When it comes to pasteurization of delicate prepared foods and beverages, there always seems to be a catch. Heating can change the texture and decrease the nutrients; chemicals and preservatives can change the taste and knock you out of the clean-label game. So where else can you turn?

High pressure pasteurization suggests you look deep: HPP technology puts your product in cold water and brings it down to a pressure six times that of the Mariana Trench — which is literally the bottom of the ocean — in order to make it USDA safe. 

“The pressure being applied to it is 100 percent uniform, so it more or less implodes an organism on a cellular level,” says Joyce Longfield, applications and regulatory specialist for Hiperbaric, which makes a number of different HPP machines. To be more specific, the pressure breaks down the membrane of dangerous bacteria within the product, she says. Without that membrane keeping everything within that harmful organism together, its organelles’ membranes are exposed, and they too start to break down. It’s complicated, but strangely enough, all of that pressure doesn’t actually kill the organism the way heating or chemicals do — it results in its not being able to metabolize. “Pressure renders the cells inactive,” Longfield says. “They literally have no ability to function.”

After treatment, products have to be kept refrigerated or frozen to ensure they remain inactive, and HPP can’t be used on products with low acidity like vegetables or milk. But by eliminating heat from the equation of other, more acidic products, fresh flavor, taste and nutrients are maintained.

“So if you were to use something like a green juice for example, it has a tremendous amount of nutritional benefits for you and it tastes delicious when it’s freshly prepared,” Longfield says. “Now if you were to pasteurize that with heat — well, you know what it’s like when you cook greens, your green juice is not going to taste as bright and vibrant and delicious as it would if it were unpasteurized. It’s also going to lose a whopping amount of its nutrients; more than 60 percent of them are going to be lost to pasteurization. But with HPP that’s not the case; the way I always explain HPP to a consumer is that you get the benefit of a raw food with the safety of a pasteurized one. It’s the best of both worlds, and there's no other technology out there that offers that.”

HPP got its start and is especially effective on ready-to-eat deli meats. “Ham, turkey, roast beef, chicken breast, and even your dry cured meats like salami and sausages,” Longfield says, “they’re the largest users of HPP in the world.”

The technology offers a unique advantage to meats because of the USDA’s zero-listeria tolerance policy. “To take something like a very delicate, sensitive prosciutto, and put it through this beautiful aging process and have this delicious piece of meat, and then have to do something to it once it’s in the package in order to make sure that there’s no Listeria in there — that presents problems. If you were to pasteurize that product within the package, it would just taste awful, and become dried out and everything about it would change. All of that work and effort that you put in to make that product would be completely destroyed because of this food safety requirement.”

But that’s not the only perk that meats enjoy from HPP: “This is the only technology that allows you to lower sodium content, eliminate nitrates, and make a completely clean product with no chemicals and preservatives, and still have the level of food safety to meet USDA requirements,” Longfield says.

If you’re looking for HPP services, you’ll need a tolling facility like Nutrifresh. One of the three largest HPP facilities in the country, food products are sent to the facility already packaged, says Guy Ironi, chief operating officer. Nutrifresh then treats the product, codes it with a new shelf-life date, cases it, and then can either store it at the facility (cold or frozen), send it to a distributor, ship it directly to the consumer, or even fulfill online orders through a commissary’s own website. “We’re basically an A - Z (facility) for the customer that wants a turnkey operation, with the ability to use the large machines, which you don’t normally get to use until you operate on a very large scale.

“We do everything from meats to salads, beverages, baby food, even some cosmetics,” he says. “It’s beautiful to see that this demand is actually coming from the bottom, from the retailers. So it’s not that the companies decided to innovate, it’s that the consumer forced them. And it’s beautiful to see an industry that’s changing because of pure demand. We have bought four HPP machines in less than a year, which is probably looking at a quarter of a million pounds a year of tolling capacity.”

To top it off, the entire facility runs on clean energy — with the exception of the hottest summer months, Nutrifresh runs entirely on solar power, something that gives it a transparency edge for the end customer that wants to know the story behind their purchase. For commissaries wanting to test it out first, Nutrifresh will treat samples of product and help perfect recipes whose taste might change a little. They even have a fully functioning lab onsite with two food microbiologists to run any tests that may be needed.

“I can actually walk around Whole Foods and see all of the products that came out of this facility knowing that it’s much healthier,” Ironi says. “Besides being a great business, it’s also a good thing for the heart.”