Hailing a patent-pending process for a new line of fresh hamburger patties as a “natural option for food safety” and a “technological breakthrough,” meat-industry giant Cargill has begun using a method of high-pressure processing to produce its newly introduced “Fressure” hamburgers for food-service customers.

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Cargill spokesman Michael Martin told Food Safety News that the company is already taking orders and shipping product. He also said that as orders for “Fressure” burgers grow, the company will likely explore introducing them into retail markets.

According to recent market research about hamburgers done by Mintel Reports, the use of “fresh” as a burger claim climbed by 18 percent from 2007 to 2010.

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While high-pressure processing (generally referred to as HPP), is already being used on a wide array of food products, including ready-to-eat meats, salsas, guacamoles, juices, and shellfish, the patent-pending process developed by Cargill for fresh hamburger patties represents an impressive breakthrough, say food-safety scientists and HPP advocates.

The benefits of HPP include a reduction of foodborne pathogens and spoilage microorganisms, extended shelf life, and fresh taste because HPP uses pressure instead of heat to process the food. As a result, preservatives and chemicals don’t need to be used in HPP food products.

Another plus is that because certain chemical bonds aren’t broken during HPP, no free radicals or chemical by-products are formed, both of which have become concerns for consumers. Yet, HPP doesn’t affect the structures of food components that are responsible for nutrition and flavor.

And because HPP doesn’t add anything to food, it doesn’t require approval from government regulators.

Food products that go through HPP are already packaged, thus eliminating the chance of recontamination before the food is shipped to customers. Even so, people preparing the food must follow food-safety procedures to keep the food safe from foodborne pathogens.

A boon for food service

Cargill says that for food-service customers, “Fressure” burger patties are a boon because the HPP process doubles the patties’ shelf life, while also keeping the “fresh” flavor intact and enhancing food safety.

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Brent Wolke, vice president for Cargill’s Wichita, Kansas-based food-service meat business said ground-beef customers have told the company that they want a product with a longer shelf life that doesn’t sacrifice the quality, flavor, texture and eating experience consumers are willing to pay for when they want a good hamburger.

“We were able to meet those objectives and achieve enhanced food-safety benefits by perfecting our process after years of research and development,” he said in Cargill’s press release about “Fressure” burgers.

Wolke also praised “Fressure” burgers as “an example of Cargill’s focus on food-safety innovation.” 

In a recent survey conducted for National Public Radio,  61 percent of Americans said they were worried about food contamination, putting meat at the top of their list of concerns.

Not the silver bullet

According to Cargill’s promotional literature, “Fressure” burgers will give diners “an eating experience superior to that of fully cooked burgers.”

But Cargill spokesman Martin was quick to say that the high-pressure process the hamburgers are put through is not a “kill step” but rather one that significantly reduces foodborne pathogens.

“It’s another step moving us further towards the company’s goal of reducing foodborne pathogens and spoilage microorganisms,” he said, pointing out that all of the necessary food-safety precautions will continue to be in place in the production of the “Fressure” patties.

The “Fressure” label will advise that the patties be cooked to 160 degrees.   

However, under current regulations, restaurant customers are allowed to order rare or medium-rare burgers, although restaurant menus must include a warning that consuming undercooked or uncooked meats and shellfish can pose a risk to human health.

Along the same lines, Cargill’s promotional literature states: “Even though the “Fressure” patties offer a significant food-safety enhancement, following safe handling and cooking procedures for all raw meat, including this product, is extremely important.” 

How does it work?

Cargill describes its patent-pending high-pressure process like this:


The already-packaged patties are put inside a pressure chamber and water is added to the chamber before it is sealed. The chamber is programmed to increase the pressure to the maximum desirable level and sustain it for a set period of time. The chamber is then decompressed and drained and the products are removed.

Because pressure is applied equally on all areas of a product, the packaging is not damaged nor is the product crushed.

The pressure reduces foodborne pathogens and other harmful microorganisms because it is forceful enough to significantly disrupt cellular activity. The process occurs when products are in their final packaging, thus eliminating the possibility of recontamination prior to shipment.”

Thumbs-up from food-safety gurus

In Cargill’s press release about its “Fressure” burgers, food-safety expert Michael Doyle, Center of Food Safety, University of Georgia, said that high-pressure processing of foods is a well-established treatment to mitigate contamination by harmful microbes such as Salmonella, E. coli O157:H7 and Listeria, without adversely affecting the product’s taste and quality.

He applauds Cargill for applying this technology to ground beef “to raise the level of ground-beef safety to a new industry standard.”

V.M. Balasubramaniam, Department of Food Science and Technology at Ohio State University,  who has been conducting HPP research since 1995, is quick to agree with Cargill officials that the company’s “Fressure” hamburgers represent a technological breakthrough.

“Meat treated with high-pressure processing is likely to be safer because the process destabilizes foodborne pathogens,” he told Food Safety News.

He also pointed out that, to date, there have been no foodborne illness outbreaks connected to foods that have been processed using HPP.

“This has been the most promising food-safety innovation in recent years,” Balasubramaniam said. “I think HPP technology will become a key component in food safety.”

On the consu
mer front, Balasubra
maniam said that a University of California, Davis, survey done several years ago revealed that consumers don’t have many qualms about high-pressure processing, especially since some of them could remember their grandmothers using pressure cookers to prepare food.

“It’s a physical process that doesn’t use chemicals or irradiation,” Balasubramaniam said.

Pressure comparisons

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Balasubramaniam said that at sea level, air pressure is 14.4 pounds per square inch. In the case of products put under HPP, the pressure is 60,000 to 87,000 pounds per square inch.

Yet because the high pressure is applied equally in every direction, the product stays uniform. Even so, products that contain a lot of air — bread, for example — are not good candidates for HPP, which works best with products that contain water.

Even oysters?

Yes, even pre-shucked oysters still in the shell can realize food-safety and taste benefits, as well as extended shelf life, from HPP.

Blue Seal Oysters from Nisbet Oyster Co., which has a 500-acre shellfish farm in Willapa Bay, Wash., are processed with HPP, promoted as “Fresher Under Pressure Technology.”

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The company, which is the only oyster processor on the West Coast using HPP, says that with HPP,  the oysters maintain their natural texture, moisture and flavor. It compares their flavor to fresh, live oysters.

Another benefit is that the high pressure breaks the bonds of the cells holding the abductor muscles to the shells, which means that they’re pre-shucked in the shell with no damage of any kind to the shell or to the oysters.

Kathleen Nisbet, production manager of the family-owned company, said the company markets them as “Safe-to-Eat Oysters.” Another food-safety plus: They’re also FDA-certified as a “safe-to-eat product.”

For consumers, there’s an important dining benefit as well. All a restaurant worker or diner has to do is remove the blue band surrounding each oyster and lift off the top shell. There in the bottom shell is the oyster in its own juices.

“People like them because they’re natural,” Nesbitt said. “They’re a pure product.”

The company sells its Blue Seal Oysters primarily up and down the West Coast and also online.

HPP going mainstream?

In a way, HPP has already gone mainstream, although for the most part, food processors who use it don’t advertise it on their labels.

According to a white paper put out by HPP global leader Avure Technologies, based in Kent, WA, examples of foods produced with HPP are nationally recognized companies, including Hormel Foods Corporation (prosciutto ham and other ready-to-eat meats) Perdue Farms (poultry); Avomex (guacamole, salsa, avocado pieces, juice, and ready meals); Calavo (avocado products); Leahy Orchards (applesauce), Winsoms of Walla Walla (chopped onions); and Motivatit Seafoods, Goose Point Oysters, and Joey Oysters (oysters).

In Canada, food giant Maple Lodge Farms (not Maple Leaf Foods, a competitor that has grappled with foodborne pathogen problems associated with Listeria) recently started using HPP. The company makes a point of marketing the food-safety benefits of HPP.

Avure describes HPP as “Food Safety’s Best Kept Secret” and points to $3 billion in food products worldwide that are created with HPP annually.

America is the leader in HPP, with Mexico coming in second. HPP products are also being produced in Europe, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and Korea.  

For Glenn Hewson, vice president of Global Marketing for Azure, Cargill’s new “Fressure” hamburger patties are an exciting entry to HPP, especially since Cargill is such an industry giant and because hamburgers are a favorite with so many people.

The product development for “Fressure” patties was done in conjunction with Avure equipment at a partner company in Milwaukee. Avure has a network of companies that can do high-pressure processing for food companies.

“Now you’ll be able to go into a restaurant and see the “Fressure” label on the menu and be assured of a fresh product,” Hewson said. “Right now HPP is largely unknown to consumers. But with Cargill, you’ll see consumer awareness. We always thought that if you could do fresh hamburgers with HPP, it would become mainstream.”

He’s optimistic about the future.

“With Cargill, it takes HPP to a new level,” he said. “Now the potential is not only ready-to-eat meats but also the raw product.”

Hewson attributes Avure’s dramatic growth in part to buyers’ interest in fresher ready-to-eat foods with a longer shelf life, coupled with concerns about food safety. He also pointed out that consumers are becoming increasingly interested in “clean labels” — labels with ingredients that “people can pronounce” instead of a long list of complicated-sounding chemicals.

The price-point for HPP has also improved in recent years.

“Equipment and operating expenses have come down and are coming down,” Hewson said. “HPP’s time has come.” 

To watch some videos about HPP, go to these links:

Video 1 (www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zt1Mp1svyHM&NR=1)

Video 2 (www.youtube.com/watch?v=dEiS8ODzGI8)

Video 3  (www.avure.com/landing/media/ccVideoPanel.asp)   


Images from top:

— Cargill’s trademark Fressure logo

— Mis-size high pressure press photo from Avure Technologies

— Burger photo from Cargill

— High capacity press photo from Avure Technologies

— HPP graphic from Cargill

— Blue Seal oyster photo from Nisbet Shellfish Co.