Prepared Foods talks with Dan Zakri, director of new product development at Sandridge Food Corp., a Medina, Ohio, processor of refrigerated entrees, sides, salads, soups and more for retail, in-store deli and foodservice channels.

Prepared Foods: What’s something new you’ve learned about food safety, that you now apply to your work?

Dan Zakri: We are more critical than ever on ingredient sourcing.  The FDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) regulations regarding ingredients (i.e., non-ready to eat) have altered our development and reformulation processes to help us make even safer food than before.

Because we make both cold processed and heat processed items (using both kettle cooking and sous vide technologies), we’ve actually changed our recipe development software to “flag” non-RTE ingredients, when considering for cold process formulations. 

PF: Sandridge installed high pressure processing lines in 2010. How has HPP impacted your work?

Zakri: Recipe development is no longer a science project.  Low pH levels and added preservatives were the traditional methods of extending shelf life and enhancing food safety.  HPP allows the food to speak for itself.  By that, I mean we can better capture “just-made” taste as we can lower dressing or vinegar percentages and we reduce or eliminate acidifiers.

PF: What percentage of your products use HPP?

Zakri: In my opinion, it’s never enough.  I’d say the amount is probably around 20%.  But remember, we also utilize sous vide and kettle cooking technologies, as well, for other products. This is all in addition to the standard GMPs and HACCP programs in our facilities.

I can say that all new cold process product recipes require HPP as a food safety step, unless it’s comprised on an ingredient that does not perform properly under high pressure.

PF: What’s your HPP advice for others curious about the technology?

Zakri: Test, test, test.  Find out which ingredients perform well, as well as which ones don’t, from a culinary standpoint.  For example, cabbage does not like high pressure and it turns to sauerkraut.  On the other hand, grape tomatoes work well because equal pressure on all sides keeps them whole, unless there is a pinhole or a small slit in the membrane.

Never ever think that HPP is the silver bullet.  It does not make bad food good.  It does not replace GMPs.

Chefs need to be prepared to make shelf-life decisions based on the sensory aspects of the food.  We’ve had products that have achieved more than 100 days, from a micro standpoint. However, at some point, texture or flavor begins to deteriorate.  It’s something our staff has become familiar with during the last several years.   

PF: What are a few R&D goals for 2017?

Zakri: Continue to focus on quality.  Chefs have a louder voice in recipe commercialization, and operators continue to rely on trained culinary folks to lead product assortment. 

We also will strive to simplify ingredient decks.  Operators and consumers are looking for short, easily pronounced statements.  We need to listen.   

Originally appeared in the November, 2016 issue of Prepared Foods as FIRST PERSON.