HPP has a positive safety record, so the decision to form an industry council was not sparked by any safety problems, Ms. Pitzer said.
“There have been validation studies done to set safety standards for high-pressure processing," she said. "The council is a way to make sure that everyone – equipment makers, tollers and food processors who use HPP – will be following these very strict standards."
She added that the HPP industry is growing very rapidly – about 15% a year – and explained several reasons for the growth.
“HPP is a way of pasteurizing food products, without the heat," Ms. Pitzer said. "And beyond food safety, the major benefit is that the process extends the shelf life of foods greatly. This is something that’s very important, both to food manufacturers and consumers."
Because of the growth in the industry, more tolling facilities are being set up to help smaller meat, poultry and other food processors do HPP, she said.
A great benefit is that HPP results in the manufacture of completely clean label food products – not only with much longer shelf life, but without preservatives.
“Consumers have become more and more concerned about preservatives in food – they don’t want to consume food loaded with preservatives – and HPP keeps them out,” Ms. Pitzer said.
She said that younger consumers – namely, millennials – have a great interest in what’s in their food, as well as what’s not in it.
“Consumers want to know the ingredients in the food products they eat," she said. "But today, they want to know even more than just what’s in their food.”
Because of its success, HP-processing is being expanded to other products, including pet food, baby food, soups and ready-to-eat meals, Mr. Nicolas-Correa said.
“And food service is a big and growing market for HPP," he said.
In the meat and poultry industry, high-pressure processing draws praise because of its great success in eliminating an extremely dangerous pathogen, Listeria monocytogenes, which can cause Listeriosis, a disease that can lead to death.
Kevin Myers, senior vice-president for research and development at Hormel Foods Corp., said his company uses high-pressure processing to achieve food safety in products that are handled a great deal in processing, and are sliced. Lunch meats and many other products fit this bill, and much HPP is concentrated in food service, with products going to restaurants and other institutional destinations, rather than retail.
“The advantage of using HPP to make clean label products is that there are no antimicrobials, as well as a longer shelf life,” he said. “In the traditional processing, you can have both shelf life loss and loss of flavor in the food.”
The HPP process took off in the late 1990s, Mr. Myers said, with the introduction by the U.S.D.A.’s Food Safety and Inspection Service of mandatory HACCP plans in the meat and poultry industry.
“In making prosciutto, we had no standard critical control point (CCP) for pathogens,” he said. “There was no kill step. So, we set up HPP as the kill step.”
HPP in the meat and poultry industry is used largely for fully-cooked products, not for raw items, Mr. Myers added.
Since consumers want meat, poultry and other food products that don’t have preservatives or additives, are natural, and since manufacturers and consumers both have an interest in foods with longer shelf life, it appears high-pressure processing has only one direction to go – up.