The technology is based on the Micvac method, invented by Dr Joel Haamer to cook a product while retaining its taste without preservatives and extending the shelf life. The packaging whistles when the food is cooked in a microwave for consumers.
Preserving the shelf life
Smålandskräftan heard about the method and has been working with Micvac on trials for a couple of years. It installed one of its production lines this month and will start producing crayfish ready meals in August targeting the Swedish market, before expanding with lobsters.
Håkan Pettersson, managing director, Micvac, who used to work for Tetra Pak, told FoodProductionDaily, the company manufactures the film and tray material to process individual packs of ready meals as well as the production equipment.
“Seafood is very difficult to process and pack and this echoes what our founder, Dr Haamer was trying to achieve in his initial studies preserving the shelf life of mussels,” he said.
“Mussels have a shelf life of about 12 to 24 hours so he wanted to extend this without preservatives to 30-40 days. The first deliveries will be to the Swedish market but we also want to expand into France.”
The Micvac method
When inventor, Dr Joel Haamer conducted blue water surveys in the mid-60s, he realised there was a good possibility of cultivating mussels in the waters of the Swedish west coast. In 1966, he started the first experimental ‘mussel farm’. Funding for research soon followed and best practices were established for the professional farming of mussels.
In the late 70s and 80s, the company delivered frozen mussels to professional kitchens across Europe. Exports grew but a poisonous algae nearly wiped out the entire market for Swedish mussels.
Despite the set back, Dr Haamer continued his research on marine food cultivation and preservation. Conventional methods were used as well as ones developed in the lab.
What makes one good mussel delicious and another good mussel rancid is due to oxygen,which is bad for freshness. If oxygen is removed the freshness has a better chance to make it to the consumer. These observations inspire the Micvac method.
In August 2000, Micvac was founded, and the work to prove the Micvac method started. The first customer was in production during 2005.
Today, Dr Haamer’s method with its packaging material and production equipment has one fundamental concept – to cook a product while retaining taste and extending shelf life.
The in-pack microwave cooking and pasteurisation method works with a patented re-closeable valve on the package. A tray is filled with fresh ingredients, before a film and Micvac valve is applied over a hole on the portion pack. The film is sealed to the tray then cooked and pasteurised using a Microwave tunnel.
After the package is cooled, steam condenses and a natural vacuum is created. Finally, the valve is closed, to avoid recontamination.
Pettersson said Micvac has made a number of portfolio improvements recently including upgrading its equipment, new versions of product equipment and it has invested money to produce other formats such as a stand-up pouch and a two compartment tray with one valve.
“We have put a lot of effort into our portfolio for new and existing customers. We launched our new products at Interpack and we have modernised the previous trays. We are now looking for a pilot customer for our stand-up pouches,” he added.
“There is tremendous interest in what we are doing but we are still a small company.
"The big players in the food industry want ready chilled meals, going from ambient or from frozen diversifying into chilled. They appreciate the importance of extending a product shelf life without the need for preservatives and less labels.
“Manufacturers want a clean label and our system uses steam and nothing else.”
Joakim Behrenfors, MD Smålandskräftan, said its crayfish is well known by restaurants and consumers in Sweden.
“We also produce lobster fished in North American waters, Swedish langoustine and market other products such as crab and salmon," he added.
"The Micvac line will enable us to considerably increase the shelf life of our fresh products while keeping the same high quality.”
Pettersson said the firm is now looking to expand across Europe, Japan, Korea and North America. It already has a partnership with Scandinavian group Orkla Foods, in Norway.
It also works with Fujicco, a food producer in Japan, which has launched products with the MicVac method, into the Japanese market.
The customer is thanks to a cooperation between MicVac and DNP and Fujicco’s brand Oissina! (Tasty!). It plans to install a second production line in the country in September.