Ready meals is a fast-growing food category that has expanded enormously in the U.S. and other regions over the last decade, thanks to its ability to offer convenient lunch or dinner options for time-poor consumers. 

However, while refrigerated ready meals make for an attractive retail offering, they are also notorious for their often short shelf life, which can limit they commercial viability. It is here that High Pressure Processing (HPP) from JBT Avure can make a real difference.

HPP treatment can extend ready meal shelf life from an average shelf life of seven-10 days to as much as 45-60 days – the equivalent to three-four times as much as meals that are not treated after cooking.

“The quality and shelf-life of ready meals treated with HPP is usually dependent on the particular items in the pack which in most cases are vegetable materials,” explains JBT Avure’s Vice President of HPP Science & Technology, Errol Raghubeer. 

“Therefore, to gain the best shelf-life and quality extension for the product, we advise customers on processes related to these ingredients that will enable more suitability to the HPP.”  

At the same time, HPP has a significant part to play when it comes to food safety.

HPP is very effective in the elimination of pathogens such as Salmonella, Listeria and E. coli in ready meals and other food products to ensure the safety of consumers. However, processors of ready meals in the U.S. must meet FDA guidelines for refrigerated foods when it comes to non-proteolytic strains of Clostridium botulinum. 

Similar guidelines are in place in other countries. JBT Avure assists customers in preventing these hazards by recommending adjustments in intrinsic and/or extrinsic factors to satisfy the food safety guidelines.

Adding value

So why are these two factors of particular importance to ready meals manufacturers right now? It comes down to the impact of moving packaged products from freezers to refrigerated units, according to Raghubeer.

“Retailers can benefit from added value if they sell ready meals in refrigerated units rather than freezers,” he says. “As a refrigerated item, ready meals command a higher price because the perception is that refrigerated foods are better and fresher than frozen foods.”

Another major driver of ready meals at retail is convenience. “Consumers just need to heat them when they get home and they don’t have to defrost them,” continues Raghubeer. “In some cases, they don’t even need to heat the meals.”

“Soup is a very good example of the appeal of ready-to-eat in refrigerated sections. A lot of customers buy soups that are refrigerated to use them as an accompaniment for a meal.”

How does HPP work?

A clean-label technology, HPP can extend the shelf-life of most foods for 60 to 180 days: that’s as much as two or four times longer than traditional preservation methods. And HPP also has the advantage of maintaining the food’s natural nutrition, freshness, texture, and flavor.

The all-natural process uses pure water at incredibly high pressures to inactivate food-borne pathogens, like listeria, E. coli, and salmonella without preservatives, chemicals or heat.

LEARN MORE about HPP applications for Ready Meals from JBT Avure