Commercial scale validation facility for high-pressure processing

Published: 14-Mar-2017

US-based Cornell University has opened a commercial-scale high-pressure food processing validation facility

With the installation of a commercial-scale high-pressure food processing unit, Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences says it has the first commercial scale validation facility for the high pressure technology used to kill foodborne pathogens and extend product shelf-life.

The new Hiperbaric 55 high-pressure food processor at Cornell’s New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, New York, will set food safety standards for the increasingly popular high-pressure processing, favoured by companies for its ability to retain fresh quality attributes in food while inactivating spoilage and pathogenic microorganisms.

High-pressure food processing takes ready-to-eat foods, already in their final packages, surrounds the packages with water, then subjects them to isostatic pressure up to 87,000 pounds per square inch. For comparison, that is more than six times the pressure at the bottom of the Mariana Trench, the deepest ocean trench on earth.

Better understanding of high-pressure food processing is especially important for manufacturers of fresh, packaged, ready-to-eat foods: that segment of the food market is booming as consumers look for healthier choices but still demand convenience.

Food science professor Randy Worobo is overseeing the new validation center that houses the high-pressure processing unit. The validation center is part of the Institute for Food Safety at Cornell University, established in 2015 to harness Cornell’s strengths in food safety research and training to combat foodborne illnesses caused by pathogens such as Listeria and E. coli.

“The food industry is adapting high-pressure processing very rapidly because it retains the fresh-like character of the food products while guaranteeing safety by inactivating foodborne pathogens,” Worobo said.

“At Cornell University, we have a long-standing history of working very closely with the food industry to help companies innovate and create new products, while ensuring the safety of the food. This is just another example of our collaboration fueling economic opportunities for companies while protecting consumers.”

The commercial-grade processor at Cornell is the first in the US installed within a Biohazard Level 2 facility — which means researchers will be able to introduce pathogens to foods and test how well the pressure system kills them. That is important for companies in dealing with regulatory agencies tasked with ensuring food safety.

“Because high-pressure processing is such a new technology, the federal regulatory agencies are not that familiar with it, and what they expect is for companies to have validation studies that actually demonstrate that under this pressure, for this time, with this food, that you get a consistent pathogen reduction that meets regulatory guidelines,” Worobo said. “Cornell is setting the standards that companies will use to bring fresh, high quality foods to market in a safe way.”

Currently, the most common process used by food manufacturers to kill harmful pathogens such as Listeria and E. coli involves heat treatments. But that can be problematic for fresh, ready-to-eat foods such as salads, cheeses, guacamole, and hummus because heat changes the food’s flavour, texture and some nutritional components.

Another method to inhibit spoilage microorganisms is to apply chemical preservatives, but consumers are growing increasingly wary of that method. Ultraviolet radiation can be used to kill pathogens, but is limited to fluids where the UV light can penetrate.


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