Vibrio is a serious, often lethal bacteria. Naturally making its home in coastal and brackish waters where salt and river water mix, it can be an utter killjoy to beach-goers, fishermen, and seafood lovers trying to enjoy a summer meal. But just because the bacteria is dangerous and often deadly doesn’t mean people aren’t making attempts to battle it! A Miami, Florida-area company just recently spent over $4.6 million in order to buy a high pressure processing machine designed to kill pathogens in its fresh, non-pasteurized crab meats. Literally, to fight vibrio.
Some Information on Vibrio
There are many different types of vibrio bacteria that are able to cause infection, and many of these infections that they cause have the potential to kill. However, vibriosis is most often caused by vibrio parahaemolyticus, vibrio vulnificus, and vibrio alginolyticus. Vibrio are present in much higher concentrations during the warmer months between May and October because vibrio thrive in warmer waters, and it causes an estimated 80,000 infections every year in the United States, 64,000 of which occur during the months of May and October.
Diagnosis can be difficult, as vibriosis is typically not a commonly reported illness. This is because this bacterium is not covered in routine laboratory testing. Therefore, this illness often requires additional investigation to appropriately diagnose. Either the healthcare provider or the patient must consider this as a possible cause of illness. This means there needs to be a prompting to test for it. It often requires a patient to identify the additional risk factor of consuming raw or undercooked seafood for the clinician to consider ordering the test or for the clinician to link watery diarrhea to Vibrio. Unless an outbreak has occurred, this might not be the first diagnosis a physician concludes is the cause of a patient’s illness.
Exposing opened wounds to vibrio contaminated water can result in severe skin and bloodstream infections. Additionally, shellfish are often very likely to be contaminated with this bacteria when fished from contaminated waters. Oysters are one of the most common carriers, and eating raw oysters is one of the most common ways of contracting vibriosis. The bacteria is insidious, and yet food contaminated with it looks, smells, and tastes completely normal. Those who are particularly vulnerable to the infection are those suffering from preexisting liver disease, cancer, diabetes, HIV, or thalasemia–as well as anyone taking medication to decrease stomach acid, or those who have had recent surgery.
While most authorities recommend avoiding contaminated waters and properly cooking all seafood in order to kill the bacteria, other technologies are being developed and used in order eliminate vibrio.
High Pressure Processing
High Pressure Processing, or HPP, is “a cold pasteurization technique by which products, already sealed in its final package, are introduced into a vessel and subjected to a high level of isostatic pressure (300-600MPa/43,500-87,000psi) transmitted by water.”
According to experts, “Pressures above 400 MPa / 58,000 psi at cold (+ 4ºC to 10ºC) or ambient temperature inactivate the vegetative flora (bacteria, virus, yeasts, moulds and parasites) present in food, extending the products shelf life importantly and guaranteeing food safety. High Pressure Processing respects the sensorial and nutritional properties of food, because of the absence of heat treatment, and maintains its original freshness throughout the shelf-life.”
The Florida company, Seafarers, obviously strongly believe in this kind of technology in order to invest such a sum of money!
An enormous HPP model 300 from the technology manufacturer, Hiperbaric, will enter Seafarers 18,000 square foot facility in September. This 54 foot long, 20 foot wide, eight food high machine is supposed to be ready for operation no later than October 1st, though it is likely to be usable much earlier than that.
The machine is intended to treat up to 14,000 pounds of crab meat daily, according to the Seafarer CEO, Willy Rosell. Rosell strategically added, “I didn’t buy this equipment to keep doing what we were doing,” meaning that Seafarers intends to use the new HPP machine to not only grow their crab meat sales but also increase its use of technology on their seafood products. This recent Seafarer investment may have had something to do with the outbreak of Vibrio parahaemolyticus that was directly linked to Venezuelan blue crabs, which sickened at least 12 people across several states. The outbreak had multiple United States crab importers investigating the use of HPP machines, as well as many other pathogen-killing technologies.
According to its website, the company claims:
“High Pressure Processing (HPP) is a cold pasteurization technique by which products, already sealed in its final package, are introduced into a vessel and subjected to a high level of isostatic pressure (300–600MPa/43,500-87,000psi) transmitted by water.
Pressures above 400 MPa / 58,000 psi at cold (+ 4ºC to 10ºC) or ambient temperature inactivate the vegetative flora (bacteria, virus, yeasts, moulds and parasites) present in food, extending the products shelf life importantly and guaranteeing food safety.
High Pressure Processing respects the sensorial and nutritional properties of food, because of the absence of heat treatment, and maintains its original freshness throughout the shelf-life.”
Vibrio is a bacteria that should be taken seriously. The fact that companies such as Seafarers and their like are looking into and investing in technology to help increase the safety of their food is a valuable thing to see in food production companies today. The cleaner we can get our foods and the more technology we can develop and use to remove pathogens and bacteria, the safer for consumers.