This article originally ran in the March 2013 issue of Food Manufacturing.
Non-thermal food safety invention creates processing gains and opportunities for growth.
A heightened regulatory climate, the relentless quest for processing efficiencies, and enhancing revenue through new product development are top-of-mind issues in the seafood industry. Controlling pathogenic Vibrio, coliform bacteria, and viruses in oysters and other shellfish will always be paramount to public health. At the same time, cost pressures continue to make the drive for productivity improvements an ongoing effort. Moreover, as public awareness of the nutritional benefits of seafood grows, so does the consumer appetite for convenient, easy-to-prepare meals, spurring processors to create inventive, value-added products.
One proven technology, high pressure processing (HPP), addresses all three of these challenging trends.
Conventional HPP applications have focused on the inactivation of microorganisms for food safety and shelf-life extension benefits. The non-thermal process uses water at ultra-high pressure (up to 6,000 bar or 87,000 pounds per square inch) to inactivate foodborne pathogens.
Along with its role as a lethality step, HPP has helped seafood producers realize notable productivity gains. Its commercial success in shucking crustaceans and mollusks — lobster, crab, oysters, mussels, clams, and scallops — has been well documented. The advantages go far beyond accelerating production, decreasing the need for manual labor, and minimizing the physical damage to the meat from shucking knives. HPP’s effectiveness in separating raw lobster and crab meat from the shell allows for 100 percent recovery. The natural hydration of the raw protein inherent in the process not only increases product yield but also improves texture and eliminates the need for undesirable chemical additives. It also results in less water loss during storage or cooking.
In addition to these safety and productivity benefits, HPP delivers impressive shelf-life extension, up to twice as long in some cases. This advance now makes it possible to develop unique value-added offerings that maintain fresh quality through the distribution chain, opening up export opportunities and satisfying retailer demands — while commanding higher price points and meeting consumer expectations for convenience.
Today many seafood processors are strategically leveraging the technology to invent new products that help them stand out from the crowd and stay a step ahead of the competition. One example is an American seafood processor that has harnessed the power of high pressure processing to meet the consumer demand for ready-to-cook, convenience products. The Southern California company is rolling out a new line of refrigerated value-added seafood consisting of four varieties of fresh fish (shrimp, tilapia, salmon and mahi-mahi) packaged with a sauce. Tailored to today’s consumer tastes for healthful, fresh, and convenient eating, the fish can be sautéed with its sauce in the home kitchen and ready to eat in less than ten minutes. When added to rice or pasta, it makes a tasty, nutritious, cooked-at-home family meal. In addition to pathogen destruction, HPP enhancement gives the seafood products an extended refrigerated shelf-life with no alteration in taste or texture.
Another processor has totally transformed lobster cuisine with a breakthrough product: shucked, packaged, fresh Maine lobster meat, also facilitated by HPP. Acknowledged for its inventiveness with international culinary awards, the raw lobster meat has created a host of new product opportunities for the processor, such as lobster ceviche, lobster carpaccio, and lobster tempura.
To keep pace with the shifts in both the consumer and processing arenas, seafood producers need to look beyond conventional operations and find ways to differentiate themselves in the marketplace. While integrating HPP into product strategy is typically a journey, requiring food science expertise and professional support, it is a move with the promise of high return. HPP affords brand protection in the form of enhanced food safety, takes advantage of shelf-life extension to expand opportunities for export, and taps into evolving consumer tastes for fresh, natural, convenient food. Companies that are first to market will gain a competitive advantage.
Given the many healthful benefits of seafood, this established technology overcomes many key processing obstacles and offers a proven path to growth.