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High Pressure Processing of Sous Vide Seafood Products


The overall goal of this project is to combine high pressure processing (HPP) and sous vide technologies to develop refrigeration-stable, convenient-to-use, safe, and high quality foods. Sous vide cooked foods exhibit superior textural and flavor attributes resulting from low temperature thermal processing and an oxygen free environment. Currently pre-packaged, sous vide ready products are not commercially available due to their short shelf-life. HPP offers the potential to increase refrigerated shelf-life and safety of sous vide ready products. Research is needed to understand and assess the effects of HPP on the physicochemical, microbial, and sensory qualities of refrigerated, and subsequently sous vide cooked foods. The successful combination of HPP, a commercially viable non-thermal processing method, with controlled low-temperature sous vide cooking, has the potential to contribute to increased availability of high quality, minimally processed foods for American consumers. This project has four objectives:1) Establish sous vide processing parameters for subsequent testing of high-value seafood products;2) Evaluate the effects of HPP variables (pressure/time) on quality attributes of sous vide ready and of subsequently sous vide cooked products;3) Determine whether consumers can differentiate between control and HPP processed, sous vide cooked products; and4) Determine the effects of HPP on the shelf-life of sous vide ready and of sous vide cooked products. Lobster tails and sea scallops will serve as initial model foods for all four objectives.

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The overall goal of this project is to provide refrigeration-stable, convenient-to-use, safe, and high quality foods for American consumers. Sous vide processing, the low-temperature, long-time controlled cooking of vacuum packaged raw foods in a hot water bath, has been reported to preserve flavor, aroma, nutrients, and texture of a wide variety of foods compared to conventional cooking methods. In addition to their high quality, sous vide foods are "minimally processed," which is considered desirable by many health-conscious consumers. However, the mild cooking process combined with vacuum packaging raises concerns about the potential growth of harmful bacteria. Administering high pressure to food products, aka "High Pressure Processing (HPP)," prior to sous vide cooking, can potentially increase the safety and refrigerated shelf life of sous vide ready products without the use of heat or food additives. This non-thermal process is already used commercially for a variety of food products, and because no heat is applied, it produces "fresh-like" foods with minimal damage to natural flavors, aromas, and nutrients. However, at very high pressures HPP can damage the texture of foods. Therefore, we propose to combine moderate HPP pressures together with sous vide processing to produce seafood products with superior nutritional, flavor, and textural characteristics. Although we are initially focusing on high value seafoods (lobster and scallops), the results should be applicable to numerous other food products. We will be conducting four studies designed to increase our understanding about the effects of HPP on various quality characteristics of refrigerated, and subsequently sous vide cooked foods. First, we will determine the best sous vide processing methods (time/temperature parameters) for lobster tails and sea scallops that result in safe and high quality products. Product quality will be based on consumer acceptability testing at University of Maine's Consumer Testing Center. Participants who enjoy consuming lobsters and scallops will be recruited to rate the acceptability of the products using a 9-point hedonic scale (1 = dislike intensely, 5 = neither like nor dislike, 9 = like intensely). In step two, we will evaluate the effects of HPP variables (pressure/time) on physical and chemical qualities of the products, before and after sous vide processing. In the third experiment, we will determine whether consumers can tell the difference between sous vide cooked seafood products that have undergone HPP and those that have not. In the final study, we will determine the effects of HPP on the physical, chemical, and microbial qualities of the raw and sous vide cooked products during refrigerated storage. The results of these four studies will provide important preliminary information about the potential to combine HPP and sous vide processing in the development of high quality seafood products. If successful, we would ultimately like to see these technologies applied in the production of a wide variety of nutritious and flavorful food products.

Skonberg, Denise I
University of Maine
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