As the high-pressure processing industry continues its growth in processing more meat, poultry and other food products, the industry is taking steps to reach out to consumers and let them know how they will benefit from buying and consuming high-pressure processed foods.

Earlier this year, the industry took steps to begin forming a trade council. The group is made up of manufacturers of high-pressure processing (HPP) equipment, tollers (companies who perform HPP for meat, poultry and other food manufacturers who don’t have their own equipment), and food manufacturers who use the processing method.

At the same time, the industry is preparing to apply labels and seals on food products showing consumers that the food product they’re buying is made using that technology.

High-pressure processing – also called cold-pressure processing – is a type of “cold” processing, as opposed to thermal or heat processing, that makes food safe and last longer, both killing pathogens and extending the food’s shelf life. It kills pathogens without cooking away food taste due to heat. The process uses extremely high pressure – six times the water pressure in the deepest part of the ocean – and is done using hydrostatic pressure in enclosed vessels – in machines that are larger and much heavier than school buses. While meat and poultry is a major share of the market, HPP is also used in seafood, juices, salads and dairy products.

 

Lunch meat shelf life graph
 

The newly-formed Cold Pressure Council, made up of HPP equipment makers and food processors, includes Hiperbaric and Avure Technologies, the two largest HPP equipment manufacturers; American Pasteurization Co.; West Liberty Foods; Universal Pasteurization; Suja; Campbell’s; Evolution Fresh; and Good Foods Group.

“One of the high priorities for this council will be establishing best practices for HPP, which will make sure that food safety is most important, as well as extending shelf life for products, which is a major priority for this processing technology,” said Lisa Pitzer, chief marketing officer for Avure Technologies in Erlanger, Ky., one of two major HPP equipment makers.

The other major step being taken by the industry now is establishing a logo or seal called “Cold Pressure Verified” that will appear on food packaging that’s been high-pressure processed.

“The purpose of the label will be to identify foods processed through HPP and assure consumers that it has been processed this away, according to standards set by the council,” said Jaime Nicolas-Correa, USA Director for Miami, Fla.-based Hiperbaric, the other large HPP equipment manufacturer. “The label on HP-processed products will give peace of mind to consumers that the products they are buying have gone through this process, following processing rules and guidelines set by the Council. It’s a way to educate consumers and help them recognize HPP products on the shelf.”

Safety standards

HPP has a positive safety record, so the decision to form an industry council was not sparked by any safety problems, Ms. Pitzer said.

“There have been validation studies done to set safety standards for high-pressure processing," she said. "The council is a way to make sure that everyone – equipment makers, tollers and food processors who use HPP – will be following these very strict standards."

She added that the HPP industry is growing very rapidly – about 15% a year – and explained several reasons for the growth.

“HPP is a way of pasteurizing food products, without the heat," Ms. Pitzer said. "And beyond food safety, the major benefit is that the process extends the shelf life of foods greatly. This is something that’s very important, both to food manufacturers and consumers."

Because of the growth in the industry, more tolling facilities are being set up to help smaller meat, poultry and other food processors do HPP, she said.

A great benefit is that HPP results in the manufacture of completely clean label food products – not only with much longer shelf life, but without preservatives.

“Consumers have become more and more concerned about preservatives in food – they don’t want to consume food loaded with preservatives – and HPP keeps them out,” Ms. Pitzer said.

She said that younger consumers – namely, millennials – have a great interest in what’s in their food, as well as what’s not in it.

“Consumers want to know the ingredients in the food products they eat," she said. "But today, they want to know even more than just what’s in their food.”

Because of its success, HP-processing is being expanded to other products, including pet food, baby food, soups and ready-to-eat meals, Mr. Nicolas-Correa said.

“And food service is a big and growing market for HPP," he said.

In the meat and poultry industry, high-pressure processing draws praise because of its great success in eliminating an extremely dangerous pathogen, Listeria monocytogenes, which can cause Listeriosis, a disease that can lead to death.

Kevin Myers, senior vice-president for research and development at Hormel Foods Corp., said his company uses high-pressure processing to achieve food safety in products that are handled a great deal in processing, and are sliced. Lunch meats and many other products fit this bill, and much HPP is concentrated in food service, with products going to restaurants and other institutional destinations, rather than retail.

 

Hormel Natural Choice, HPP
Hormel uses high-pressure processing to achieve food safety in products that are handled a great deal in processing, such as lunch meats.

 

“The advantage of using HPP to make clean label products is that there are no antimicrobials, as well as a longer shelf life,” he said. “In the traditional processing, you can have both shelf life loss and loss of flavor in the food.”

The HPP process took off in the late 1990s, Mr. Meyers said, with the introduction by the U.S.D.A.’s Food Safety and Inspection Service of mandatory HACCP plans in the meat and poultry industry.

“In making prosciutto, we had no standard critical control point (CCP) for pathogens,” he said. “There was no kill step. So, we set up HPP as the kill step.”

HPP in the meat and poultry industry is used largely for fully-cooked products, not for raw items, Mr. Meyers added.

Since consumers want meat, poultry and other food products that don’t have preservatives or additives, are natural, and since manufacturers and consumers both have an interest in foods with longer shelf life, it appears high-pressure processing has only one direction to go – up.