High pressure processing: food safety without compromising on quality

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High Pressure Processing (HPP) of food is effective in destroying harmful microorganisms and poses no more food safety concerns than other processing. These are two of the conclusions of a scientific opinion published today by EFSA.

EFSA experts have assessed the safety and efficiency HPP of foods and, more specifically, whether it can be used to control Listeria monocytogenes in ready-to-eat (RTE) foods and as an alternative to thermal pasteurization of raw milk.

HPP is a non-thermal food preservation technique that kills microorganisms that can cause illness or spoil food. It uses intense pressure for a period of time and has minimal effects on taste, texture, appearance or nutritional values.

HPP can be used at different stages of the food chain, usually on prepackaged products. It can be applied to raw materials such as milk, fruit juices, smoothies, but also to products that have already been processed, such as sliced ​​cold meats and ready-to-eat meals. In the latter case, it reduces contamination from the manufacturing environment, such as during slicing and product handling.

This processing method reduces the levels of Listeria monocytogenes in RTE meat products, at specific time-pressure combinations defined in the scientific opinion. In general, the longer the duration and intensity of the pressure, the greater the reduction. This is an important finding as L. monocytogenes contamination of RTE foods is a public health concern in the EU. HPP has also been shown to be effective in reducing levels of other pathogens, such as Salmonella and E. coli.

For raw milk, experts have identified time-pressure combinations that can be considered to have the same effect as thermal pasteurization. These vary according to the pathogen under consideration.

HPP is not specifically regulated at EU level and EFSA’s opinion will inform possible decisions by risk managers in this area.

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