American Pasteurization Company: Processing Food for Safety and Shelf Life

Justin Segel founded American Pasteurization Company (APC) in 2004. “Basically, I have spent my life, more or less, in the food business,” says Segel, CEO of APC. Before founding APC, Segel spent 30 years in the meatpacking business, and he boasts over a decade of experience with large processors of ground beef.

Much of Segel’s experience involved the safety of ground beef and ready-to-eat meat products. In the case of ground beef, eliminating Escherichia coli (E. coli) 0157-H7 was an industry focus in the late 1990s. At the same time, eliminating listeria and other harmful pathogens in ready-to-eat meats became another key area of concern.

“Given the industry’s experience with E. coli recalls, a zero-tolerance standard was being applied to listeria as well, which made finding a post-package intervention solution critical,” explains Segel.

According to Segel, the Holy Grail of food safety is a post-package intervention. Segel’s research-and-development staff explored and rejected a number of ideas to safely eliminate such pathogens before focusing on the use of high pressure, which yielded impressive results.

Nothing Short of Innovation

High-pressure processing (HPP) is a nonthermal process in which packaged food items are subjected to pressure in a large vessel of water. The product is first introduced into the vessel, the vessel is then breached off and water is pumped into the vessel until 87,000 pounds per square inch (psi) is reached. The product is then held in the vessel for several minutes – time depending on the type of product – and is then decompressed.

“While it may seem probable that a food product, such as a package of hummus, would explode under those stresses, damage is prevented through the use of hydrostatic pressure, where the same force is applied equally in all directions,” explains Segel.

“On a cellular level, the pressurization kills pathogens and unwanted organisms by interrupting cellular activity, leaving a clean, healthy product that is moved down the line,” continues Segel. “Because the process does not significantly alter the temperature of the product, the nutritional value, taste and texture of fresh food are retained.”

HPP can also extend a product’s shelf life in many cases, eliminating the need for preservatives and freezing. “Preservative-free and fresh, not-frozen products are two of the most important trends in the food business today,” says Segel.

The technology utilized by APC, while producing spectacular results, is expensive. According to Segel, HPP’s earlier iterations did not have the throughput to make it cost effective for many manufacturers. “When the technology was first developed, it just wasn’t economically viable,” Segel explains. “The machines were too expensive and there was an issue of redundancy.”

“Because HPP is a food safety intervention, it becomes a critical control point and redundancy is a significant issue,” continues Segel. “In order to utilize this technology in house, a manufacturer would need to overbuild capacity and therefore chronically underutilize the expensive equipment. For this reason, many manufacturers found in-house HPP technology cost prohibitive.”

As the industry began to realize the value of HPP, APC was founded on a tolling business model, helping to address cost and redundancy issues. “In such a model, manufacturers only pay for the product that goes through the HPP process,” says Segel. “By virtue of pooling the volume streams of numerous clients, APC is able to more fully utilize the equipment, as well as install more of it to address the issue of redundancy. You have peaks and valleys, so customers only pay for what we pasteurize.”

The team at APC proudly offers food safety and shelf-life benefits to customers seeking the increase of product’s value. The team utilizes a technology applicable to a wide variety of food products, including fresh ground beef, salsa, hummus, ready-to-eat meats of all kinds in addition to dips and juices.

“Originally, the technology was a food-safety measure,” says Segel. “The side benefit is a dramatic extension of shelf life. For a manufacturer, that offers formulation advantages, longer production runs and better risk management.”

Growth and Progress

Customer service is an important component of APC’s success and growth. The team has developed the knowledge to guide clients through the validation and testing phase, as well as solve packaging and logistic issues.

Several key partnerships aid in this process, including the National Food Lab, APC’s science partner, which expedites microbial testing. As a valuable partner to many, APC provides many other services in addition to HPP. The APC team also offers supply chain solutions in order to keep costs as low as possible for clients.

With growing partnerships also comes internal growth. APC has grown its Milwaukee facility to four operating lines with a 1.2 million pound weekly processing capacity with room for expansion to six lines, which Segel says could reach full capacity in 2013. The line expansion could grow processing to 2 million pounds per week. Currently, a year-round crew of 70 is supplemented with flex labor to total 120 employees during busy periods.

Because of the company’s mounting success, APC opened a second plant in Sacramento, Calif., in November 2012. APC’s Sacramento plant has the capacity for five operating lines, and Segel hopes to add a second unit in the late spring 2013.

As the first toll provider of HPP services in the country, APC is exactly where Segel wants the company to be: a growing industry leader with multiple locations and valuable partnerships providing innovative services to clients in the food industry.

“We view our clients’ success with these products as our success,” says Segel. “We do not manufacture any products and will not, since we have no intention of ever competing with our customers. We do everything possible to make the use of HPP as efficient as possible for our clients and focus on making them as competitive as possible.” The company is customer driven, ensuring Segel and the team at American Pasteurization Company will continue to provide efficient, quality solutions for years to come.