The 1998 Major League Baseball season will forever be remembered for “The Chase,” first by Ken Griffey, Jr., and finally between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, to top Roger Maris’s home-run record of 61. “The Chase” brought beer-drinking and hotdog-eating fans streaming back to MLB parks, many for the first time since the 1994 baseball strike. Then, as now, the most popular brand of stadium hotdogs was Ball Park Franks from Michigan’s Bil Mar Foods, a unit of the Sara Lee Corporation. As crowds swelled in the second half of the 1998 season, fans did not know that any number of the hotdogs they were buying were laced with deadly Listeria monocytogenes. That’s because, over the Fourth of July weekend, Bil Mar replaced refrigeration over its hot processing facility, possibly loosening up bacteria dripping from the ceiling. But it was not until after the World Series that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) began investigating the Listeria outbreak that resulted from the deadly bacteria with its long incubation period. CDC would eventually connect more than 100 serious illnesses and 21 deaths to Listeria infections caused by those Ball Park Franks. When pitchers and catchers report for spring training next month in Florida and Arizona, fans are not going to be worried about the hot dogs they buy at those ballparks. The main reason is because memories are short, and we have not experienced an outbreak in the U.S. involving hotdogs or lunch meats in a long spell. Credit for that, according to Popular Mechanics, may go to a long-dead French scientist. However, it’s not Louis Pasteur, but Blaise Pascal, whom the magazine credits with developing a high pressure processing method that can be used to kill harmful bacteria in some foods such as ready-to-eat lunch meats and hotdogs. Call it Pascalization, not pasteurization. HPP, as industry and academic experts call it, is a method of exposing meats and other various foods to elevated pressures – up to 87,000 pounds per square inch, or approximately 6,000 atmospheres, according to Ohio State University. High-pressure processing can also involve heat “to achieve microbial inactivation or to alter the food attributes in order to achieve consumer-desired qualities,” an OSU Food Science and Technology report states. “Pressure inactivates most vegetative bacteria at pressures above 60,000 pounds per square inch. HPP retains food quality, maintains natural freshness, and extends microbiological shelf life.” Also, according to OSU, among the advantages of HPP as opposed to commonly used heat treatments are that the sensory characteristics of the food are maintained without compromising microbial safety and its physical structure is unchanged. That’s why HPP’s uses have extended beyond ready-to-eat meats to guacamole, tomato salsa, applesauce, orange juice, oysters and more. For seafood, HPP is used to provide clean, close to 100 percent meat separation from lobsters, oysters, clams and the like by denaturing the specific protein that holds meat to the shell. As a non-thermal pasteurization, HPP removes dangerous bacteria, including Salmonella, E. coli and Listeria, with little if any change in taste, smell or appearance of the food or its nutritional values. This, in turn, reduces spoilage and extends the food’s shelf life. Some raw food advocates fear that HPP also eliminates beneficial bacteria, but they probably have more concern with traditional thermal pasteurization or sterilization. HPP is used on many products packaged in flexible containers, including pouches and plastic bottles. The packages are loaded into a high pressure chamber filled with a pressure-transmitting or hydraulic fluid. The fluid (usually water) is then pressurized in a chamber with a pump and the pressure is transmitted to the packaged food itself. The pressure is applied for a specific time, like three to five minutes. The products are then removed and stored or distributed in the traditional manner. The package retains its shape because the pressure is applied in a uniform manner. And, because heat isn’t involved, the food is unchanged and microbial safety isn’t compromised. HPP’s popularity is on the upswing in the U.S., Japan and Europe for high-value foods for both food safety and to extend shelf life. It cannot yet be used to make shelf-stable such low-acid products as vegetables, milk or soups because spores cannot be destroyed without added heat. It can, however, be used to extend refrigerated shelf life for low-acid products and eliminate the risk of foodborne pathogens such as E. coli, Salmonella and Listeria. Also, HPP requires foods that contain water and are without internal air pockets. (It could crush strawberries or marshmallows.) The 1998 Listeria outbreak involving Ball Park Franks made by Bil Mar Foods was a complicated affair. USDA had temporarily shut the company down a year earlier due to a condensation drip from the ceiling. Company environmental testing had showed a spike in cold-loving bacteria, and, as previously noted, the July Fourth equipment change-out may have loosened bacteria in the ceiling above the hot processing facility. Sara Lee ended up pleading guilty to two federal misdemeanors and paying a $200,000 fine for the deadly outbreak. “The Chase” of 1998 ended with McGwire finishing with 70 home runs; Sosa, 66; and Griffey, the one of the three not accused of using steroids, below the Maris record at 56. Three years later, a juiced Barry Bonds hit 73.