By: Frank de Bok
Many plant-based products sold have already undergone a heat treatment during the production process, therefore, often seen as ready-to-eat. The checks on compliance with the legal requirements that apply to this food category (established in Regulation EC No. 2073/2005) have been tightened considerably in recent years. Many ready-to-eat products appeared to have been given a shelf life that was too long, therefore not guaranteeing the legal limit for Listeria monocytogenes would not be exceeded.
In response to this, many products have been altered, ensuring a long shelf-life. Reflected on the labels of these products is the use of acetic and/or lactic acid, used to slow down the bacterium, applied in various forms. It is therefore required to declare it as an E-number on the packaging. This trend is now also used in the production of ready-to-eat plant-based products. In many of these products, the risk of Listeria monocytogenes outgrowth is controlled by using these preservatives. Is this necessary to give a product such a long shelf-life? Producers could also choose to eliminate the risk through heat treatment. Although it also has downsides, it does offer the possibility of giving products a long shelf-life without declaring numerous additives on the label.
An easily overlooked alternative is that of high-pressure pasteurisation (HPP). This technique, usually used in the production of juices, and smoothies, has managed to fill a lot of shelf space in the supermarkets with a shelf-life duration of several months. This technique offers many possibilities for other plant-based products, and as a result, many producers are already in an exploratory phase regarding the application of HPP. They are investigating what it does to pathogens in their products.