High-pressure processing has a long game going on. As in, along the floor.
Horizontal orientation is now the norm for machinery that performs high-pressure processing (HPP). The earliest versions of HPP equipment were vertical, but as the technology has increasingly taken hold, horizontal equipment that can handle higher volumes has come to dominate the market.
It’s a sign of how HPP is maturing as a technology, its advocates say. According to an estimate by Hiperbaric (www.hiperbaric.com), a provider of HPP equipment, global HPP food production reached 3.4 billion lbs. in 2017.
“There is a great acceptance in several high-pressure processing products worldwide,” says Roberto Peregrina, director of Hiperbaric USA. “HPP shouldn’t be considered a novel technology anymore.” It’s moved into mainstream applications. Subway, Panera and other chains now get some of their lunchmeat from HPP processors; HPP user West Liberty Foods has won Subway’s supplier of the year award several times.
Both Hiperbaric and its biggest rival, JBT/Avure (www.avure-hpp-foods.com), now market mostly horizontal machines. The only vertical machine now available from JBT/Avure is the SS, designed especially to process seafood. (Its vertical orientation allows it to separate out sand and other impurities). Avure also markets horizontal models modified to handle seafood.
The point of the switch to horizontal is to allow higher volumes. The highest-volume JBT/Avure machine is the AV-70X, so called because it can, under the right conditions, process up to 70 million pounds of product per year.
If market predictions can be believed, that extra volume will be needed. According to Markets & Markets, sales of HPP products will reach half a billion dollars by 2022 – a jump of 90 percent over 2016 (the last year for which estimates are available).
The Markets & Markets study predicts that by 2022, the foods processed through HPP will fall into roughly the same categories they do now: fruits and vegetables, followed by meat, seafood, juices and other beverages, and a jumble of others including dairy products, grains and condiments.
Errol Raghubeer, senior VP of microbiology and food technology for JBT/Avure, says the breakdown of products processed on his company’s equipment is about 35 percent meat and other proteins, 20 percent beverages, 20 percent dips such as guacamole and the rest wet salads and other products such as ready-to-eat meals.
Wide product range
This product variety points up a crucial aspect of HPP: It can handle a surprisingly wide range of products, as long as they have enough water activity and meet certain other requirements. The equalization of water pressure on all sides of the packaging means that the product within is not ruptured or distorted.
In practical terms, this means the decision to use HPP often is dictated less by technical considerations than by comparison with other preservation options, like thermal treatment or preservatives. Cost is the most common consideration – but by no means the only one.
Sandridge Food Corp. (www.sandridge.com) is a processor of entrees, wet salads, soups, sauces and other products for retail, foodservice and club stores, including a substantial business for supermarket delis. Not all of its products use HPP, but all of the ones developed in the last half-dozen years or so do, says John Becker, senior director of marketing.
Sandridge started using HPP, using Hiperbaric equipment, for safety. “The reason we bought the system 10 years ago was for food safety. We heard about this technology that can actually help you approach zero bacteria,” Becker says. “The owner of this company is a food scientist, and he’s all about making the safest food we possibly can.”
That’s still the primary motivation. When tainted egg salad from another company made some consumers sick about a year and a half ago, Sandridge decided to start using HPP for all its egg salad and not raise the price.
“We didn’t do it for the press. We did it because it was the right thing to do,” Becker says. “We probably have clients out there that may not even realize their egg salad is HPP, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be.”