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Seafood Preservation by Hurdle Technology


College of Fisheries, Assam Agricultural University, Raha, Nagaon — 782103, Assam.

Corresponding Author Email: 1, 3


Hurdle technology has been defined by Leistner (2000) as an intelligent combination of hurdles which secures the microbial safety and stability as well as the organoleptic and nutritional quality and the economic viability of food products. Hurdle technology that pathogens in food products can be eliminated or controlled. Each hurdle implies putting microorganisms in a hostile environment, which inhibits their growth or causes their death (Leistner, 2000). Some of those hurdles have been empirically used for years to stabilize meat, fish, milk and vegetables.

Examples of hurdles in a food system are high temperature during processing, low temperature during storage, increasing the acidity, lowering the water activity or redox potential, or the presence of preservatives. According to the type of pathogens and how risky they are, the intensity of the hurdles can be adjusted individually to meet consumer preferences in an economical way, without compromising the safety of the product

Hurdles in foods

The most important hurdles used in food preservation are temperature (high or low), water activity(aw), acidity (pH), redox potential (Eh), preservatives (e.g., nitrite, sorbate, sulfite), and competitive microorganisms (e.g., lactic acid bacteria). However, more than 60 potential hurdles for foods, which improve the stability and/or quality of the products have already been described, and the list of possible hurdles for food preservation is by no means complete(Leistner, 1999a). Some hurdles (e.g., Maillard reaction products) will influence the safety and the quality of foods, because they have antimicrobial properties and at the same time improve the flavor of the products. The same hurdle could have a positive or a negative effect on foods, depending on its intensity. For instance, chilling to an unsuitable low temperature is detrimental to some foods of plant origin ('chilling injury'), whereas moderate chilling will be beneficial for their shelf life. Another example is the pH of fermented sausage which should be low enough to inhibit pathogenic bacteria, but not so low as to impair taste. If the intensity of a particular hurdle in a food is too small it should be strengthened, if it is detrimental to the food quality it should be lowered. By this adjustment, hurdles in foods can be kept in the optimal range, considering safety as well as quality, and thus the total quality of a food (Leistner, 1994a).

From an understanding of the hurdle effect, the hurdle technology has been derived (Leistner, 1985), which means that hurdles are deliberately combined to improve the microbial stability and the sensory quality of foods as well as their nutritional and economic properties. Thus, hurdle technology aims to improve the total quality of foods by application of an intelligent mix of hurdles. Over the years the insight into the hurdle effect has been broadened and the application of hurdle technology was extended (Leistner and Gorris, 1994). In industrialized countries the hurdle technology approach is currently of most interest for minimally processed foods which are mildly heated or fermented (Leistner, 2000), and for underpinning the microbial stability and safety of foods coming from future lines, e.g., healthful foods with less fat and/or salt (Leistner, 1997) or advanced hurdle-technology foods requiring only minimal packaging (Kentaro Ono, Snow Brand Tokyo, Japan, personal communication, 1996; Leistner, 1996). For refrigerated foods chill temperatures are the major and sometimes the only hurdle. However, if exposed to temperature abuse during distribution of the foods, this hurdle breaks down, and spoilage or food poisoning could happen. Therefore, additional hurdles should be incorporated as safeguards into chilled foods, using an approach called 'invisible technology' (Leistner, 1999a).

Basic aspects

Food preservation implies putting microorganisms in a hostile environment, in order to inhibit their growth or shorten their survival or cause their death. The feasible responses of microorganisms to this hostile environment determine whether they may grow or die. More research is needed in view of these responses; however, recent advances have been made by considering the homeostasis, metabolic exhaustion, and stress reactions of microorganisms in exhaustion, and stress reactions of microorganisms inducing the novel concept of multitarget preservation for a gentle but most effective preservation of hurdle-technology foods (Leistner, 1995a,b).

Principal hurdles used for food preservation (after Leistner, 1995)




High temperature



Low temperature



Reduced water activity



Increased acidity


Acid addition or formation

Reduced redox potential


Removal of oxygen or addition of ascorbate


Competitive flora such as microbial fermentation

Other preservatives


Types of hurdles used for food preservation (from Ohlsson and Bengtsson, 2002)

Type of hurdle



Aseptic packaging, electromagnetic energy (microwave, radio frequency, pulsed magnetic fields, high electric fields), high temperatures (blanchingpasteurizationsterilizationevaporationextrusionbakingfrying), ionizing radiation, low temperature (chilling, freezing), modified atmospheres, packaging films (including active packaging, edible coatings), photodynamic inactivation, ultra-high pressures, ultrasonication, ultraviolet radiation


Carbon dioxide, ethanol, lactic acidlactoperoxidase, low pH, low redox potential, low water activityMaillard reactionproducts, organic acids, oxygen, ozone, phenols, phosphates, salt, smoking, sodium nitrite/nitrate, sodium or potassium sulphite, spices and herbs, surface treatment agents


Antibioticsbacteriocins, competitive flora, protective cultures


The novel and ambitious goal for an optimal food preservation is the multitarget preservation of foods, in which intelligently applied gentle hurdles will have a synergistic effect. After the targets of different preservative factors within the microbial cells have been elucidated, and this should become definitely a major research topic in the future, preservation of foods could progress far beyond the state-of-the-art of the hurdle technology approach as we know it today.


Leistner, L., 2000. Hurdle technology in the design of minimally processed foods. In: Alzamora, S.M., Tapia,M.S., Lo´pez-Malo, A. (Eds.), Design of Minimal Processing Technologies for Fruits and Vegetables, Aspen Publishers, Gaithersburg, Maryland, in press.

Leistner, L., 1999a. Combined methods for food preservation. In: Shafiur Rahman, M. (Ed.), Handbook of Food Preservation, Marcel Dekker, New York, pp. 457—485.

Leistner, L., 1994a. Further developments in the utilization of hurdle technology for food preservation. J. Food Engineering 22, 421—432.

Leistner, L., 1985. Hurdle technology applied to meat products of the shelf stable product and intermediate moisture food types. In: Simatos, D., Multon, J.L. (Eds.), Properties of Water in Foods in Relation to Quality and Stability, Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, Dordrecht, Netherlands, pp. 309—329.

Leistner, L., 1997. Microbial stability and safety of healthy meat, poultry and fish products. In: Pearson, A.M., Dutson, T.R. (Eds.), Production and Processing of Healthy Meat, Poultry and Fish Products, Blackie Academic and Professional, London, pp. 347—360.

Leistner, L., 1999a. Combined methods for food preservation. In: Shafiur Rahman, M. (Ed.), Handbook of Food Preservation, Marcel Dekker, New York, pp. 457—485.

Leistner, L., 1995a. Principles and applications of hurdle technology. In: Gould, G.W. (Ed.), New Methods for Food Preservation, Blackie Academic and Professional, London, pp. 1—21.

Leistner, L., 1995b. Emerging concepts for food safety. In: 41st International Congress of Meat Science and Technology, 20— 25 August 1995, San Antonio, Texas, pp. 321—322.

Leistner, L., 1996. Food protection by hurdle technology. Bull. Jpn. Soc. Res. Food Prot. 2, 2—26.

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