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New microwave technology on road to commercialisation

Efforts to commercialise a new microwave-based technology for food preservation, developed by a team led by Washington State University scientist Juming Tang, are gaining momentum with a second approval from the US FDA.
The second approval, for its use in preserving “non-homogeneous” food – in this case, salmon fillets in sauce – came in mid-December. It follows the October 2009 FDA approval for use of the technology for “homogeneous materials” – mashed potatoes, specifically.
Validating scientific premises

“The first approval validates the scientific and engineering premises behind our work,” Tang said. “The second approval makes the technology viable for processing more complex food systems, which is a major milestone to commercialisation.”
The WSU Research Foundation licensed the technology in late 2010 to Food Chain Safety of Maple Valley, Wash, a private firm committed to commercialising microwave assisted thermal sterilisation. Food Chain Safety just recently completed the designs for commercially-viable microwave sterilisation systems based on Tang’s work.
Challenge: extend shelf life

Tang and his team were charged with developing a food preservation technology that would extend shelf life and improve food quality and nutrition. The team’s Microwave Sterilisation Process technology immerses the packaged food in pressurised hot water while simultaneously heating it with microwaves at a frequency of 915 MHs — a frequency that penetrates food more deeply than the 2450 MHs used in home microwave ovens. The combination eliminates food pathogens and spoilage microorganisms in just five to eight minutes and produces safe foods with much higher quality than conventionally processed ready-to-eat products.
Funding from several sources

Spearheaded by C. Patrick Dunne and Tom Yang, Department of Defense Combat Feeding Directorate at the US Army Soldier Systems Center at Natick, Mass., the project has been funded from a variety of sources, including the WSU Agricultural Research Center, and a consortium of industry members that includes Kraft Foods, Hormel Foods, Ocean Beauty Seafoods, Rexam Containers, Ferrite Components, Graphic Packaging and Printpack. As the focus of the consortium has shifted from fundamental research to commercialisation, the WSU Research Foundation has helped the consortium to grow considerably. It now includes a number of other major international food processing and packaging companies, including Nestlé.
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