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First installation imminent of IFT awarded sterilization process

By Jane Byrne , 10-Aug-2010
Last updated the 10-Aug-2010 at 13:16 GMT

Summer 2011 will see the first commercial installation of an IFT recognised and FDA approved technology which is claimed to improve flavour, nutrient retention and texture of foods as well as significantly reducing process times over conventional systems.

Glenn Emory, vice president of strategy and development at Food Chain Safety (FCS), the firm behind the commercialisation of the technology, Microwave Assisted Thermal Sterilization (MATS), said that US military food supplier AmeriQual Foods will incorporate a MATS Series 150 unit into its production line mid way through next year.

The technology has been developed over a ten year period through a collaborative effort between academia, food industry partners and the US army and is targeted at pre-packaged, low-acid foods.

MATS is said to deliver higher nutrient retention values and allows for the drastic reduction of artificial ingredients or heavy loadings of extenders required to carry traditional products through conventional sterilization systems.

Speaking to FoodProductionDaily.com, Emory said that “At FCS, we are very pleased with the initiative undertaken by AmeriQual to advance the technology as they have a track record of successfully fielding leading edge advancements in food processing technology.”

This publication reported on the microwave-based sterilization process earlier this year http://www.foodproductiondaily.com/Processing/Microwave-sterilisation-system-may-revolutionise-food-processing and the technology’s benefits for the food industry was acknowledged with an IFT R&D award at the institute’s trade show last month.

The IFT jury praised the fact that: “through the development of a semi-continuous, single-mode, 915 MHz microwave system, the sterilization process was dramatically shortened thereby providing significant improvements to food quality.”

Emory explained that US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval in 2009 was secured through the efforts of the academia/industry/government consortium overcoming US regulatory hurdles.

While we acknowledge many of the FDA specific requirements are unique to the US,” he continued, “we also acknowledge that each region has their own expectations, perceptions and legal requirements. Therefore, we have begun talks to establish similar consortium specifically with China, India, and Europe.”

Emory said that FCS presented an update on the microwave technology at the Total Processing and Packaging trade event in the UK in May and as a result plans are now underway to establish a similar approach to the US consortium development strategy in Europe in order to accelerate the take up of MATS there.

From that meeting, we are already in discussion with two leading universities and three major food companies on the proper framework of a consortium for Europe. We welcome further inquiries and hope to formalize the group by year's end,” he explained.

According to Emory, MATS eliminates the need for any cold chain logistics support, uses the highest product to package weight ratio and has been designed for ease of operation, and thus he claims it is ideal processing technology for emerging markets.

“We are proactively reaching into South America and the MENA region as well,” he added.

But he maintains that the novel sterilisation method suits any food processors looking to meet the growing consumer demands within developed economies for “greater organoleptic qualities, wider product spectrums, and also higher earnings through 60 per cent lowered food processing times.”

Emory said that FCS is bringing MATS to market in both a full commercial output rating for full scale production (rating up to 150 ppm) and a lower capacity unit (up to 10 ppm) that he said is applicable to smaller operations or as a testing-to-scale-up R&D unit.

“To insure ease of adoption and to maximize the processing safety of the equipment and packaging materials, FCS will offer turn-key systems on a lease basis. On a total system cost basis, MATS has a lower cost of operation than traditional retort machines,” he said.