January/February 2024

Navigating production line challenges in implementing high pressure processing
By Tom Egan, PMMI

In the ever-evolving landscape of food technology, high pressure processing (HPP) has emerged as a transformative method, particularly revolutionizing produce packaging.

Aided by the upsurge in demand for ready- to-eat foods and longer shelf life of food products, the global HPP foods market is projected to grow at a CAGR of 8.6% between 2024 and 2032, according to Expert Market Research.

Tom Egan

HPP, a non-thermal pasteurization technique, utilizes intense pressure rather than heat to deactivate harmful pathogens present in food products. Applied in a controlled environment, the process subjects food items to pressures of up to 87,000 pounds per square inch (psi) or higher for a few seconds to several minutes.

This pressure, equal to the force exerted at the bottom of the ocean’s deepest trench, effectively eliminates bacteria, viruses, yeast and mold without compromising the food’s freshness or quality.

When it comes to produce packaging, HPP presents a game-changing solution. The technology helps enhance the safety and durability of fresh fruits and vegetables, minimizing the need for preservatives and additives. By subjecting the produce to immense pressure, HPP eradicates spoilage-causing organisms, thereby significantly extending the shelf life of these perishable items.

One of the primary advantages of HPP in produce packaging is its ability to maintain the nutritional content and natural flavors of fruits and vegetables. Unlike traditional methods that may compromise the nutritional value through exposure to high temperatures, HPP preserves the vitamins, minerals and enzymes present in fresh produce. This retention of nutritional elements ensures that consumers receive the maximum health benefits from the food.

HPP allows for greater flexibility in packaging options for produce. By extending the shelf life of perishable items, producers and retailers can explore various packaging materials and formats without the immediate concern of rapid spoilage. This flexibility opens doors to innovative packaging designs, convenient portion sizes and reduced food waste, aligning with consumer demand for sustainability and convenience.

HPP holds promise for revolutionizing produce packaging, but its implementation poses specific challenges for processors. Photo courtesy of PMMI.

While HPP offers numerous benefits, this technology isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. Certain factors, including the type of produce, pressure levels and processing times, must be meticulously calibrated to ensure optimal results. Additionally, while HPP eliminates harmful pathogens, it does not eradicate all microorganisms. Hence, proper handling and storage post- processing remain essential to maintain food safety standards.

Another challenge lies in the capital investment required for installing and maintaining high-pressure equipment. The substantial costs associated with acquiring HPP machinery and ensuring its proper upkeep can be a significant barrier for smaller processors.

While HPP enhances the shelf life of produce, it demands stringent operational protocols. Processors must adhere to precise pressure levels and processing times tailored to different fruits and vegetables. The need for specialized expertise and meticulous calibration poses a learning curve for personnel operating the equipment, potentially impacting production efficiency during the initial phases.

But there is help. The Cold Pressure Council acknowledges the challenges with this technology and actively provides support and guidance to processors navigating these hurdles. This association offers resources, including best practices, training modules and industry insights, to assist processors in effectively integrating HPP into their production lines while mitigating operational disruptions and ensuring food safety standards.

HPP holds promise for revolutionizing produce packaging, but its implementation poses specific challenges for processors. Overcoming capital investment barriers, adapting production lines, ensuring precise operational protocols and managing post-processing logistics are crucial aspects that demand attention.

Solutions to these challenges can be explored at PACK EXPO East 2024 (March 18-20, Pennsylvania Convention Center, Philadelphia). See the latest innovations in action and discover the latest solutions to your produce packaging and processing challenges at the largest edition of the show to date, with exhibits from more than 40 vertical markets offering crossover solutions to manufacturing needs.

Companies can assess the latest technologies, learn from leading industry experts and make valuable connections to meet current or upcoming projects.

For more information and to register, go to packexpoeast.com.

Tom Egan is vice president of Industry Services for PMMI.

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