Tolling technology

by Lynn Petrak
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The intense pressure in HPP machines (up to 87,000 psi) preserves and sterilizes foods by killing microorganisms.
The intense pressure in HPP machines (up to 87,000 psi) preserves and sterilizes foods by killing microorganisms. (Photo: UPC)

Treating fresh or ready-to-eat meat and poultry products after initial processing and before they are shipped through the distribution chain to the consumer is not a new concept. From irradiation to bacteriophages to the use of ultraviolet light, various interventions have been set up in the supply chain.

High-pressure pasteurization (HPP), an intervention in which sealed foods placed in a vessel or chamber are subjected to high levels of water pressure (hydrostatic pressure), may be a form of cold pasteurization but it’s certainly hot right now among many food and beverage processors, including meat and poultry companies.

HPP accomplishes a variety of purposes for food products like ready-to-eat (RTE) meats and other fresh protein products. The intense pressure – which can reach up to 87,000 psi – preserves and sterilizes foods by killing potentially harmful microorganisms that can lead to foodborne illness. In addition, the use of HPP allows for clean label, preservative-free product claims, given the fact that the pressure inhibits pathogens that would otherwise be controlled with the use of preservatives. HPP is approved by the US Dept. of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Those who have developed and provide HPP technologies point to the multiple benefits of such systems.

“There are three key advantages: food safety to inactivate pathogens such as Listeria, E. coli, and Salmonella; added shelf life to increase distribution range and decreased costs; and the ability to introduce new products like clean label foods,” explains Lisa Pitzer, marketing director at Avure Technologies Inc., an Erlanger, Ky.-based HPP machinery provider with more than 60 years of experience in HPP science and manufacturing.

Outsourcing HPP

Interest in utilizing high-pressure pasteurization as one intervention in a multi-hurdle approach to food safety and in ensuring that products meet the needs of consumers when it comes to the product profile is underscored by the advent of HPP tolling facilities around the country. HPP tolling allows food companies to take advantage of HPP technology by sending their products to dedicated third-party facilities that accomplish high-pressure pasteurization for them and ship the finished product to the retailer, foodservice operation or other point in the chain.

Using HPP tolling centers provides a variety of benefits to meat and poultry processors. It’s a win-win proposition for processors and their customers, according to Jeff Barnard, president of Universal Pasteurization Co. (UPC) in Lincoln, Neb., a large provider of HPP tolling services in the US, with locations in Nebraska, Texas and Pennsylvania. “By outsourcing the HPP to one of our facilities, meat processors can avoid a large capital investment while relying on our multisite redundancy,” he says, adding that UPC offers related services including pack-off, palletizing, inventory control and order picking. “In short, once their product is in its final package, they can ship to UPC and we’ll take care of it from there.”

Universal Pasteurization Co. continues to invest in new tolling locations and additional HPP machines.
Universal Pasteurization Co. continues to invest in new tolling locations and additional HPP machines. (Photo: UPC)

One of UPC’s customers backs up those positives. “Universal Pasteurization Co. and Universal Cold Storage provide a valuable service to our company. Food safety is extremely important to our company and having the ability to send product to Universal Pasteurization to go through the HPP process is a valuable resource,” says Jordan Woodbury, director of sales and R&D for Dakota Provisions in Huron, SD.

Alan True, founder and CEO of True Fresh HPP, an innovation-based HPP tolling platform based in Irvine, Calif., also points to the many advantages of the technology.

“First and foremost, research has shown the trends today are not just the traditional consumer drivers of price, value and convenience – consumers today are also looking for healthy, safe, sustainable ways to source food for the table, and these trends are across the board in terms of age, salary and regions,” True says. “HPP delivers on all of these points the consumers are looking for in the center-of-plate protein category.” True says his center utilizes Hiperbaric HPP machines, produced by the Spanish manufacturer Hiperbaric HPP with US offices in Miami.

True also underscores the reasons why processors would turn to a third-party HPP company. “As a service provider, we are an extension of them – we receive the product, bundle it or unbundle it and put it in the machine. We’ll palletize it and even handle logistics if necessary. We intend to be a solution, not a restraint, in the way that they execute their business,” he says.

Currently, there are about a dozen such tolling stations around the country that have been designed and built to meet the needs of food and beverage processors, including meat and poultry companies. Many of those sites are located near major processors or distribution centers.

“There are obvious logistical advantages to processing close to the manufacturing facility. However, since True Fresh HPP’s first facility is located near major customer consolidation/distribution centers, other suppliers across the nation can benefit as well,” True says.

In their facilities, tollers deploy equipment developed by HPP equipment providers such as Avure or Hiperbaric. The technology is most commonly used for RTE items like deli meat, hot dogs and sliced and cured ham, along with raw ground poultry and fresh ground beef and beef patties.

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