Imagine walking into a meat processing plant, and seeing meat or poultry being processed in a huge machine that’s bigger than a school bus, and weighs even more. Imagine the meat or poultry in this huge machine being pressured by water at 87,000 lbs. per square inch.
“That may be hard to visualize, so think of it this way – that pressure is more than six times the water pressure in the deepest part of the ocean,” says Lisa Pitzer, marketing director for Avure HPP Food Processing, based in Erlanger, Kentucky.
Avure is one of several companies involved in HPP, or high-pressure processing, a cold processing technology that’s helping to make meat and poultry, as well as other kinds of foods, both safer and last longer. Avure and Hiperbaric, another company involved in HPP, make the these machines that food processors use to process their food in a way that both kills pathogens and extends the shelf life of their food products. And while you might think this processing is limited to the huge corporations that can afford to buy them, smaller processors are also able to process their meat, poultry and other foods using HPP, thanks to “tolling centers” – businesses that buy these huge HPP machines from companies like Hiperbaric and Avure, and charge the smaller processors a fee to do processing for them.
“HPP, also known as cold-pressure technology, is a method of making food safe by using hydrostatic pressure in an enclosed vessel,” says Michael Martin, who works in sales and applications for Burgos, Spain-based Hiperbaric High Pressure Processing, which has US offices in Miami. Avure and Hiperbaric, which are two of the main players in the field, have been in business since the 1990s.
HPP is actually an old technology created as an alternative to pasteurization of milk in the 17th century. It became commercialized in the 1990s and has been growing exponentially since then. Hiperbaric installed its first HPP equipment in Spain at Campofrio, a meat processing plant near Toledo. Pitzer says HPP was first used industrially – for cutting sheet metal – but then in the early 1990s moved into food applications. In 2013, Avure decided to split its company into industrial and food.
“There are a lot of different kinds of foods processed with HPP, but meat and poultry is the biggest share of the market,” Pitzer says. “But it’s also used with seafood, including shellfish and crustaceans – of course the meat is removed from the shells – as well as smoothies, wet salads, salad dressings, guacamole, and dairy products,” she says. “Meat going through HPP can be either cooked or raw, it can be already packaged or post-packaged products.” Pitzer says HPP is making huge gains in importance in the food safety arena. “HPP kills the pathogens found in meats and other foods, preserves the vitamins, and extends the shelf life of foods by two or three times.”