Hiperbaric's HPP machines offer processors a way to extend the shelf life of their products safely. 

Keeping it clean

HPP is becoming extremely important as food customers and consumers pay more attention to what’s in their food and how fresh it is, with the increasing emphasis in the food world right now on “clean label.” “People don’t like the idea of chemicals or preservatives being in their food anymore,” Pitzer says.

Hiperbaric’s Martin agrees. “Food companies are looking to clean up their label by removing preservatives and chemicals, as well as processors looking for a less detrimental way to extend the shelf life of their products. HPP reduces the activity of yeasts and molds that spoil products, while also inactivating bacteria; therefore it will last longer than the product would in its natural state.”

Pitzer says Hormel is Avure’s biggest customer in its meat segment. “They have a line called ‘all natural’ lunch meats which is high pressure processed.”

Jasmine Sutherland, a food scientist, is both a meat processor and a tolling center operator. She is president of Texas Food Solutions, in Katy, Texas, and also helps lead companion company Perfect Fit Meals, a processing company that produces entire meals, including meat and poultry and “sides.” All the meals produced by Perfect Fit Meals are high-pressure processed at the tolling center at Texas Food Solutions. In addition to doing HPP for Perfect Fit Meals, Sutherland does high-pressure processing for numerous other meat, poultry and food processors. A majority, but not all of the processing Texas Food Solutions does is meat and poultry processing.

“We have a 40,000-sq.-ft. facility dedicated to HPP and cold storage of products. We are really a turnkey HPP facility, and we also facilitate laboratory testing and food safety. We’re also involved in packaging and labeling,” she says. The companies are owned by a venture capitalist firm and several private investors.

Right now, she has two huge machines for high pressure processing – “one of the largest machines Avure makes, the AV60, which we call ‘Large Marge,’” she says laughing, “and another one made by the Uhda Co. in Germany.” She is thinking about getting a third machine for her facility, and already has had to reinforce the floors to bear the weight.

“Our HPP meat production includes sausage, shredded meat, barbecue, ribs and raw proteins, as well. Other products we high-pressure process include salads, juices and nut products. The HPP meals we do include chicken and turkey, portion-controlled, potatoes, roasted potatoes, rice, vegetables and sauces. We are making 14 varieties of these meals at any one time. We make them for Kroger, Safeway, Schnucks, Amazon Fresh, United – 15 different retailers.”

While HPP was commercialized back in the early 1990s, Sutherland says she’s been involved in it for three years. She believes it’s growing in all food industries. “The thing that’s great about HPP is that it’s a non-thermal pasteurization of food, and it extends the shelf life of foods that go through the process.” Not all food that goes through the HPP process actually says “HPP” on the label. “Sometimes it’ll say HPP, other times ‘vacuum skin-packed package,’ ‘moisture freshness with HPP,’ or ‘cold pressed,’” Sutherland says.

Sometimes prospective customers have a little trouble understanding what’s going on in the HPP machine, especially the amount of pressure used in the process. “One way I explain it to help them visualize it is, ‘Imagine three 747 airplanes on top of each other, sitting and pressing down on an iPhone with equal pressure. Or a giant hug of pressure to your food,” she says with a laugh.

Diane Murdoch is vice president for customer development at True Fresh HPP, a tolling center based in Los Angeles, and the largest operation on the West Coast. “We have three Hiperbaric 525s, the really big ones, and we do HPP for a large number of customers.” She says True Fresh also does cold storage and frozen storage, as well as labeling – similar to the services Texas Food Solutions provides. “A lot of tolling centers will provide a wide variety of services, especially the storage.”

Most tolling centers buy their machines from one of the HPP equipment producers – usually Hiperbaric or Avure. But they are not owned by the equipment producers. They are their own businesses.

“We do high-pressure processing for large quantities of products because we have the biggest machines Hiperbaric makes,” Murdoch says. “We actually have room for one more machine on our floor.” True Fresh has only been in business since last November, but has been growing quickly because of the importance of the avocado industry on the West Coast and the production of guacamole, in addition to meat processing.

And because meat and poultry are being processed at these tolling centers, both Texas Food Solutions and True Fresh HPP are USDA-inspected establishments, with meat inspectors doing their work just as they would at “regular” USDA-inspected meat and poultry plants.