As consumers look for fresh and prepared foods at an increased rate, the importance of shelf life becomes even more important.

In fact, when Newport Beach, California-based True Food Innovations took over Chef’d and resurrected its line of meal kits, it did so with shelf life in mind.

“We are setting the standard for the retail category through innovation, product development and technology,” says Alan True, founder and CEO of True Food Innovations. “We listened to our retail partners and we developed products to solve their problem: shelf life.”

High pressure tech

True Food Innovations’ biggest tool in achieving a 55-day shelf life for its meal kits was the use of high pressure processing, which uses extremely high water pressure that is equivalent to roughly six times the pressure found at the bottom of the deepest ocean, the company says.

That extreme hydrostatic pressure kills spores, molds, yeasts and pathogens that may contaminate food, but unlike heat pasteurization, HPP doesn’t affect a food’s vitamins, minerals or other beneficial properties. It also leaves taste, texture and appearance unchanged.

Not only does HPP help in food safety at the time of processions, it also extends the food’s shelf life.

According to the Cold Pressure Council — a group of HPP equipment makers and food processors formed in 2017 — the HPP industry is growing nearly 15% each year.

“HPP is a way of pasteurizing food products, without the heat," says Lisa Wessels, marketing director for Erlanger, Kentucky-based Avure Technologies, one of two major HPP equipment makers. "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."

Avure says it offers the first expandable HPP machine. The AV-40X can be expanded all the way up to the AV-70X, bumping up annual production capacity from 40 million pounds to 70 million pounds.

The company says it builds the industry’s largest diameter and fastest-filling pressure vessels, which pump pure water and deliver more product with each cycle. It also says it has finessed vessel pressurization and decompression to offer the highest performance available.

Doral, Florida-based Hiperbaric USA, meanwhile, says its HPP units are integrated into processing lines, based on a custom HPP solution for each of its customers. A conveyor system ties into production lines, which is integrated into the HPP system.

Since some processors work with fully-automated production lines, there is a demand for integration of HPP.

Fitting the clean label

The clean label trend sometimes brings shelf life issues. Removing chemical-sounding preservatives from items can lead to a shorter lifespan for deli products.

Take packaged deli meats for example. While they typically have a shelf life ranging from 90 to 120 days, a 100-day shelf life is much less common for clean label products, according to Amanda King, technical services manager for Des Moines, Iowa-based Kemin Food Technologies.

“The functionalities required to meet shelf life for high-moisture deli meats and dried meat snacks can be quite different,” King told Food Business News, a sister publication to Supermarket Perimeter. “Deli meats face more challenges with microbial control, which is where buffered vinegar has been proven to provide the efficacy required in many applications. Dried meat snacks usually have more challenges with flavor oxidation over time. Rosemary/green tea is very effective to delay this oxidative rancidity, and acerola extract can increase retention of cured color during shelf life.”

Suppliers can respond by replacing those preservatives with natural options like rosemary extracts, green tea extracts and ingredients containing vinegar or celery.

Kemin offers Fortium RGT, a combination of rosemary and greet tea extracts that protect food products during oxidation. The company says that during oxidation, food products begin to lose desirable characteristics such as color and flavor and that Fortium RGT’s antioxidant protection does not impact flavor, color and odor profiles.

Using a rosemary extract and green tea extract blend, the company says, may provide other advantages over single ingredient antioxidant solutions.

First, adding high levels of either extract alone may negatively affect the flavor of a product, but the blend of both extracts does not. This means it can be applied at higher rates.

Second, the catechins in green tea extract may act as an iron chelator, suppressing the iron released from the hemoglobin which can be prevalent in ground meat and can act as an oxidant.

Lenexa, Kansas-based Corbion, meanwhile, offers Verdad Opti, its line of antimicrobials that delivery control of pathogens and spoilage organisms without alienating the growing segment of consumers focused on ingredient labels.

The solutions are declared as cultured sugar and vinegar and offer manufacturers the conveniences of a powder format, but without the high sodium content that usually accompanies power solutions.

The company’s Verdad Ovvio 410 is used for natural preservation in chilled foods like salads, dips and spreads.

“This solution is labeled ‘vinegar’ and ‘natural flavor,’ which are known and accepted by many consumers,” says Celeste Daugenbaugh, global marketing director for Corbion. “For other chilled RTE foods, there are further Verdad ingredients with consumer-friendly labeling — vinegar, natural flavor plus vinegar or fermented (cane) sugar.”