HPP: The story has just begun
The meat-processing industry’s relationship with high-pressure processing (HPP) appears to have all the ingredients for long-term success. They see it as a sort of best of all worlds, according to one experienced insider. It’s proving to be less abusive to products than traditional thermal processing, and may extend shelf-life and enhance food safety by significantly reducing bacterial counts.
Processors that adopt HPP — there are significant equipment costs plus labor to consider — reap the benefits without much disruption to existing processes, because it is added to the end of the production line where products are in their final packages.
The potential gains in shelf-life and enhanced product safety have not gone unnoticed by retailers, either. As they learn more, some big-box retailers are showing a preference for HPP-produced products and ask for them, according to this same source. This kind of growing affection could propel change like an afterburner.
Thus, must food packaging change, too, in order accommodate the demands of high pressure processing? Not really, as the technologies are in place today. Vacuum packaging and modified atmosphere packaging (MAP) work with HPP with little or no modification. Performance characteristics such as seal strength (lock down and easy-open function well) and no fractures or punctures under extreme chamber pressures become vital. Materials’ abuse-resistance may need to be increased a bit to withstand loading and unloading, as HPP is a batch process. But overall it is effective and relatively non-disruptive to packaging.
Applications on processed meats (particularly shingled) and ground poultry appear to be most common at this time. Ground meats with dark and rich color, such as beef or lamb, have experienced color degradation and increased purge due to cell disruption, according to a packaging source.
For many products, however, the current package may not need to change. Processed meats requiring a MAP appearance — loose fill or fluffy fill — can still have it. Packages with semi-rigid or flexible bottom webs and flexible top webs perform well, as do chubs with ground poultry. Using the same films or packaging as before can be meaningful for processors weighing a change.
Marketing also may benefit from HPP. Because of its effectiveness in eliminating pathogens, processors may be able to clean up some products’ ingredient labels. Reducing or eliminating upstream preservative components and antimicrobial additives can create numerous opportunities for adept marketers.
The opening chapters of this HPP story make a compelling read, a real “whodunit?” — or maybe more to the point, who’s gonna do it?
Surely there will be plenty of drama, angst and plot twists to come as the industry works to get a better and more complete handle on what works well and what doesn’t with this special technology.
Also in this month's issue: HPP takes safety, shelf life to new heights