Honors Gallery

Flash pasteurization for improcing the food safety of hot dogs

Award: Excellence in Technology Transfer

Year: 2011

Award Type:



Flash pasteurization is a method of using a pulse of steam to decontaminate the surface of foods immediately before packaging. The primary application of flash pasteurization is to kill the foodborne pathogen Listeria monocytogenes, which can quickly grow at refrigeration temperatures on the surfaces of hot dogs and other precooked sausages. Each year in the U.S., listeriosis causes an estimated 5000 hospitalizations and 500 deaths. Listeriosis has a mortality rate of 20-30%.

Flash pasteurization was developed as part of cooperative research between the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and Alkar-RapidPak, Inc. (a U.S.-based equipment manufacturer) to improve the safety of foods, including hot dogs. This low-cost green technology was ultimately transferred to the meat processing industry.

Flash pasteurization, in combination with Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved antimicrobial compounds to control Listeria in hot dogs, was ultimately adopted in 2006 by a major U.S. processed meat manufacturer. Flash pasteurization equipment was exported to Central and South America in 2007. An estimated $1 billion worth of hot dogs and other precooked sausages have been processed using flash pasteurization worldwide.

The advantages of flash pasteurization include low cost, ability to operate at commercial line speeds, ability to fit into existing packaging lines, and immediate approval from regulatory agencies because it is a steam-based green technology. If the use of flash pasteurization prevents even one product recall due to listeriosis, it will have saved an estimated $19 million, not to mention prevented untold pain and suffering. The research and technology transfer that resulted from the government and industry partnership has resulted in the creation of U.S. manufacturing jobs and, even more importantly, safer hot dogs that are available domestically and internationally.