Research – High-pressure processing: food safety without compromising quality

EFSA

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

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

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

HPP can be used at different steps of the food chain, usually on pre-packed products. It can be applied to raw materials such as milk, fruit juices, and smoothies but also to products that have already been processed, such as sliced cooked meat products and RTE meals. In the latter case, it reduces the contamination originating from the manufacturing environment, for example during slicing and manipulation of the products.

This processing method reduces 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 more reduction is achieved. This is an important finding because L. monocytogenes contamination of RTE foods is a public health concern in the EU. HPP also proved to be effective at decreasing the levels of other pathogens, such as Salmonella and E. coli.

For raw milk, experts identified the time-pressure combinations that can be considered to have the same effect as thermal pasteurisation. These vary depending on the pathogen considered.

HPP is not specifically regulated at EU level and EFSA’s advice will inform the possible decisions of risk managers in this field.

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