The global trend for clean-label foods was magnified during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Consumer preference for food ingredients with positive health benefits likely means this trend will continue to increase.
It’s no wonder that high pressure processing (HPP) has gained favor with meat processors as a food safety intervention and shelf-life extender.
“Creating new products and reformulating current foods with acceptable, easy-to-recognize ingredients, which consumers link to natural, clean label, minimal processing, will further fuel the adoption of HPP,” said Ed Williams, general manager (Americas) of Quintus Technologies, based in Lewis Center, Ohio.
Errol Raghubeer, senior vice president of HPP and science for JBT-Avure, Erlanger, Ky., noted the major interests in HPP technology and across the food processing industry include sustainability and waste reduction.
“Companies are looking for sustainability in packaging materials with less use of plastics and improvement in sustainable food sourcing to reduce waste and promote more eco-friendly products and practices,” he said.
Vinicio Serment-Moreno, PhD, HPP applications and food processing specialist for Hiperbaric USA, noted the latest buzz in HPP technology is its application for ready-to-eat (RTE) meals, including those with meat and poultry ingredients.
“The sector of ready-to-eat food grows every year and the consumption of on-the-go is a big trend for 2022,” he said. “This boost is due to the rapid urbanization, the lack of time that consumers have to cook and the convenience offered.”
Bevy of Benefits
HPP is a cost-effective way to ensure meat products are protected from pathogens. Further, the effect of HPP on extending refrigerated shelf life and quality attributes creates opportunities for wider distribution — including export markets.
“Since HPP allows for the reduction or elimination of preservatives, some of which contain sodium, such as sodium benzoate and sodium diacetate, HPP has created a pathway for companies to market RTE meat and poultry products with a reduced sodium content and a minimally processed clean label,” Williams said.
The primary rationale for HPP, far and away, is that it provides an insurance policy against contamination and potential recalls.
“That’s the umbrella over which all the other benefits reside,” said Steven Burger, chief executive officer of California, Mo.-based Burger Specialty Foods. “Other benefits of using HPP include a higher level of quality extending the product’s shelf life. HPP-treated products are microbiologically clean, thus slowing down the diminishment of quality as the product progresses through its shelf life. HPP also reduces the need for chemical additives that can negatively impact flavor.”
Raghubeer noted there are a number of ways HPP benefits the meat industry. Firstly, HPP is a recognized post lethality treatment to ensure product safety of RTE meat, the largest category of food products that uses HPP.
“It is used to eliminate Listeria monocytogenes, Salmonella and pathogenic E. coli as well as reducing spoilage microflora which extends microbial shelf life and extends organoleptic quality without the use of chemical preservatives,” he said. “Secondly, HPP can be used to improve the tenderness of raw meat. This can be applied both on pre-rigor meat as well as post-rigor meat and can enhance marination without the use of injection and lengthy vacuum tumbling processes.”
Serment-Moreno added that HPP benefits include food safety, nutrient preservation without preservatives and expanded shelf life. Additionally, new packaging innovations allow HPP packaging to be fully recyclable.
“The need to cut down sugar and sodium is an important part of the future of ready-to-eat food; however, their low content can be a microbiological hazard, which could lead to a reduced shelf life,” he said. “With HPP, this is surpassed without the addition of preservatives, and there is an extension of shelf-life around two to three times more compared to non-processed ready-to-eat products.”
Besides offering wider options on production scalabilities, the newest generation of HPP technology from Quintus Technologies utilizes the advantages of frequency-controlled motor drives to minimize energy consumption, as well as heat generation.
“Further, the Quintus SmartPress functionalities and AI-algorithm based condition monitoring provide real-time tracking of system performance to optimize service intervals, control parts inventory and avoid over-servicing,” Williams said.
In addition to bringing new, unique HPP equipment solutions to the food and beverage market, Quintus recently expanded its HPP applications center in Columbus, Ohio.
“This means that companies that are looking to develop new clean-label products, or reformulate current products, now have greater resources to do so by working directly with our HPP applications scientists and HPP product developers,” Williams said.
HPP technology remains slower than thermal processing technology; however, significant improvements have been made to increase volumes with larger HPP systems and reduce downtime.
JBT-Avure recently introduced a post-HPP process system called FlexiBulk, which allows manufacturers to process pumpable products in a bulk system followed by aseptic/clean filling into more environmentally friendly consumer packages such as glass, paper-based or cans. This will facilitate a significant reduction in the use of plastics which are required in an HPP system due to their compressibility, whereas containers such as glass, tin cans and paper-based packages cannot be used during HPP.
“In addition to the benefits of using recyclable consumer packaging, processing in bulk systems increases product throughput which reduces energy cost since a larger volume of products are processed per cycle,” Raghubeer said.
Burger Specialty Foods re-engineered its formulations to reduce the use of chemical inhibitors necessary to meet high food safety standards and allowed HPP to pick up the slack. The company installed the Avure 350L HPP machine in 2014 and a year later, began using it for wide-scale commercial production and continue to run it two shifts per day five days per week and some Saturdays.
“Many of our customers want an extra layer of protection that low-level use of chemical inhibitors can provide,” Burger said. “Whether it’s in the back of a restaurant, grocery store, deli or at home, there’s the potential for recontamination once the package is opened. The chemical kicker on the back end allows for an additional level of protection after the package is opened.”
Hiperbaric automation is advancing HPP technology by automating a mostly manual, labor-intensive process.
“The automation and material handling equipment allows products to be processed more efficiently, while increasing productivity, traceability and reducing injuries from heavy manual lifting,” Serment-Moreno said.
Old Neighborhood Foods in Lynn, Mass., owns two Hiperbaric units and utilizes HPP for marinated meats, organic hotdogs, chicken sausage, sliced corned beef, pastrami and sliced organic deli meats.
“Our newest, biggest initiative is our new marinated meats line, which has been a huge success and one of the main reasons we’ve invested in a new HPP machine,” said Andrew Demakes, director of operations for Old Neighborhood Foods. “HPP took us from being a regional processor to a national manufacturer, which is the biggest benefit. We want to make sure that we maintain the integrity of the product, so being able to pick up that additional shelf life without compromising quality was particularly important to us.”
As manufacturers of HPP equipment improve efficiency of their systems, many companies globally have increased their food and beverage research and development efforts to meet the demands of their customers.
“Established and new food and beverage companies have ongoing challenges to maintain production efficiencies and control costs while delivering on new customer specifications, meeting new or changed regulatory requirements, and creating a competitive edge,” Williams said. “Understanding how HPP can play a role in this highlights the importance of staying on top of HPP science and technology innovation.”