Meat processors have used high pressure processing (HPP) for food safety in ready-to-eat (RTE) meats since the early 2000s and the usage continues to grow. According to JBT/Avure, manufacturer of HPP equipment, HPP food products had a market value of $12 billion in 2017 and are expected to double within the next six years.

HPP equipment manufacturer, Hiperbaric, along with JBT/Avure and others in the HPP industry, have created the Cold Pressure Council, a third-party certification body for the new Cold Pressure Consumer seal. The “High Pressure Certified Seal” will be available for food companies to include on the packaging of RTE meat products similar to the manner in which the US Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) uses its Certified Organic seal.

A short history

In 2001, the USDA reached out to Avure looking for a process to control Listeria inside the food processing plant.

“This was after quite a few outbreaks that we received with Listeria itself,” says Errol Raghubeer, Ph.D., senior vice president and food scientist at JBT/Avure, based in Sandusky, Ohio. “In 2003, we submitted data to USDA and they approved HPP, or at least offered a letter of no objection for HPP to be used as a post lethality treatment.”

Companies such as Hormel and Perdue Farms were among the pioneers using the technology for food safety and primarily to satisfy the Listeria process control requirements put in place by the USDA, while also extending shelf life.

“However, it has evolved now into different sorts of objectives with HPP and RTE meat,” Raghubeer says. “The removal of some of the chemicals, taking out of sorbates and benzoates in products, and at that time you’re starting to offer products in the marketplace with a cleaner label. Those two drivers really are the ones that really put the RTE products on the map, and it’s growing. Many companies are doing it.”

The growth extends outside of North America into the rest of the globe not only for internal consumption in the foreign markets, but for export as well. The HPP process allows foreign companies to move into international markets from a food safety standpoint, but also the longer shelf life that comes from HPP facilitates export to different countries.

“So, this [HPP] is growing, and growing mainly because of food safety, shelf life and a movement toward cleaner label,” Raghubeer adds.

The seal

Both Hiperbaric and JBT/Avure are founding members of the Cold Pressure Council, the trade organization responsible for the guidelines and standards to which companies must adhere before using the seal on products. Both companies, along with the other founding companies, continue to develop the guidelines for HPP relative to proteins.

“Members of the council can get certified under those guidelines and then they would have access to use the seal,” says Lisa Wessels, chief marketing officer, JBT/Avure.

“Hiperbaric’s role as founding member is also to aid with the education and customer awareness of HPP under the Cold Pressure Council unified message,” says Carol Tonello, commercial and applications director for Hiperbaric. “This way it’s not what one supplier is saying but as industry leaders what High Pressure Processing should mean to consumers. As one of the founding members we help with the development and formalizing industry best practices along with the rest of the board.”

As HPP technology becomes more mainstream for products sold not only in the US but also internationally, third-party certification provides value to equipment suppliers, their customers and consumers.

Making it matter

Once the council sets guidelines for certification, it plans to educate consumers on HPP. Whether they do or don’t want to purchase organic products, the average shopper has an understanding of what organic means, but the majority probably don’t have an understanding on HPP due to a lack of understanding of what the technology offers.

“Our strategy really aligns with what the Cold Pressure Council is doing to educate the common consumer on HPP,” Tonello says. “As a leading supplier of HPP equipment, we have covered a lot of ground helping our customers to get the right message across to the consumers on what HPP is and the benefits of using it. Having customers in more than 40 countries, we have a very wide reach to get messaging across, either through our customers, website or marketing materials. Now, thanks to the Council, we can have an even wider reach in terms of getting the right message across to consumers.”

Jasmine Sutherland is president of Perfect Fit Meals, and HPP tolling station Texas Food Solutions. She says HPP allows her businesses to create the clean labels that the educated consumers of today want. To educate her customers on the benefits of HPP, Sutherland puts it on the product’s label along with resources for the customer.

“We put it on our label and we give them a website to go to where they can actually learn more about the processing and how we do it and why we do it and why we believe in it, which is kind of nice,” Sutherland says. “We put it on our website because when we have a ready-to-eat meal that’s never been frozen, and it’s got over 30 days of shelf life, people are going to, or should, ask questions about how. ‘How is this product still fresh?’ We wanted to be ready for that and we wanted to be as transparent as possible.”

The applications for HPP have grown as the technology has evolved to deliver benefits to multiple categories of food and various packaging formats.

For the future

HPP does cost more than the traditional chemical preservative and thermal processing-based methods of pathogen control in RTE meats, and price often drives consumer choice. Whether or not HPP will take over as the primary method of pathogen control remains to be seen. But currently, a combination of safety interventions for pathogen control is the best approach according to most food safety experts.

“For some products, and some pathogens the multiple hurdle approach is be the best solution. The use of natural preservatives (like bacteriocins, essential oils or plant extracts), gentle heat treatment, biological intervention (lactic acid bacteria), in addition to HPP could be required to maximize the lethal intervention of HPP to control pathogens in some natural products,” Tonello says. “For regular products, HPP acts in synergy with the chemical preservatives providing higher pathogen log reduction and achieving longer shelf lives which can be required for exported products, for example. HPP can be also combined with active packaging.”

Raghubeer sees nothing but steady growth in HPP’s future in RTE meat pathogen control.

“Also, we are seeing it grow because of this movement toward cleaner labels, less preservatives and low sodium in the market,” he says. “I don’t expect it to slow down, I don’t expect every company that is doing RTE meat and poultry is going to be using HPP, that would be nice, however the growth in this category continues to be very positive.”

Sutherland agrees on the growth potential of HPP and believes it’s the best technology on the market for nutritious, minimal ingredient fresh products.

“I think we’re going to see a lot of growth out of this industry, and in the next few years,” Sutherland says. “I think we’re going to see a lot of development in the utilization of HPP, which we’re excited about. That’s kind of what we’re headed toward.”