Economic Considerations

Although high-pressure treatment systems are inherently expensive to build and maintain, construction and maintenance costs are expected to decrease as commercial use expands. For any installed high-pressure treatment system, the cost per unit of food treated is a function of the amount of product treated per cycle (batch or semicontinuous operation) and the number of cycles run per year. The shape of the package is an important factor in determining the amount of product that can be treated each cycle. Cylindrical containers may occupy 30% of a pressure vessel while product packed in bags for food service may occupy up to 90% of the available vessel volume. Cycle time is a function of the required treatment time at pressure and the time needed to move the food in and out of the pressure vessel, pressurize, and decompress the vessel. Semicontin-uous systems processing liquids with a 3-min hold time at 680 MPa (100,000 psi) can cycle up to 15 times per hour and utilize 100% of the available process vessel volume. A batch system treating packaged foods may require 5 min to load, close and seal, pressurize, decompress, open and unload, in addition to the 3-min process time. This will result in seven to eight cycles per hour. Another major cost factor is system availability; that is, the percentage of time the unit is not down for maintenance and repairs and is available for production. System availability is related to the reliability of the pressure vessel closures, valves, piping, pumps, intensifier, control systems, and material handling equipment. The food industry will need a system reliability in excess of 95% exclusive of programmed maintenance.

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