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Microwave sterilization system rolled out in US

By Joe Whitworth , 03-Sep-2012
Last updated on 03-Sep-2012 at 14:05 GMT

First MATS microwave food sterilization system in US

A developer of microwave food sterilization technology has rolled out its first commercial system after 15 years in development.

The rapid sterilization technique using microwaves for the shelf-stable food industry has US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval.

The technology was developed at Washington State University (WSU) and licensed to Food Chain Safety, which in partnership with Printpack created MATSpack to develop it into a commercial reality.

The kit, dubbed the Microwave Assisted Thermal Sterilisation (MATS)-B device, has now been snapped up by US food processing group AmeriQual, which is testing it on a trial basis at one of its facilities. Food manufacturers that want to explore the system's benefits will be able to visit the facilities to test the technology. Full commercial availability of the equipment is planned for the second financial quarter of 2013.

System benefits

Researchers said the system could deliver food that looks and tastes better than canned food, maintaining its nutritional value and allowing manufacturers to achieve higher throughput and lower production costs against traditional methods.

The technology immerses packaging food in pressurized hot water while heating it with microwaves at a frequency of 915MHz. This rapidly eliminates food pathogens and spoilage microorganisms and produces foods with higher quality in terms of nutrients, taste and texture than conventionally processed ready to eat products, claims MATSpack.

Eight food companies, including Nestlé, General Mills, Pepsi and Del Monte, who helped fund the project, will be conducting research with the machine over the next year.

MATSpack said it incorporates the only microwave technology accepted by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for food sterilization. 

FDA review

In March this year, the FDA and USDA approved the technology for chicken and dumplings, in December 2010 it was approved for salmon and alfredo noodles in a cream sauce and in October 2009 it was approved for mashed potato.

Processes for producing shelf-stable, low-acid foods must pass FDA reviews to ensure that the technology is sound and will produce safe products.

MATSpack said the speed of the machine depended on the product being sterilized but it was around a 15-20 minute cycle.

It has attracted interest from the US military and a host of food companies, a MATSpack spokesman told FoodProductionDaily.com.

“The first commercial research and development has been rolled out for members so they can look at improving taste in foods such as pasta and vegetables, cream sauces and other delicate produce.

“It will create a new product category of shelf stable foods to levels of taste and nutrition that will be fresh and convenient for today’s generation.”

When asked about any effects on shelf life, he added: “We haven’t studied shelf-life exposure yet but it is something we will do and we are looking at creating specific packaging that could enhance the process.”

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