CORVALLIS, Ore. - A new company here plans to use techniques pioneered by Oregon State University scientists and engineers to become the first firm in North America devoted exclusively to high pressure processing and preservation of foods.

Sam Huttenbauer, Jr., the chief executive officer of High Pressure Research, said one reason his company has located in Corvallis is to help OSU "advance the development of high pressure preserved products, process development, and the development of convenient packaging for foods treated with high pressure.

"We will work initially with a number of Oregon commodities such as seafoods, yogurt, fruits and fruit juices," said Huttenbauer. "The market for extended shelf life produces is big. It adds convenience and safety to food handling and marketing."

There also are health benefits, according to Huttenbauer, who has been associated with basic research in pressure processing since the 1980s.

"For example, we could eliminate pathogens in meat that cause illness," he said.

High Pressure Research will start commercial production of high pressure-treated food in April, according to Huttenbauer. Products will include shelf-stable, acidified foods that will stay fresh for months at room temperature, without heat or preservatives.

Also, he said, the company will produce refrigerated foods that will have a distribution life of up to 60 days.

The cost of the process is expected to be higher than freezing or canning, due to high capital costs of high pressure equipment, said Huttenbauer.

However, he said the advantages of marketing a "truly fresh-tasting food with an extended shelf life," even at a premium price, are expected to open distribution channels not available to conventional frozen or canned products.

The firm has located one of its production-scale machines on the OSU campus in the Department of Food Science and Technology. The machine will allow university researchers to produce test-market quantities of high pressure-preserved foods.

The OSU department is the only one of its kind in the country with this production capability, according to Daniel Farkas, its head. Farkas, who has conducted high pressure research since 1982, said on the surface high pressure food preservation is a simple process.

"You put packaged food and water in a chamber," he explained, "subject it to hydrostatic pressures between 50,000 and 100,000 pounds per square inch (psi), then take it out of the chamber. The high pressure kills the microbes that spoil food."

OSU studies have shown that a pressure treatment of 15 minutes at 85,000 psi is effective in preserving fruit juices, yogurt and other acidic foods. The time can be shortened by increasing the pressure.

The idea of high pressure food preservation goes back to the turn of the century, according to Farkas. Advances in metallurgical design and scientific investigation have enabled the process to become a commercial reality, he said.

Farkas sees the process as an alternative to other "cold preservation" processing methods such as irradiation.

"In principle, high pressure processing is canned food without the heat," said Farkas. "Foods are preserved without undergoing changes in flavor, color, texture, aroma or nutritional value often linked to heat processing."

Farkas said OSU's high pressure food preservation research is being supported by the U.S. Army's Natick Laboratories and by several industrial companies.

"Also, the development of high pressure preservation technology has been advanced by the Oregon Economic Development Department," he said. "Gary Ross, business finance officer at OEDD, has helped high pressure research secure funds to acquire pressure treatment equipment."

Farkas noted that Japanese companies preserve some food items with a high pressure technique.

High Pressure Research's main office is at 663 N.W. Jackson Ave., Corvallis, OR 97330.

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Samuel Huttenbauer, Jr., 800-894-0422