Microwave sterilisation system for 'clean' processed food
The development of a microwave sterilisation system could help manufacturers meet the growing consumer demand for high-quality, natural and additive-free packaged food.
Known as the Microwave Assisted Thermal Sterilization system (MATS), the technology has been developed by 915 Labs. The company’s pilot-scale MATS systems are currently operating in commercial test kitchens, and the design and build of the first full-scale system is underway, with expected installation at a North American food company processing facility in 2016.
In conventional processing, food is sealed in a can or pouch and placed in a pressurised cooker at temperatures around 120°C for as long as an hour, which can negatively impact nutrients, texture and taste, requiring the addition of salt and additives to compensate.
During MATS processing, packaged food is simultaneously heated from the outside in a pressurised hot water bath and heated internally using a microwave energy delivery system at a frequency of 915 MHz. This very rapidly heats the entire package of food to sterilisation temperature, eliminating pathogens and spoilage microorganisms. The system then rapidly cools the food to minimise heat damage.
“Conventional thermal processing was invented more than a century ago for all the right reasons, to remove pathogens from our food,” said Mike Locatis, co-founder and CEO, 915 Labs. “But it also causes significant damage to the flavour, texture, colour and nutritional content of food. MATS natural food processing and packaging solutions provide a healthier, highly efficient and modern alternative to the old approach.”
The company anticipates the technology will be used in production of a range of gourmet, ready-to-eat meals that can be marketed as ‘clean’ or additive-free.
Pilot-scale versions of 915 Labs’ microwave sterilisation system, called the MATS-B, are in place at two US processing and packaging companies, AmeriQual and Wornick, that are allowing outside food companies to schedule time in their food labs to test new recipes using the sterilisation system.
MATS-processed food also has potential for use in meals-ready-to-eat (MREs) for armed forces and rations distributed by humanitarian agencies to third-world countries plagued by famine and food waste.
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