July 27, 2017

Cornell Develops Processor to Destroy Pathogens in Food

Cornell food scientists have developed a new high pressure food processor to destroy food pathogens. This is the nation’s first commercial scale validation facility for a technology that kills bacteria and extends the shelf life of fresh, ready to eat foods. It can be used on juice, baby foods, meats, and salads.

Bagged Salad Mix

The device is a Hiperbaric 55 high-pressure food processor at Cornell’s New York State Agricultural Experiment Station. It works by surrounding completed ready to eat foods in their packages with water. The machine applies isostatic pressure up to 87,000 pounds per square inch. According to Cornell, “that’s more than six times the pressure at the bottom of the Mariana Trench, the deepest ocean trench on Earth.”

More and more consumers want fresh, packaged, ready to eat foods. And there is zero tolerance for several bacteria species in those products, including Listeria monocytogenes and Salmonella. That food market segment is growing at twice the rate of other grocery products. So manufacturers have to be sure that their ready to eat products do not contain those pathogenic bacteria.

Ready to eat foods are currently treated with heat, which cannot be used on foods such as salads, cheeses, and hummus. Heat changes the food’s flavor and texture and can reduce nutrients. Chemical preservatives are another option, but consumers prefer they not be used.

Dr. Randy Worobo, food science professor at Cornell, said, “The food industry is adapting high-pressure processing very rapidly because it retains the freshlike character of the food products while guaranteeing safety by inactivating foodborne pathogens. 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.

“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.”

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