Steve’s Real Food of Cottonwood, Utah, was the first commercial raw brand on the market in 1998, and since that time has worked to create the “perfect” raw pet food diet. The company attributes its 22 years of success to providing a product with optimal nutrition that pets love and pet parents love feeding. Now, with the help of High Pressure Processing (HPP), they’re able to keep their pet food safe while using only natural ingredients without preservatives, while distributing nationwide and exporting to China and South Korea. Steve’s open their doors and walks us through their process, sharing their exciting journey in the HPP world.
The pet food industry continues to grow due to increased benefits and consumer awareness of healthy pet food benefits. The pet food market is currently a $39B industry, and raw pet foods represent $413M. By 2025, it is expected to reach $721M.
Raw pet food is particularly popular with pet parents, as the benefits of raw meat pet diets are becoming more widely understood. Studies have shown raw meat diets offer pets increased energy, a more vibrant skin and coat, better oral health, improved digestion, less gas and odor, and smaller stools.
There’s a challenge to overcome, however: delivering raw meats to pets presents the risk of pathogen transmission to humans. Fresh, human-grade meats have naturally-occurring bacteria. A study by the FDA showed that of 196 raw pet food samples evaluated, 15 tested positive for Salmonella spp. and 32 tested positive for L. monocytogenes. By comparison, there were zero cases of either pathogen in dry or semi-moist dog food.
About Steve’s Real Food
Steve’s Real Food from Cottonwood, Utah, has been a pioneer of the raw pet food diet. Steve’s Real Food was the first commercial raw brand on the market in 1998, and since that time has worked to create the “perfect” raw pet food diet. The company attributes its 22 years of success to providing a product with optimal nutrition that pets love and pet parents love feeding. Steve’s Real Food products are produced with locally sourced, free-range meat and poultry without any antibiotics or hormones.
In 2011, Steve’s Real Food was searching for a solution to comply with stricter food safety regulations while using only natural ingredients without preservatives. The company was using a test and hold process to test for foodborne pathogens, but it proved insufficient. They were also looking for a way to prevent cross-contamination in the production of meat and poultry.
“We tested acid sprays, biophages, test and hold, probiotic sprays, and environmental controls,” said Nicole Lindsley, Owner, Steve’s Real Food. “None of them could produce a 5-log reduction which is what our goal was.”
Hiperbaric & Steve’s Real Food Partnership
Steve’s then turned to Hiperbaric to try High Pressure Processing (HPP). Now, with the help of HPP, Steve’s Real Food has been able to keep their pet food safe while using only natural ingredients without preservatives. Steve’s Real Food is an $11 million business and is growing, thanks to HPP’s shelf-life extension that has enabled the company to sell its products to independent retailers nationwide, and opened new markets in South Korea and China.
“Another example of how we operate with Purpose is our adoption of HPP,” Lindsley said. Like many raw brands, we were faced with the decision of whether or not to use HPP. In the raw world, it can be seen as a negative by the purists who are concerned about the degradation of nutrition. We spent two years on our independent research mastering the process and learning that HPP is as much a craft as it is a science. Our method is non-thermal and uses low pressure, just enough to crack the cell wall of harmful bacteria, but not enough to harm the beneficial bacteria or the enzymes. The result is what matters: we have pathogen-free, whole living food by using HPP. Two years was a lot of work. It is not easy to do things the way we do, but it is the right way to do it.”
To ensure that HPP would work for them, the company assessed nutritional validity and pathogenic reduction before starting the process and spent time testing and researching the effect of HPP on pet food. The company tested 95 nutrients including protein, fats, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, minerals and vitamins. Results showed that 91 of 95 analyzed components retained the same content after HPP. In addition to nutrients, Steve’s Real Food studied toxin migration from packaging, probiotic activity, enzymatic changes, and lipid oxidation. Texture, palatability, color, and nutrition remain intact after HPP, and the process maintains the probiotics. HPP also extended shelf life up to six additional months, allowing Steve’s to expand distribution internationally.
Preliminary results of their ongoing clinical studies, to be announced later this year, suggest that an HPP raw diet notably increases protein and decreases cholesterol levels in animals’ blood. Results also showed an HPP raw chicken diet notably increased digestibility.
Learn more about the full study here: “Steve’s Real Food’s Study of High Pressure Processing on Raw Meat Diets”
Steve’s Real Food partnered with Raw Advantage, a pet food toller, using a Hiperbaric 55 and 135 HPP unit. HPP mitigated the harmful microbial environment and allowed them to preserve the food without chemicals or preservatives. HPP is also the only nonthermal preservation technology that meets the high-standard requirements of consumers, manufacturers, and the Food and Drug Administration’s zero-tolerance policy for foodborne bacteria in raw pet food.
HPP preserves the fresh attributes of the products, such as flavor and nutritional content, for several weeks up to a few months under refrigeration. HPP allows your pet to have the benefits of a raw-like food, such as healthier skin, coat, and teeth, without the danger of pathogenic bacteria. Pressure transmission is uniform and instantaneous regardless of shape or size, allowing pet food processing in any type of flexible plastic packaging.
Steve’s process begins by grinding meats and mixing in value-added ingredients such as goat milk and green-lipped mussle. It is then shaped into large chubs, prior to freezing. The frozen products are transported to Raw Advantage. The next step is to temper the chubs, run them through a Hiperbaric HPP unit and refreeze them to prepare for the final grind.
The chubs are tempered once again to remove them from the plastic casing and are placed into the grinder. They are then formed into their finished product shape, either a nugget or a patty, and go through an instant quick freeze, bringing it to a solid frozen state within 15 minutes. Finally, the food is packaged, cased, palletized, and put into the freezer for storage before distribution.
Pet Food Forum 2022: Meet Hiperbaric & Steve’s Real Food
Today, Lindsley is an HPP advocate, conducting consumer awareness efforts to educate pet owners, veterinarians and retailers about the benefits of HPP. Additionally, Steve’s has participated in Hiperbaric webinars, as well as presentations at industry conferences, with Dr. Vinicio Serment-Moreno, Applications & Food Processing Specialist, including the upcoming session “Challenges, research advances of HPP for fresh pet food” at Pet Food Forum 2022.