BY AMANDA WALDROUPE
An embrace of a new food processing technology has led to quick growth and job creation for Pressure Safe, a spin-off company of Morasch Meats, a family-owned meat processing and packaging business based in Wood Village.
According to president Michael Morasch, Pressure Safe is the only company in the Pacific Northwest to use a relatively new processing technology called high-pressure pasteurization (also referred to as high-pressure processing). The process involves putting packaged meat in a water-filled chamber. The water is chilled to between 30 and 32 degrees, and the chamber is pressurized up to 87,000 pounds per square inch. The meat is chilled and pressurized in the chamber for two to three minutes. The combination of chilling and pressurization stresses the cell walls of food bacteria and pathogens and kills them.
Pressure Safe began operating in late 2011, and can process 10,000 pounds of meat in an eight-hour shift. The company has hired 25 people, increasing the workforce shared between Morasch Meats and Pressure Safe by 25 percent, to 100 total employees. Dave Eatwell, the economic development director of the West Columbia Gorge Economic Development Consortium, says Pressure Safe is currently one of the few companies in east Multnomah County hiring many people.
Pressure Safe was able to immediately hire as many workers as it did because it quickly began pressurizing around 15 percent of the products Morasch Meat packages and processes. Morasch says that number could easily double in the coming months. Pressure Safe also has started charging a fee to pressurize meat for other companies. “It allows us to offer to other [companies] the services of high-pressure pasteurization,” Morasch says.
Pressure Safe already has added a juice company to its clientele, and a dozen prospective clients are in various stages of contracting with Pressure Safe, Morasch says.
The company will also be able to expand the products it is able to process beyond fresh meat, including juices, smoke and deli meats, and sealed, fresh products such as guacamole. “There is a big market,” Morasch says.
Morasch cites the 2011 passage of the Food Safety Modernization Act as one reason why his family became interested in opening Pressure Safe, and why clients are interested in contracting with the company. The law, among other things, emphasizes preventing food-borne illnesses. “We needed some way of making sure that there are no pathogens in the product,” Morasch says.
The Food and Drug Administration cites the method as a safe and effective way of killing E. coli, salmonella and listeria. Pressure Safe tests every product batch, and Morasch says no batch has tested positive for microbes. “The Food Safety Modernization Act creates demand,” he says.
Morasch says the process gives the meat a longer shelf life, and is a safer, more efficient method compared to other processing methods, such radiation or cooking the meat. “If you're looking for a raw or fresh product, high pressure pasteurization serves a need,” he says.
Amanda Waldroupe is a contributing writer for Oregon Business.