By John Kalkowski, editor in chief, Food Online
HPP is a method of preserving and sterilizing food in which a product is processed under very high pressure. This process leads to the inactivation of most pathogens and enzymes in the food and can greatly extend shelf life while preserving food quality and nutrients, sometimes up to 90 days for products that might otherwise spoil in less than a week. It is rapidly being adopted for use with a variety of foods, including cold cuts, cheese, juices, guacamole, coconut water, ready-to-eat meals (RTE), and pet foods.
Marwan Moheyeldien, CEO of Maryland Packaging, says the company installed its first HPP system in June. This system is capable of processing 10 million pounds of food or beverages annually. He is so confident about the potential of HPP that the company has already ordered a second, larger machine capable of processing up to 60 million pounds of product each year.
Appealing To Millennials’ Demands
Moheyeldien says HPP can achieve longer shelf lives for foods without the use of chemical preservatives required in other food processing methods. These attributes are important to Millennials, those people born between 1985 and 2005, a group whose buying power is growing dramatically. For these demanding consumers, who are seeking healthier, minimally-processed food products with “clean labels,” HPP appears to provide the answer – even though the vast majority has no idea how the results are achieved.
“Millennials want better quality and better taste in their food,” he says, adding that these products must be made in a sustainable manner with no hormones or GMOs (genetically modified organisms). “Nature and the earth did not intend to give the same products year-round,” he says. With its longer shelf life, HPP offers a way to extend the availability of these products without using artificial additives or damaging processes.
HPP processing occurs after the product is packaged. It is an offline, batch process, often done in facilities separate from the original processing plant. Typically, the product is packaged in a flexible pouch or plastic bottle that is loaded into a chamber filled with a hydraulic fluid, which, in most cases is water. A pump pushes water into the chamber, transmitting pressure evenly through the package and into the food or beverage. Uniform pressure allows food to retain its shape in spite of the extreme pressure — up to 87,000 lbs./sq. in. — for short periods of two to five minutes. This pressure leads to the inactivation of yeast, mold, and bacteria.
Unlike most preservation processes in use today, HPP does not use high temperatures to kill pathogens. Those processes can destroy or diminish many of the nutrients within food. Thermal pasteurization also takes place prior to packaging, which increases the chances of recontamination if a product such as the lunchmeats is handled for slicing before it is packaged. In aseptic packaging, both the product and the container must be sterilized before packaging.
Youthful Entrepreneurs Turn To HPP
Maryland Packaging’s customers for the new process include Javazen and Sunniva Caffe, two companies specializing in coffee beverages. These entrepreneurs range in age from 19 to 24 years old.
Sunniva Caffé, created by two brothers attending Philadelphia and Georgetown Universities, is a coffee energy drink originally designed for use by athletes, but now being targeted to all health-conscious coffee drinkers. Sunniva is being introduced at several Whole Foods stores on the East Coast and is expected to be offered at about 50 retail and fitness locations this fall. It is available in 10 oz., ready-to-drink plastic bottles. Each bottle also contains 10 grams of protein. The brothers worked with food scientists at the Rutgers Food Innovation Center to develop the product recipe.
Javazen is a blend of coffee, tea, and other organic flavorings and spices. This Bethesda company was started by three University of Maryland students, who offer what they call “one uniquely healthy, and deliciously energizing, brew.” This product is sold in flexible pouches, and is available online at Amazon.com or in a number of organic groceries and co-ops.
Moheyeldien says these types of start-ups are knowledgeable about the latest technology and are more open to innovations in processing and packaging.
HPP Adaptable To Many Foods
He also points to a joint venture in which his company is involved that will launch fresh dips being processed using HPP. These will include a sweet potato dip and zabadi, an Egyptian-inspired yogurt dip to be offered in sachets.
One of the early adopters of HPP is Hormel Foods, which has used this processing method for several products. “We are currently working aggressively to replicate Hormel’s success in the use of HPP, in areas such as RTE,” Moheyeldien says. He believes the process especially holds promise for the healthy and delicious RTE meals in school lunch programs.
Meanwhile, he expects HPP to become the preferred food processing technology. While food companies may have to change their formulations, they may find HPP more cost-effective since they can reduce expensive preservatives and use these natural recipes to improve sales.
Currently, there are only about 150 HPP systems in use worldwide, and Moheyeldien says Maryland Packaging has invested more than $4 million in the equipment and infrastructure to support HPP. In spite of the large capital investment, he says the number of companies using HPP is growing, and the lead time for new system orders is expanding.
For now, he adds, most systems are likely to be installed by toll manufacturers, such as Maryland Packaging. Toll manufacturers can provide the processing for a wide variety of products whose brand owners are unlikely to invest in their own HPP systems — especially if they operate in multiple locations across the country.
As an example, he pointed to Boar’s Head, a deli products company that uses HPP for its meats and cheeses, produced at 17 plants across the U.S. They are unlikely to purchase such a system “until the volume becomes epic” at a single plant.
For more information, visit www.marylandpackaging.com