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High hydrostatic pressure processing can help eliminate food safety problems in meat and poultry

By Meatingplace | ksu.edu

(The views and opinions expressed in this blog are strictly those of the author.)

In the spirit of solving once and for all the food safety problems that face the meat industry, there is an emerging technology that deserves a closer look.

That technology is High Hydrostatic Pressure Processing (HHP). It has applications for controlling Listeria monocytogenes in processed meats and Salmonella and E. coli O157:H7 in raw beef products.  HHP is already being used for the post-process pasteurization of processed, ready-to-eat meats in consumer packages, virtually eliminating the risk of Listeria. The technology is non-controversial and well accepted by consumers and consumer groups. It is a processing aid and therefore, labeling is not required.  

HHP can be used to treat food products that have a high moisture content (including most meat and poultry products).  The process involves the placement of sealed packages into a cylindrical pressure vessel. Water is added, and the vessel is closed. The vessel contents are pressurized at levels up to 87,000 psi (600) MPa. Once the maximum required pressure is achieved, it is sustained for a specified period (usually about 3 minutes). Even though the package is subjected to very high pressures, the food inside the package is almost unchanged.  HHP processing is done under refrigeration to prevent cooking the treated product.

HHP is widely used as a post-processing treatment to inactivate Listeria monocytogenes in RTE products. It also works for sliced products which can't be re-pasteurized using thermal based post-processing technologies. When HHP is used to treat products in the consumer package, there is no need for chemical growth inhibitors. If it were universally applied, the problem of Listeria in processed meats would be eliminated entirely.

Another possible application for HHP would be the treatment of coarse ground beef chubs for control of Salmonella and E. coli O157:H7.  After HHP treatment, pasteurized chubs could be distributed and then reground and packaged under aseptic conditions by retailers and further processors to prevent recontamination. This process would result in pathogen-free raw ground beef. 

HHP is an expensive technology and is probably limited at the present to big companies as an in-line process.  However, it is available to smaller companies because products can be shipped to central HHP facilities for treatment and then reboxed and distributed after processing.  A facility in Milwaukee, Wis. has already been established to provide this service.  HHP treatment does add costs, but it also greatly improves product safety, increases shelf life and reduces the potential for regulatory problems and recalls.

HHP is a technology that offers a way to make the safest possible meat and poultry products and represents a win-win for meat processors and consumers.

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