High pressure processing (HPP) is said to be the future of food and beverage technology, according to a report by Campden BRI when they conducted a survey on European food experts in 2015. The open-ended survey meant respondents were not prompted for an answer at all, and the top five technologies as answered by them were: HPP, cold plasma, pulsed electric fields (PEF), microwave pasteurisation/sterilisation, and ultra-violet processing.
But what is HPP and why is it seemingly overtaking all other technologies?
High pressure processing is a sterilisation method which subjects food and beverage products to intense pressure of 600 mpa (equivalent to that present in an ocean 60 km deep) for a few seconds to minutes, killing all bacteria present.
Conventionally, manufacturers of both food and beverages have used the traditional technique of pasteurisation, a heat treatment technique, to kill bacteria. Although this method does indeed serve the purpose of making food and beverages safer by eliminating bacteria presence, it also has a major disadvantage—subjecting products to heat also reduces quality in terms of freshness, as well as lowers its nutritional value as many essential and valuable minerals are heat-sensitive.
HPP on the other hand, overcomes these disadvantages as it does not involve heat. It therefore avoids and reduces the need for food preservatives enabling manufacturers to label products with a clean label, retains food quality, and produces safe products with an extended shelf-life.
Manufacturers of products such as fruit beverages that often contain heat-sensitive vitamins and minerals would therefore prefer this method over pasteurisation, as HPP can retain these and provide a healthier drink. The resultant product can then be presented as a premium option for which consumers would be more willing to pay extra.
HPP also opens up opportunities for innovation; other ingredients never before used in food and beverages due to their limitation of being heat-sensitive may now be incorporated into these products. This includes molluscs, crustacean meat, or general seafood, which traditionally have been subjected through heat (usually boiling) in order to assure their non-bacterial presence and safety.
Also, pasteurisation, involving heat, requires a lot of energy which drives up costs. HPP in contrast requires only water—which can be recycled—and electricity. This method therefore provides a green alternative to pasteurisation, in addition to its other benefits.
A drawback of the technology is that it is far pricier than the average pasteuriser system, which might discourage manufacturers from switching over despite the benefits that HPP offers. However, when taking into account the cost of the additional equipment and processes required with a pasteuriser (e.g. decontamination and maintenance of equipment), this cost may be evened out, said Colette Jermann, lead author of the study and food scientist for emerging technologies at Campden BRI.
In a world where consumers are becoming more conscious about what they consume and demand for healthier and more natural food and beverage products, HPP could be one way to ensure that food and beverages remain safe, yet retain the original characteristics of flavour and nutrients.