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High Pressure Offers Preservative-Free Food Processing

1/6/17 8:38 AM

Preservation is one of the greatest dilemmas currently facing food processing and packaging companies. On one hand, retailers and consumers favor products with long shelf lives; on the other, however, shoppers are increasingly wary of both foodborne illness and the negative effects of chemical preservatives. This has put tremendous pressure on the industry to find solutions that protect consumer health, prevent spoilage and produce clean, wholesome foods. High pressure processing (HPP), first theoretically developed back in the 19th century, is one growing technology that offers food processors 21st century profits.

High pressure processing, also known as cold pressure technology or pascalization, uses applied pressure to eliminate or deactivate microorganisms. Essentially, HPP plays the same role as pasteurization, but uses pressure treatment rather than heat to eliminate pathogens. In addition to neutralizing harmful bacteria, HPP preserves the vitamin content of food and extends its shelf life two to three times without altering flavors.

B.H. Hite of the West Virginia Agricultural Experiment Station first published a paper detailing how pressure could be used to deactivate microorganisms in the late 1890s. Although HPP did not immediately catch on as an industry-standard food preservation technique then, technological advances made pascalization of commercial food products practical in the early 1990s.

HPP takes place in massive, sealed machines that expose food products to 87,000 pounds per square inch of pressure. For reference, that’s six times the pressure at the deepest part of the ocean and about 2,500 times the pressure in the tires of a passenger sedan. This pressure can be used to eliminate pathogens and extend shelf lives for products like raw or cooked meat, salads, juices and readymade dinners. In stores, these products are generally labeled as “cold pressed” or “vacuum skin-packed.”

Although HPP occurs in large-scale, expensive machinery, small and medium sized food processing companies can still pressure treat their products at “tolling centers,” facilities that grant companies access to HPP machines at a fee. Tolling centers provide access to valuable preservation technology while also leveling the industry playing field by empowering smaller companies to use the same production techniques as their big budget competition.

All equipment used to eliminate pathogens must be periodically validated to ensure it is operating as designed. MadgeTech, the New Hampshire data logger company, offers a variety of pressure data loggers to verify high pressure processes including elimination of microorganisms.

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MadgeTech Marketing Team