Misuse the term “natural” on a food label, and you can end up having to pay a hefty settlement. But if you can use a label to attract people on the lookout for natural products, then why not use it? That’s what some companies have started to do with the adaptation of the phrase "HPP" on their food and drink products.
What is HPP?
High Pressure Processing (HPP) is a method of food processing in which elevated pressures (up to 87,000 pounds per square inch or approximately 6,000 atmospheres), is brought to bear on food to inactivate microbes and maintain food freshness. The reason the foods don’t emerge crushed is that the pressure is exerted evenly, so no one side gets more pressure than the other. The process is also known as high hydrostatic pressure processing (HHP), ultra high-pressure processing (UHP), and pascalization.
The advantage of HPP
HPP maintains food's natural freshness as it extends shelf life by deactivating the molds and yeasts that contribute to spoilage without detracting from the food’s nutrition or taste, as no chemical or heat is added to achieve that effect.
More importantly, for food safety, it and eliminates the risk of pathogens that food can carry, like E. coli O157:H7, Listeria, and Salmonella. An advantage of the process being applied to pre-packaged products is that it eliminates the possibility of cross-contamination from any other foods carrying such pathogens.
The drawbacks of HPP
HPP only works on products that contain liquid and have no internal air pockets. That rules out all dry solids, as well as fruits like strawberries that would be crushed by the pressure. If the packaging has air pockets, it may buckle as a result of the process, as well.
The cost of HHP is also higher than thermal processing. A commercial scale system can cost between $500,000 to $2.5 million dollars, depending on capacity and level of automation. HPP can cost 3 to 10 cents more per pound than thermally processed products, though the cost for both the equipment and processing is expected to fall as HPP gains momentum.
HPP is particularly effective on products with high acid content. When applied to juices, HPP can extend their shelf life up to ten times what it would be without it. As a result, the juices can be distributed further distances, giving sellers access to additional retail markets
With respect to low-acid products, like milk and soup, HHP is somewhat more limited, as it cannot make them shelf-stable for a long time. But the products would still gain the benefit of staying fresh longer in the refrigerator and being free of pathogens.
Who’s using it?
The U.S. leads the world in HPP processing, but it is also used in Mexico, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Korea, and Japan. The list of companies who use the method for at least some of their products includes Hormel, Fresherized Foods, Garden Fresh Gourmet, Perdue, Puro Fruits, SimplyFresco, Maple Lodge Farms, and Wholly Guacamole.
Cargill, a major player in the meat industry, turned to HPP a few years back when it introduced the “Fressure” hamburgers, with double the shelf life of hamburgers not treated with HPP plus the possible option of minimal cooking or cooking at low temperatures without any concern of harmful bacteria.
Though the FDA does not require foods to be labeled with the type of processing used, some think it would be a good idea for the industry. Edible Intelligence: Why doesn't the food industry embrace proven tech? suggested that adopting labels that show what kind of treatment food has had can be a major selling point for people who want to know that the food has been treated for pathogens.
Some companies have already started to do that, advertising the fact that they use HPP processing. They include the following:
Ifantis puts a “FreshPress label” on its package to assure buyers they are getting the “ultimate food protection.”
Fresherized Foods boasts: “This HPP technology allows us to produce products with unparalleled food safety while maintaining an all-natural high quality fresh tasting product. Better put, our products are Fresherized®.”
Maple Lodge Farms puts a “High Pressure Protection™” label on its products.
Most recently, GanedenBC30 announced that it was launching the first probiotic in an HPP Juice.
Perhaps this is the start of a new, health conscience consumer trend. Whether HHP will join the ranks of "non-GMO" and "gluten-free" food labels, we can only wait and see.
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