New technology that’s being developed for high pressure processing (HPP) is helping the meat, poultry and food processing industry to grow. At the same time, advances in HPP are helping the industry to increase the safety of its products for its customers and consumers.

As the number and types of meat and poultry products that can use HPP continues to grow, the technology itself continues to expand, becoming a bigger and more important component of processing.

The newest technology, developed by JBT-Avure, Erlanger, Ky., has been designed and is used for bulk product applications. It is a new bulk high pressure pasteurization technology, called “FlexiBulk,” which can be added to existing HPP machines.

“The new FlexiBulk is revolutionary because it HPPs both individually-packaged products and bulk products simultaneously, allowing for filling products in multiple container options, including cans and reusable bags, cartons and bottles,” said Ryan Pereira, president of JBT-Avure.

HPP has also helped meat and poultry processors to expand the size of their businesses. For Old Neighborhood Foods, a meat processor based in Lynn, Mass., it has resulted in both business and customer expansion.

“We do meat processing. We have our own brands. But we also have a private labeling business all over the United States,” pointed out Andrew Demakes, president of the company. “Earlier this month, we acquired a Hiperbaric 525, which is the largest machine the company makes. Up to now, we were using just a Hiperbaric 420. But we needed 20% more high-pressure processing capacity, so that’s why we’ve added the larger machine.”

Demakes explained that high-pressure processing has helped the company increase its size and its ability to operate on a much larger scale.

“Using high-pressure processing has helped us to expand from what we were -- a regional business -- to a national company,” Demakes said. “We now operate all over the United States.”

He said the company was once Thin and Trim Deli, and operated strictly in New England, where the company is based, with all their operations consisting of slicing behind the case. That has changed vastly. Now Old Neighborhood Foods does private label for a number of brands and businesses.

The company has been doing HPP for 10 years. “At first, we drove our products to Connecticut, where another company did the high-pressure processing for us. And then we had to drive everything back here. When we decided to start doing this on our own, we needed to purchase a facility, so we would have adequate space for the equipment,” Demakes said. “But there are a lot of advantages to this process.”

HPP technology

Hiperbaric HPP unit at West Liberty FoodsSource: West Liberty Foods

“High pressure processing technology, also known as cold pasteurization in the meat, poultry and food processing industry, is a non-thermal food and beverage preservation method that uses water and high pressure,” explained Vinicio Serment, HPP Applications and Food Processing Specialist for Hiperbaric USA, Doral, Fla.

“It is called cold pasteurization because the water temperature in the process is between 5˚C and 20˚C. But the water pressure is extremely high – 87,000 lbs per square inch,” he said.

The machines used in HPP are very large in order to create the water pressure involved in the processing technology – these machines are about the same size as school buses.

The technology itself dates back 400 years to the 17th century with French scientist Blaise Pascal, who studied the effects of pressure on fluids and found that applying high pressure would lead to the inactivation of yeast, mold, and bacteria, with no effect on product tastes.

“In the 1960s, high pressure technology began to be used in metal cutting and metal fabrication,” said Lisa Wessels, chief marketing officer for JBT-Avure. But it wasn’t until about 1990 when JBT-Avure and Hiperbaric, the two major companies involved in high pressure processing, would bring HPP into the food industry to be used as a processing technology for a variety of products.

Because high pressure processing is a complex engineering feat, only two major companies, JBT-Avure and Hiperbaric, are involved in creating the technology and machinery that can carry out the process.

“It’s really a ‘green’ process – we utilize water that we recycle, and we create the high pressure by driving the water through small tubing,” Wessels said. “For processing, you have to use water or chemicals as preservatives. But water activity is safer than adding chemicals. With HPP, you create a completely clean label, and you can extend it to products like pet food, for example.”

There are two major benefits to high pressure processing of meat and poultry: control of pathogens and increased shelf life. According to JBT-Avure, HPP maintains a high level of shelf life over a 10-week period, while shelf life of products processed in a standard way with preservatives begins dropping after four weeks, and shelf life is lost by the time the 10-week period is reached.

While it may seem that with the large and expensive machinery and technology involved, only large processing companies could make use of high-pressure processing – but that isn’t true. In fact, smaller companies who can’t afford the technology as well as larger companies who don’t want to invest in the technology can both take advantage, thanks to toll operations or tollers. These are companies who buy HPP equipment and offer the technology to other processors.

“Our processing machinery is from JBT-Avure, and we do high pressure processing for meat, poultry, and food processor clients,” said Jasmine Sutherland, president of Texas Food Solutions, a toll operator based in Katy, Texas. “They bring their meat, poultry or other food products to us to have high pressure processing carried out. We call it ‘tolling’ because using our services is like paying a toll on a highway.

“Some of them are small processors. Some are larger companies who don’t want to buy this equipment on their own. Maybe only some of their meat, poultry or food processing can be done with HPP, and the rest is done using standard processing.”

Sutherland said extending the shelf life of meat and poultry products is very important, because it reduces food waste – especially with the supply chain problems the United States has been experiencing as of late.

 “There are a wide variety of products that can be processed using HPP,” she said. “And actually, we do more than provide tolling services. We do research and development, and package testing – make sure packaging can hold up for food products. And we conduct post-HPP services – packaging, including final pack out and casing.”

She said Texas Food Solutions provides services all over the United States, including to smaller processors and startup companies.

Joe Swanson, vice president of operations quality, West Liberty Foods, LLC, based in West Liberty, Iowa, said his company has six Hiperbaric HPP units throughout the company’s four processing facilities.

“We didn’t have enough HPP capacity for a while,” he explained, “so we had to use tolling facilities. But now, we do have enough capacity.”

He said everything the company does is based on what customers want. “In our case, 90% of what we produce is for other companies. We either co-pack for them or we do private labeling. So, only 10% of what we make is for our own brands. In our business, we turn turkey, chicken, beef and pork into lunch meats, or fully cooked products, quick frozen, like chicken nuggets,” Swanson said. “It is all retail, no foodservice.”

For West Liberty Foods, the two major benefits provided by high-pressure processing focus on food safety, include extending the shelf life of products – “shelf life is very important for the type of products we make” – and preventing the occurrence and growth of bacteria and pathogens.

“The most important for the products we’re involved with are Listeria monocytogenes and Salmonella,” Swanson said. “Since these products are held at refrigerator temperatures, and the growth of Listeria isn’t stopped or prevented by refrigeration, and there is zero tolerance of Listeria, that’s a major issue. Applying high pressure to products disrupts the cell membranes of pathogens, helping to eliminate them.”