The method – under development within EU-funded research project HIPSTER – combines high pressure with temperature (HPT) to combat food pathogens with less chemical preservatives than existing methods, while maintaining the product’s nutritional value, according to a press statement.
The project could also look to secure a range of industry partnerships and alliances after ongoing development is completed, coordinator and technical-scientific manager in R&D for the National Centre for Technology and Food Safety (CNTA) in Spain, Silvia García de la Torre, told FoodNavigator.
The hope is that HPT technology could replace high temperature cooking for sterilisation since the traditional method ‘overcooks’ the food, loosing nutrients and the product’s fresh look, the researchers said.
“The food item will be shelf stable or chilled stable for longer without having been overcooked, which removes its fresh look. The product is still cooked, but in a shorter time and at lower temperatures than the products sterilised in a traditional way,” said Harold Oldenbeuving, deputy director at one of the project’s commercial partners, Marfo Food Group.
“High pressure-processed meat can be preserved for 12 weeks, as our earlier studies showed. It doesn’t have to be stored in a can; a bag can be used. If the heat is added, the meat can be preserved even longer,” added Karsten Olsen, associate professor at the University of Copenhagen.
However, although HPT has been proven at research level for both chilled and room temperature foods, the process is yet to be scaled-up to a commercial level.
A dedicated exploitation plan will be developed during the project lead by the industrial partners of the project, García de la Torre said.
Beside Netherlands-based frozen meals business Marfo, Spanish ready-meals producer Grupo Alimentario IAN is also involved in the project.
“The experiments running in the first period of the project are mainly studies on microbial inactivation kinetics of pathogen and spoilage microorganisms under HPT treatment in food model systems varying fat, protein, water activity and pH values followed by proof of concept studies in real foods.”
Nine European partners will work together until August 2017 on HPT challenges to implement the process in the food industry on an industrial scale, according to Hipster’s website.
The HPT researchers expect to end the experimental phase and start selling the technology for large-scale use by 2019.
The HPT method subjects preheated food products to pressures between 500 and 600 megapascals (MPa). The rapid pressurisation of the food product results in an additional and instantaneous increase of the temperature of the product reaching 90 to 120 ºC, García de la Torre explained.
“Both, the pressure and the heat contribute to the process’s lethality against microorganisms,” she said.
One of HIPSTER's goals is to improve the wider understanding of HPT’s effects on food, developing new knowledge about the inactivation kinetics of relevant pathogens and spoilage microorganisms in food products.
“This knowledge will be essential for food processors to ensure the safety of their treatments,” García de la Torre added.
They also aim to demonstrate added value of HPT technology in terms of food quality and consumer acceptance. Improving cost of production and sustainability are also factors.
“The food industry needs to cope with a globalised and increasingly competitive market.
"These challenges include the need for novel formulations or novel processes to enhance product quality and shelf life; reduction of energy and water usage, minimisation of waste and improvement of efficiency to promote competitiveness and sustainability and assurance of safety,” García de la Torre said.
As for potential industry partners sought, García de la Torre said the resulting technology will likely require commercial partners once the development phase is completed for the manufacture and marketing of some auxiliary units and control instruments.
“We aim to develop and bring to market a HPT equipment (and auxiliary units) with benefits regarding price, lifespan, higher performance, flexible production capacity,” she said.
“The deployment of this technology will lead to benefits for food producers as they will profit from manufacturing higher quality products with an improvement in the conditions required for storage and an increase in process efficiency (less energy/water use is expected).”
The resulting products will also likely open up transport possibilities and could therefore extend the export radius to reach new markets worldwide.
Another goal of the HIPSTER project is the development of a database containing microbial kinetic parameters determined under well-defined processing conditions, García de la Torre revealed.
This could allow definition of “process windows” (pressure/temperature/time) in which the most effective inactivation of pathogens and spoilage microorganisms occurs.
“We will generate useful data that speed the decision making and facilitate the case by case validation in the food industry. This will enable access to the technology to a larger number of food companies,” she added.