Processors are turning to high-pressure pasteurization (HPP) to reduce pathogens and keep both pets and humans safe from dangerous cross-contamination. “HPP is most widely used for the inactivation of pathogens in the raw materials of pet food,” says Errol Raghubeer, Ph.D., senior vice president of R&D at JBT/Avure, Middletown, Ohio. “After HPP, the product can be sold as refrigerated or frozen pet food or sent to a clean room to be formed into shapes such as nuggets, bones or biscuits. The shaped, pathogen-free product can then be sold refrigerated or frozen, or further dehydrated by heat or freeze drying.” 

Raghubeer adds that while moderate levels of pathogenic bacteria naturally found in raw or minimally processed meat may not be harmful to dogs and cats who eat these diets, cross-contamination poses a dangerous risk to the humans who encounter these pets, as well as their food and dishes. The Food and Drug Administration recognizes HPP as an acceptable method to achieve pathogen reduction.

For dry pet food processors who blend freeze dried meat and dehydrated fruits and vegetables as inclusions with kibble into cat and dog diets, HPP provides an important level of assurance that the processor isn’t introducing a pathogen into the finished product. Co-manufacturer C.J. Foods produces kibble that is coated with ground freeze dried meat. Before being delivered to C.J. Foods, freeze-dried ingredients are pasteurized through HPP.

For Oak Creek, Wisconsin-based Stella & Chewy’s, HPP is a large part of the company’s overall food safety process. “We HPP all of our products that come out of our kitchen,” says Mark Sapir, chief marketing officer for Stella & Chewy’s. “In our kitchen we make freeze dried and frozen raw products whether it be patties, treats, chicken or beef — regardless of the form and regardless of the protein — we HPP everything.”

Sapir believes HPP has been an important factor in the company’s success. “It’s not enough to make great nutrition and unbelievably palatable products,” Sapir says. “It’s also important to deliver safe products for animals and in tandem with all the other steps we do on the food safety side, HPP has given us, our retailers and pet parents confidence in the safety of our food.”

Read more about pet food processing on our Operations page.