The Innovation of Gridpath Solutions

Making food safer for consumers and manufacturers

The consumer has an inherent expectation that the food they purchase is and will be safe for consumption. Although examples of this expectation not being met are few, instances of food contamination carry with them potentially tragic and fatal results. Because of the complex nature of the manufacturing process of ready-to-eat foods and the prevalence of bacteria in the environment, it had been impossible to avoid contamination completely in the past; manufacturers could only mitigate risk.

Seven years ago, Ontario-based manufacturing company Gridpath changed this. Historical methods of eliminating bacteria and spoilage organisms used heat, chemicals or radiation, which, besides being harmful to the food and unappetizing to the consumer, did not always eliminate the bacteria completely. Gridpath has revolutionized the food safety industry and made it economically viable for food manufacturers.

“We make food safer. That’s what we do,” says Rick Marshall, owner of Gridpath. The company has teamed up with Spanish company NC Hyperbaric and together have engineered an entirely new approach to food safety. The technology behind Gridpath and NC uses High Pressure Processing (HPP) to remove bacteria in ready-to-eat food products such as meats, poultry, seafood, fruit and vegetables.

The Gridpath machinery uses water to create an extremely high pressure environment in which the food is placed fully packaged. This pressure is so high that harmful pathogens (Listeria, E. coli and Salmonella being a few examples) cannot metabolize, and therefore die, so the food is rendered safe for consumption. The pressure affects spoilage organisms in the same way, preventing mould and yeast from shortening the shelf life of a product. The advantage of treating the food in its packaging is that the food is sealed from the environment so there is no risk of recontamination.

Economy of scale

Marshall had the technology and the empirical evidence to prove its worthiness, but, as with most large-scale inventions, it was a slow process to tilt the scale of economics in its favour. “The initial commercialization of the technology began in about 1997 in North America but it was always for very niche applications,” he says. “Although the science was well founded, the economics made no sense.”

According to Marshall, when he formed Gridpath in 2003, changes were made to the “peripheral equipment” and support systems which improved the efficiency of getting the product in and out of the chamber, thus improving the production rates and decreasing the cost of processing. The economics improved so much that it became viable for mainstream manufacturing. The combination of Gridpath’s applications expertise and NC’s developments in HPP technology greatly enhanced the economic viability and propelled the company into food safety leaders. No longer for niche markets, High Pressure Processing is now main stream.

“Our first two years showed impressive numbers. We grew to earning $4-million annually in a short period of time,” says Marshall.

Growth has been steady ever since. The long sales cycles for this equipment requires an investment in education and testing and can take time, but with recent high-profile food contamination incidents and improved awareness of food safety, Gridpath no longer needs to convince people it is a wise investment; clients can see first hand that it is such. Modestly, Marshall elaborates, saying that Gridpath’s profits have “hit the hockey stick curve. With the economic recovery in the United States we have tripled our revenue and profitability over the past 24 months.”

Federal safety regulations

Recently, the Canadian Meat Council (CMC) invited Marshall to join a Listeria task force, with Gridpath’s HPP being one of the fundamental focal points for the improvement of Canadian food safety. The HPP technology was also specifically referenced in the Weatherill Report on the independent investigation of the 2008 listeriosis outbreak.

Marshall also works on the sodium reduction task force. A happy consequence of the HPP technology is the elimination of chemicals needed to preserve the food. “One of the key ingredients you can remove or reduce is sodium,” says Marshall, which clients are certainly pleased about. “It is something that matters,” he says. “HPP doesn’t change the product at all. It’s embraceable and easy to understand. By enabling producers to clean up the label and remove chemicals and preservatives, it improves the product with no sacrifice to the food.”

Gridpath’s innovating and customer-driven group has produced a viable and state-of-the-art solution to food safety that has propelled the industry into a new age. The company’s unparalleled expertise in engineering, installation and handling of its equipment has led it to becoming one of Canada’s pioneers in excellence.