Centennial, Colorado-based 915 Labs, a leader in natural food processing and packaging technology, introduced today its new Microwave Assisted Thermal Sterilization system, or MATS(TM), a technology that will help meet the growing consumer demand for high-quality, natural and additive-free packaged food. 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 under way, with expected installation at a North American food company processing facility in 2016.
Processing food with MATS is different than conventional food processing, also called "retort."' In conventional processing, food is sealed in a can or pouch and placed in a pressurized cooker at temperatures around 250 degrees Fahrenheit for as long as an hour, which negatively impacts nutrients, texture and the natural taste of the food. As a result, salt and unnatural additives are required to mask the damage caused by prolonged exposure to high heat.
By contrast, with MATS natural food processing, packaged food is simultaneously heated from the outside in a pressurized hot water bath, and heated internally using a patented microwave energy delivery system at a frequency of 915 megahertz. This combination of approaches very rapidly heats the entire package of food to sterilization temperature, and eliminates pathogens and spoilage microorganisms in a fraction of the time. The system then rapidly cools the food to minimize any heat damage. 915 Labs pairs the MATS system with state-of-the-art packaging solutions that maximize the natural quality and flavor of foods.
"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 flavor, texture, color and nutritional content of food. MATS natural food processing and packaging solutions provide a healthier, highly efficient and modern alternative to the old approach."
MATS natural food processing technology and packaging from 915 Labs creates the possibility of a wide range of healthful, packaged, shelf-stable foods—from al dente pasta primavera, to succulent salmon with vegetables, to spicy Indian dishes and other gourmet ready-to-eat meals —each with a 'clean' or additive-free label.
"MATS offers significant improvement in product quality and energy efficiency over legacy process technologies," says Michael Hyche, principal at Process Capability Partners, a consulting firm specializing in shelf-stable food manufacturing. "Food color, texture, flavor, and nutrition are better preserved through less over-heating."
Pilot-scale versions of 915 Labs' microwave sterilization system, called the MATS-B, are already in place at two processing and packaging companies, AmeriQual of Evansville, Indiana and Wornick of Cincinnati, Ohio. In addition to conducting their own product development with the MATS-B, AmeriQual and Wornick are allowing outside food companies to schedule time in their food labs to test new recipes using the new sterilization system.
"Food companies are aggressively working to meet consumer demand for less processed foods," said Zac Zeitlin, managing partner, New Ground Ventures. "915 Labs provides a game-changing, natural processing and packaging technology that will allow food manufacturers to boost sales and gain consumer trust with a wide variety of healthier, shelf-stable foods."
Interest is very high among food companies for 915 Labs' first full-scale commercial system, and Locatis said additional orders for the MATS-150, which is capable of processing 150 food packages per minute, are pending around the world.
MATS-processed food has a wide range of potential uses in addition to branded consumer packaged foods, including meals-ready-to-eat (MREs) for armed forces and rations distributed by humanitarian agencies to third-world countries plagued by famine and food waste.