Category Archives: Processed Meat

Changing the face of food processing

Food ShelvingProcessed foods carry a bad connotation for most people. The term conjures up images of chemical processes, controversial intredients, artificial colors and flavors – and that’s just to name a few. These aren’t great images for sure – and has spent a lot of time and energy educating people on the side effects and unhealthy, unsavory aspects of processed foods. But processing food was actually designed to keep food safe and accessible. Can that be accomplished while changing the face of food processing?

When it comes to food, at least in a Western context, we want it all, we want it now and we want it chemical-free. Consumers do not want to be limited to eating only local and seasonal produce; however, they expect their food to make its journey in an unadulterated state, and with colours, flavours and textures intact.

Against this backdrop is the necessity for food to be safe from bacteria.

About 75% of the new diseases that have affected humans over the past 10 years have developed from animals or products of animal origin.

According to the Europe Food Safety Authority (EFSA), Campylobacteriosis remains the most commonly reported foodborne disease in the European Union, with over 190,000 human cases annually. Common routes of the bacterium are raw milk and undercooked poultry.

Salmonella, often transmitted by eggs, is the second most common intestinal infection, with over 100,000 human cases reported each year.

Listeriosis is also causing great concern, and continues to rise in Europe. In 2014, there were 2161 confirmed cases, resulting in 210 deaths, the highest annual number reported since 2009. Dairy products, vegetables, fruit and seafood are the possible vehicles of the infection.

“Globalization and the movement of people have brought about trade in food, but there are also the chemical and biological hazards that come with it — and they know no borders,” explained Marta Hugas, head of the Biological Hazards and Contaminants Unit at EFSA.

For food processors, the challenge is huge. “Consumer preferences for convenient food that is easy to prepare, but as fresh as possible and minimally processed, are sidelining techniques like freezing, canning and chemical preservatives. Such techniques are very effective in terms of safety but may affect food quality and taste. Now we have to create new technologies to meet these demands and to ensure the long shelf life required by distant export markets,” said Geraldine Duffy, researcher at the Head Food Safety Department of the Teagasc Food Research Centre in Dublin, Ireland.

Duffy’s department is contributing to a European project called HIPSTER, which is attempting to validate and implement a food processing technology combining high pressure processing (HPP) with temperature (HPT).

Using high pressure to preserve and sterilize foods is a century-old technique known as high pressure processing (HPP) or Pascalisation, from the 17th-century French scientist Blaise Pascal, famous for studying the effects of pressure on fluids.

Applied to certain foods, high pressure can render inactive some microorganisms such as yeast, mould and bacteria, and some enzymes too, which contribute to deteriorating foods when processed.

In Japan since 1990, HPP has been used to preserve some juices, jellies, and jams; it is now used to preserve fish and meat, salad dressings, rice cakes and yoghurts. In the US, the technique has been used for guacamole: it did not change the taste, texture or colour, but the product’s shelf life increased from three to 30 days.

However, HPP has its limitations. After HPP, most of the enzymes are intact, which means the colour and texture (and also flavour) are not stable during chilled shelf life. Another important difference is food safety of non-acidic products, like vegetables or meat. Due to bacterial spores, non-acid food is not safe after HPP treatment.

Enter the new version of HPP, the snappily-named ‘high hydrostatic pressure in combination with temperature’ (HPT) technique, which adds a heating step to the high pressure processing.

The combination of a preheating stage and high pressure is expected to sterilize food products and ensure greater food safety, freshness and nutritional quality, while extending shelf life. In addition, HPT promises to be environmentally friendly thanks to its low energy costs and reduced water consumption.

“We are testing its efficacy on prepared meals with extended shelf life, including soups and ready-to-eat meals that contain chicken and fish. If the HPT technology works, it could be applied to other foodstuffs in the future,” explained Duffy.

The high hydrostatic pressure on its own inactivates vegetative bacteria on the food, but not the spores that could make it unsafe or lead to spoilage.

Thus, scientists are investigating if submitting the food product to the high pressure treatment, in combination with temperatures of about 90°C, will inactivate such spores while guaranteeing quality, safety and taste and in addition to giving a long shelf life — conditions that are much valued by the market and the catering industry.

HPT promises much, but has not yet been scaled up and fully implemented into the food industry to be compared against existing food processing techniques.

The HIPSTER project
The European HIPSTER research project is aimed at validating, implementing and marketing this new method.

Nine European partners (five industries and four RTD organisations) will work together until August 2017, to implement HPT in the food industry on an industrial scale.

HIPSTER addresses the main barriers preventing the first market introduction and full deployment of HPT. The project will focus on the following activities:

• Identify process windows (pressure/temperature/time) ensuring inactivation of pathogens and spoilage microorganisms using defined model systems and real foods.

• Engineering and construction of a full-scale HPT equipment unit suitable for processing at different pressure/temperature ranges. The equipment is based on an innovative design of the vessel. Include auxiliary units for the preheating and cooling.
• Construction of tools (sensors, gauges, etc) for process monitoring.
• Develop a public database containing microbial kinetic parameters determined under well-defined processing conditions for guidance to food industry and control authorities.

• Pilot and industrial scale testing of HPT treatments.
• Experimental production of a range of new food products (ready-to-eat and ready-to-use fish, meat and vegetable products).
• Shelf life studies.
• Viability study: compliance with legal requirements, economic feasibility and sustainability.
• Demonstrating in full-scale operational conditions the sustainability and techno-economic feasibility of the equipment and tools developed in collaboration with end users from the food sector.

Dissemination and exploitation:
• Communication of the technology to the broad public.
• Market plan to be deployed by each of the industrial partners.

It would be a remarkable development to embrace processed food without the current connotations. This is a HIPSTER we can all embrace!

Tyson closing two plants … good financial sense or decreasing demand from the center aisles?

TysonTruck_EmbeddedHere at we spend a lot of time talking about preparing fresh, whole foods in our own kitchens and buying ingredients instead of prepared dishes. We know that shopping the perimeter aisles of our grocery stores gives us a head start on healthier eating and we avoid those center aisles where boxes and cans take up shelf space. Tyson is one of the brands we’d find living in those aisles … it’s one of the brands that symbolizes the prepared foods we’re making every effort to avoid. So the news about Tyson closing two plants citing aging facilities and the vague “changing product needs” can easily lead us to believe that the decision may certainly be grounded in decreasing demand from the center aisles.

Tyson Foods Inc. announced plans to close the company’s prepared foods facilities in Jefferson, Wis., and Chicago. Production at the plants will cease Oct. 1, 2016, during the second half of the company’s fiscal year. Tyson said the plant closings will enable the company to transfer production to some of its other prepared foods operations.

Tyson attributed the closings to a combination of factors, including changing product needs and the age of both facilities. The company added that the costs to renovate the facilities were prohibitive. The distance of the Chicago plant from its raw material supply also was a factor.

“We examined many options before we turned down this road,” said Donnie King, president of North American operations. “This affects the lives of our team members and their families, making it a very difficult decision. But after long and careful consideration, we’ve determined we can better serve our customers by shifting production and equipment to more modern and efficient locations.”

Consumer demand drives many of the decisions coming from food giants like Tyson. Consumer voices have driven big manufacturers to drop the use of controversial ingredients from popular products, discontinue the use of genetically modified ingredients and create healthier product lines. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that a plants manufacturing processed foods (whether for consumer, deli or hospitality purposes) might be losing ground in a marketplace increasingly made up of more educated and conscious consumers.

While those center aisles are still heavily populated with boxes, cans, bags and jars, the consumers shopping those aisles are lessening in numbers. This news from Tyson may not be associated with changing attitudes and lifestyles, we feel pretty positive that it’s not the only news we’ll be getting from big food manufacturers regarding a decreasing need for processing plants.

Heart failure linked to process red meat in a new study

iStock_000041301708SmallWe know is that animal fats aren’t the good fats our bodies need. And we know that red meat is best consumed in moderation and then only the leanest cuts should be considered. We’ve also learned the enormous benefits of a plant-based diet, especially for those who have experienced heart problems. With all that in mind, this new research certainly makes a great deal of sense. It concerns processed red meats — things like sausage, hot dogs and lunch meats, and its results are fairly substantial.

According to a study in the American Heart Association journal Circulation: Heart Failure, men who consume moderate amounts of processed red meat may have an increased risk of occurrence and death from heart failure.

“Processed red meat commonly contains sodium, nitrates, phosphates and other food additives, and smoked and grilled meats also contain polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, all of which may contribute to the increased heart failure risk,” said Alicja Wolk, D.M.Sc., senior author of the study and professor at the Institute of Environmental Medicine, Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden. “Unprocessed meat is free from food additives and usually has a lower amount of sodium.”

The Cohort of Swedish Men study is, in fact, the first to investigate the effects of processed red meat independently from unprocessed red meat. It included 37,035 men age 45 to 79 years of age with no history of heart failure, ischemic heart disease, or cancer. Study participants finished a questionnaire on food intake and other lifestyle factors. Researchers followed them from 1998 to the date of heart failure diagnosis, death, or the end of the study in 2010.

After almost 12 years of follow-up, researchers found that heart failure was diagnosed in 2,891 men and 266 died from heart failure. Also, men who ate the most processed red meat (75 grams per day or more) had a 28 percent higher risk of heart failure compared to men who ate the least (25 grams per day or less) after adjusting for multiple lifestyle variables. The risk of heart failure or death among those who ate unprocessed red meat didn’t increase.

Results of the study for total red meat consumption are in line with findings from the Physicians’ Health Study, which found that men who ate the highest amount of red meat had a 24 percent higher risk of heart failure incidence compared to those who ate the least.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, some 5.1 million people in the United States have heart failure, with about half of those who develop heart failure dying within five years of diagnosis.

Processed meats are notorious for containing some specific controversial ingredients, like nitrates. They’re also too high in sodium. For years, conflicting research has been presented on links between processed meats and cancer and elevated blood pressure. So while this new link may not be surprising, the extent of the findings may well be. thinks it makes sense for consumers to be more aware of the amount of processed meats they are eating. Some items are more recognizable as processed than others. Pepperoni, salami, sausage and bacon are easy to identify. Some consumers may not realize, however, that the roast beef purchased at the deli counter is actually a processed meat. Let’s stay aware of our consumption to help protect our health.

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Sodium Benzoate coming to prepared meat and poultry products in a grocery store near you

One of’s most important missions is to educate consumers about the controversial ingredients found in our food products. There are so many food additives that aren’t good for our bodies and that have actually been linked to a myriad of serious health problems, conditions and diseases.

One of those food additives is Sodium Benzoate. This widely used preservative prevents the growth of microorganisms in acidic foods. It can cause allergic reactions and exacerbate asthma symptoms in sufferers. It is also known to exacerbate ADHD symptoms in both adults and children alike. In addition, and most concerning, is that when it is used with ascorbic acid (vitamin C), the two ingredients can react together to form small amounts of benzene which is a carcinogen.

Today we learned that Sodium Benzoate, along with Sodium Propionate and Benzoic Acid which had been prohibited for use in meat and poultry products will now be approved as of May 6th, 2013. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service has stated that these three additives are safe for use as antimicrobial agents in certain ready-to-eat (read prepared) meat and poultry products.

This ruling was prompted by a petition from Kraft Foods Global, Inc. in 2006 to allow their use to inhibit the growth of Listeria in ready-to-eat meat and poultry products. In 2010, Kemin Food Technologies also petitioned for their use for the same purposes. After evaluating the requests, the FDA stated that it had no safety objections to the use of the preservatives. They reviewed the supporting data which was supplied by Kraft and Kemin. While they concluded that the companies had established the safety of the preservatives, it asked for more data and granted both companies waivers to conduct trails on the efficacy of the additives as antimicrobial agents.

Data was then collected from in-plant-trials and scientific studies that illustrated that these substances do not conceal damage or make the products in which they are used appear better or of greater value then they actually are. Research findings demonstrated that the use of the additives is effective in controlling the growth of Listeria in ready-to-eat meat and poultry products.

There are many studies which have already been conducted linking Sodium Benzoate to numerous side effects and health concerns. is not especially concerned with the Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service’s insistence on data that shows that the additives do not make the products appear superior to others that do not contain them. We are, however, extremely concerned that these controversial ingredients will now be making their way into even more products on our grocery store shelves when we are already aware of their harmful potential. It would appear that instead of working to remove potentially harmful ingredients from our food supply, the FDA and the food industry are working expand their use. This isn’t good news for consumers and it’s something we’ll need to keep an eye out for in ingredient lists beginning in early May. Let’s stay aware and keep reading labels so that we can continue to avoid those ingredients as best we can.