Cargill’s ground-beef breakthrough
As high-pressure pasteurization (HPP) has grown through the years, the food industry as a whole has found it to be compatible with a wide variety of products. In the protein industry, too, compatibility across product varieties has been far-reaching.
However, ground beef always had been found to be incompatible with HPP. Justin N. Segel, president of American Pasteurization Co. (APC) in Milwaukee, Wis., knows the situation well, harkening back to his days at Emmpak Foods (now a part of Cargill).
“When we started [APC, in 2004], we kind of thought, ‘Wow, it would be interesting if someone would test ground beef,’” he says. “Cargill was one of our first customers with roast beef, a pre-cooked product, and to their credit, they kind of picked up the challenge and started sending ground beef product in to test.”
In late February, Cargill introduced its new Fressure brand of ground beef patties, which have double the shelf life of traditional fresh burgers and benefit from the enhanced food safety that HPP brings to the table. Brent Wolke, vice president of Cargill’s Wichita, Kan.-based foodservice meat business, called the Fressure product a “technological breakthrough.”
During a visit to the APC facility by The National Provisioner, Segel discussed the challenges that faced ground beef in terms of applying HPP technology.
“High pressure tends to denature the product, changing it to a dramatically lighter color,” Segel explains. “If you just take ground beef and run it under [standard HPP] parameters, it’s a safe product and you get some shelf life, but it looks more like veal and tastes more like meatloaf.”
Faced with that challenge, Segel adds, many processors could not commit the time or resources to the R&D needed to solve the problem.
“To Cargill’s credit, they wanted to know how they were going to make it work,” he says. “They weren’t going to accept that it just wouldn’t work. Two years of testing later, they did crack the code.”
Segel says APC is seeing more processors willing to invest in the research and development needed to formulate protein products that can withstand the rigors of HPP. And his facility, the first to offer HPP contract services in the U.S., welcomes processors who want to test their products and “finesse” the formulations to get a high-quality, safe product with an improved shelf life. The APC team has worked with many processors in the past on these types of projects and expects to continue. As for Cargill’s Fressure product, Segel says it may be just the first of many breakthrough initiatives.
“We’re starting to see more companies experimenting with raw meats and raw, marinated meats,” Segel says. “We’re doing a variety of party trays and products like that, where in the past one item had a shelf life that would expire the whole tray before the other parts.
“This is a brave new frontier,” he says.