomato products: round, square-round and pear-shaped. Round tomatoes have the highest solid content and are used in products that require a strong tomato flavor, like paste and sauce. Square-round tomatoes are also used in similar products and are prized for their meaty texture and flavor. Pear-shaped tomatoes are low in acid and are the most sweet. These are commonly used for chopped and crushed tomatoes.

Buying Criteria

The two main criteria to consider when buying canned tomato products are color and flavor. The tomatoes (or sauce) should be a bright red color and have a good tomato flavor. Variations in these product characteristics occur because tomato canners cook their product differently. (Tomatoes are heated to at least 170°F to kill bacteria and so that they may be vacuum sealed). Cooking tomatoes too long or at too high of a temperature can have a negative effect on the final product. Some manufacturers are using a "flash heating" technology that heats the tomatoes more quickly in order to better maintain their flavor, shape and color.

Also, tomatoes that are packed in low-grade tin cans can cause the product to taste "tinny."

Canned tomatoes are sold in three grade levels: US Grades A, B and C.


Once opened, canned tomato products should be stored in a glass or ceramic container, covered, and refrigerated for up to 5 days. Opened tomato products should not be stored in the can, which may cause the tomatoes to have a ‘tinny" taste. Also, tomato solids near the can’s rim may dry out and blacken and these particles may fall into the products.

Finally, never cover canned tomato products with aluminum foil. The acid in the tomatoes may react with the foil, and cause tiny pin holes to form in the foil, thereby compromising the product’s integrity.

Shelf lives for unopened canned tomato products range from nine months for puree to 24 months for diced, crushed and whole tomatoes and tomato paste. fm

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