News emerged at the recent Anuga FoodTec show in Cologne that a new high pressure processing (HPP) - also known as cold pasteurisation - installation was set to come onstream in the UK this year.
While equipment supplier NC Hyperbaric and its UK agent Interfood Technology were keeping details about the end-user hush hush, this could be the spur that this technology needs to see greater uptake in the UK.
So far, the relatively high costs (typically between £300,000 and £1M) of HPP, which uses pressures between 100MPa and 700MPa, have restricted its adoption here, unlike in Spain and the US, where firms such as Hormel Foods are using HPP to kill off Listeria monocytogenes (Lm) in packed meat slices.
Juice processor Orchard House was one of the first to use HPP here, but no longer does. Studies say there is only one commercial HPP plant in the UK - the Bare Fruit Products company in Belfast, which makes fruit smoothies under the 'Puro' brand. If there are others, they are keeping it under wraps.
The project looking at HPP for treating seafood, involving Campden BRI, funded by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Seafish Industry Authority and Norconserv - the Norwegian Institute of Fish Processing & Preservation Technology - was completed in September 2008. It showed positive results, but obstacles to HPP implementation remain.
According to one expert: "There are quite a few manufacturers using it, but not in the UK." However, he did report that a number of companies were "playing around with it". "There are some good arguments for using it, but one of the problems is that a lot of the bigger firms can't get the throughput they want and a lot of smaller firms that could really use it can't afford the equipment."
He added: "As a post-pack process it is fantastic, but it is only going to work for a premium product."
However, with rising levels of food-borne listeria and campylobacter in the UK and irradiation prohibited as a meat treatment process, HPP's ability to kill off bacterium such as Lm and extend shelf-life without incurring the flavour changes of chemical treatments, could mean that its time has finally come.
Certainly, a symposium at Anuga FoodTec on HPP proved a big draw this year, with about 150 delegates reportedly attending. The interest in HPP has probably been spurred by clarification that it is no longer considered to need approval as a 'novel process'.
With a fair wind, the pan-European Framework 6 food quality and safety project, NovelQ, may provide solutions to the barriers to take-up of novel processes such as HPP, as well as others.