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Putting Pressure on Food

The food industry has embraced high-pressure processing (HPP) as a food safety technology. HPP may also help satisfy consumer demand for clean-label products that are safe, nutritious, and don’t include synthetic chemicals.

Raw foods sourced from plants and animals start to spoil immediately upon harvest in response to a variety of microbiological, physical, and biochemical reactions. To extend product shelf life and deliver wholesome products to consumers, processors traditionally heat-treat food. Heat treatment helps to eradicate disease-causing pathogenic bacteria, as well as inactivate microorganisms and enzymes that cause spoilage. However, prolonged exposure to heat during processing can diminish product quality and destroy heat-sensitive nutrients.

To overcome these negative consequences, engineers and scientists are looking for viable alternatives to heat treatment. Food irradiation is one such technological solution that was developed in the 1960s, but lukewarm consumer acceptance for irradiated products has hindered its application. Other nonthermal lethal agents, such as high pressure, electric field, ultrasound, ultraviolet radiation, gases, and cold plasma, also have potential (1).

This article highlights high-pressure processing (HPP) technologies for eradicating pathogenic bacteria and inactivating spoilage microorganisms and enzymes in food manufacturing applications, while maintaining product quality (Table 1).

Table 1. Food manufacturers can leverage high-pressure processing (HPP) to slow food spoilage, eradicate pathogens, produce clean-label products, and more.
  Benefit Description
Improve Food Safety Kills a variety of vegetative forms of pathogenic and spoilage organisms
Reduce Processing Minimizes or eliminates thermal exposure
Produce Clean-Label Products Eliminates the need for synthetic preservatives
Reduce Treatment Times Efficiently applies uniform pressure independent of product shape and size
Retain Nutrients Preserves heat-sensitive nutrients
Reduce Waste Extends shelf life by about 1.5–2 times that of conventional products
Enhance Nutrient Density Fortifies foods through nutrient infusion
Reduce Labeling Does not require technology-specific labeling
Broadly Applicable Can be applied to a variety of liquids and solids

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