Safety standards
Perfect Fit pork and chicken meals
Perfect Fit Meals uses Texas Food Solutions, an HPP tolling company in Houston, to high-pressure process its heat-and-eat meals. (photo: Avure)

HPP has a positive safety record, so the decision to form an industry council was not sparked by any safety problems, Pitzer notes. “There have been validation studies done to set safety standards for high-pressure processing. 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 points out.

She notes the HPP industry is growing very rapidly – about 15 percent a year. She explains several reasons for the growth. “HPP is a way of pasteurizing food products, without the heat. 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,” Pitzer says. 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 notes.

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,” Pitzer explains.

She notes that younger consumers – 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. 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, Nicolas-Correa says. “And foodservice is a big and growing market for HPP,” he points out.

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, Hormel Foods
Kevin Myers, senior vice president-R&D, Hormel Foods

Kevin Myers, senior vice president for research and development at Hormel, in Austin, Minnesota, says 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 foodservice, with products going to restaurants and other institutional destinations, rather than retail. “Our Bread Ready Brand sliced meats going to our foodservice, is an example of that,” he says.

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

Myers explains the HPP process took off in the late 1990s, with the introduction by USDA’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 explains. “There was no kill step. So, we set up HPP as the kill step.” He says HPP in the meat and poultry industry is used largely for fully-cooked products, not for raw items.

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.