High pressure processing has many applications across different categories in the food and beverage industry, spanning many different products, from fruit juice to ready-to-eat meals. One of the more underutilized categories may very well be dairy.
The dairy industry has long relied on heat pasteurization to render their products safe and increase shelf life. Milk especially is almost always thermally treated. And while for the most part thermal processing has accomplished what it was designed for, it has never been a perfect system.
The fact is that thermal processing noticeably alters the characteristics of foods, virtually regardless of type, although the exact changes are specific to the food being processed. Changes in texture, color, and taste are quite normal and are even to be expected when treating food with heat pasteurization. It also damages or destroys many of the healthy compounds normally present in the food, making for a nutritionally compromised final product.
On top of this, because thermal pasteurization typically happens before the product is placed in its final packaging, there is always a risk of post pasteurization contamination. This has been an ongoing problem for milk manufacturers, as milk is pasteurized in bulk before it is bottled. Even if the pasteurization process works perfectly, there are many opportunities for pathogens, such as listeria, to be introduced to the milk supply between pasteurization and bottling. Cleaning and sanitation must be maintained perfectly with regards to the equipment used to process and bottle the milk, and even then it is never a sure bet.
This is one of the great advantages of HPP: the product is processed in its final packaging, so the opportunities for post-process contamination are virtually eliminated.
While the dairy industry may be clinging to the old-fashioned process of heat pasteurization when it comes to milk, they have already begun making the switch to HPP with other common products like yogurt, sour cream, and dairy-based sandwich fillings, along with many others. Given the advantages of HPP for these products, it is easy to see why.
High pressure processing can inactivate the harmful bacteria, molds, and yeasts that can rapidly multiply in foods like yogurt. Best of all, HPP does this without harming the probiotic strains that make yogurt healthy or compromising the sensory characteristics of the product, like taste and mouthfeel. The same can be said for other categories of dairy products, like yogurt-based dressings, cream cheese, and even some kinds of traditional cheeses.
The standard advantages of HPP over traditional processing methods like heat pasteurization apply equally to dairy products, making HPP a viable option for many of the dairy industry’s most popular offerings. The process’ ability to extend shelf life and render the product safe to consume without changing important sensory characteristics or damaging vitamins and other important nutrients should resonate with producers and consumers alike. And given the general movement toward clean label products, which has profoundly affected all levels of the food industry, being able to offer a product free from artificial preservatives and other additives should be a very attractive proposition. For all of these reasons, the dairy industry is one area where HPP has the potential to see significant short-term and long-term growth, benefitting everyone involved.