The raw pet food segment is expected to continue growing as it has for the past decade. Consumers are attracted to this pet diet due to the products being free from preservatives, synthetic additives, grains, fillers and any meat by-products. Raw pet food contains high-quality meat and vegetables. It is immediately frozen after it is prepared, which preserves its freshness. Easy for consumers to feed and offering peace of mind, pet parents around the world are pushing the segment to new heights.
To understand how raw pet food is processed differently than dry kibble and other types of pet products, JBT Avure—along with its customer Northwest Naturals—discuss the processing method they go through. JBT offers high pressure processing (HPP), a non-thermal preservation technology that meets the high-standard requirements of consumers and manufacturers of the pet food industry. When using HPP, you get the pathogen reduction that the FDA and the customer are looking for in cleaning up the material, without damaging the nutritional part of the food products.
JBT Avure and Northwest Naturals
Senior VP of R&D at JBT Avure, Dr. Errol Raghubeer, oversees HPP and food technology science at the company. “The fact is that you will get the pathogen reduction that the FDA is looking for in cleaning up the material without damaging the nutritional part of the food product, and that is the advantage of using HPP. You do not affect those critical nutritional factors that owners are looking for in the diet.”
Heat has been traditionally used, but all of the nutritional components of that product are damaged in the process. So, he adds, this is why operators have sought out non-thermal technology, and although there are many out there in R&D, HPP is the only one done commercially as an application.
The raw pet food industry uses HPP extensively to:
- Inactivate pathogens to keep both pets and humans safe from dangerous cross-contamination
- Extend refrigerated shelf life
- Preserve the flavor, texture and nutrients in raw food ingredients
- Provide a safe alternative for immunocompromised pets who would otherwise not be able to eat a raw diet.
- Offer microbiological benefits and process enhancement for most raw pet food ingredients including meat, poultry, fruits and vegetables.
Raghubeer explains that for HPP, the pet product must be in a hermetically sealed package. “HPP uses cold water and is then pressurized. During that pressure, we are compressing everything in the machine.” The same process is used whether the packaged product is large or small, say 10 g or 50 kg.
During the HPP process, all vitamins and enzymes remain active, explains Raghubeer. After HPP, manufacturers can sell the packaged product as is—as a raw diet—or it can be further processed by freeze-drying (not subjected to heat) or a mild-heat treatment for treats and pelleted foods.
Like all foods, human and pet, there are strict guidelines outlined by the FDA in order to keep raw pet food from becoming contaminated. There are three pathogens that affect raw food: Salmonella (ubiquitous in raw material, usually poultry); E.coli in beef product; and Listeria monocytogenes, which can also be an environmental contaminant, such as in a cleaning environment. If you’re freeze-drying or mild heating after HPP, you must have a clean-room environment or you can get post-HPP contamination.
Northwest Naturals (NWN) based in Portland, Ore., makes raw frozen and freeze-dried products for both dogs and cats in multiple protein recipes as well as different shapes and sizes. The company also has a treat line that consists of frozen raw bones and necks as well as a line of freeze-fried single ingredient treats. The pet product company is owned by Morasch Meats, a human meat processor. Morasch Meats owns both Northwest Naturals and Pressure Safe LLC, an HPP toll processor in the Pacific Northwest.
Amy Snell, marketing director at Northwest Naturals, says that the benefit of a raw diet consist of three essentials that a cooked pet food cannot replicate. Dogs and cats receiving enzymes, amino acids and moisture in its natural form is best for their overall health, plus:
- Superior joint and bone health
- Robust immune system and reproductive health
- Dental health including strong teeth and gums
- Shinier skin and coat
- Reduced pet odor
- Decreased stool size
To verify product safety, NWN uses several steps to ensure its pet food is free of Listeria monocytogenes, salmonella and E.coli pathogens. “We use HPCP, otherwise known as High Pressure Cold Processing, which inactivates bad bacteria by squeezing the cell wall. There is also Photo Catalytic Oxidation equipment throughout our facilities eliminating bacteria on contact. And no food can leave the NWN warehouse until it comes back pathogen free from a 3rd party testing laboratory,” Snell explains.
The BARF process is another term that is comparable to a raw pet food diet. Says Snell, “BARF means Biologically Appropriate Raw Food. The idea is to feed both dogs and cats the diet they evolved to eat. This is composed of fresh muscle meat and greens. A raw diet is high in protein, moderate in fat with small amounts of fruits and vegetables.”
NWN has been using JBT Avure HPP machines for quite a while. “We first invested in one of their 100L machines and then as we grew, found we had to expand our HPP capacity,” says Steven Morasch, owner and CEO of NWN. “We have also participated in research on the uses of HPP with our JBT/Avure equipment in the last decade on various foods with the Oregon Food Innovation Center and Oregon State University.”
NWN chooses to own its HPP and freeze-drying equipment. “Northwest Naturals also uses freeze drying as one of their process steps for some products. We have worked with companies on fruits and vegetables in the past, but primarily focus on our pet food/treat customers now,” says Morasch. “We are currently in the middle of completing the addition of six additional large proprietary freeze dryers of our design into our 90,000-sq-ft. facility in Wood Village, Oregon. Freeze drying is also unique as a process to maintain higher nutrient levels in a product that can be sold shelf stable in retail establishments.” In early 2022, NNW will own 18 freeze dryers.