Food safety is making advances. MicroZap (MZ) is a technology company researching new microwave and food safety technologies. This advance in microwave technology is oriented around the purification of food and water has been more than a decade in the making by researchers at Texas Tech University.
Texas Tech scientists Mindy Brashears, professor in food microbiology and food safety, as well as director of the International Center for Food Industry Excellence (ICFIE); Andreas Neuber, associate director of the Center for Pulsed Power and Power Electronics and AT&T Professor in the Whitacre College of Engineering; Chance Brooks, associate professor of meat science in the Department of Animal and Food Science; and Todd Brashears, associate professor in the Department of Agricultural Education and Communications are using stronger field microwaves that interact with molecules in a sample that have the ability to destroy pathogens such as mold and bacteria. According to Neuber, this MicroZap microwave has the ability to heat while not directly damaging DNA of biological substances. So far, they have been able to extend the shelf-life of bread out to 60 days.
This new technology was actually invented by scientists in Italy, but the Texas Tech scientists have been able to develop the technology further as well as come up with new applications and are very close to commercializing the product.
According to Don Stull, CEO of MicroZap who received his Bachelor of Science in Engineering and his MBA from Texas Tech, the company was established in 2008 when it was licensed to treat eggs and bread. MicroZap received $1.5 million in early 2010 from Texas’ Emerging Technology Fund to get the commercialization process underway. Since then, the technology has been expanded to other food products such as peanuts, produce, pet food and wine corks. Further developments allow this technology to treat Listeria, MRSA and E. coli in hospitals and homes. Clearly, this advancement in microwave technology may have an impact on food and water safety.
Their first experiments on food sterilization involved microwaving a whole egg, which essentially pasteurizes it, effectively killing salmonella without cooking the egg. This process is also very effective in killing molds and will decrease the amount of food that is thrown away. In the U.S., around 40 percent of all food is discarded due to spoilage. This is even more of a problem for developing countries. Moreover, mold is associated with aflatoxins, which have been reported to cause cancer. The MicroZap has been reported to greatly reduce this toxin.
Consider poor water quality, particularly in other areas of the world where sanitation is weak. This technology has the ability to kill germs, bacteria, parasites and viruses in water supplies. Microwaves actually excite water molecules, bringing them to a high temperature more easily than other molecules allowing for a steaming of the substance and can be done quickly. MicroZap plans on building a solar powered unit that can be used in developing countries and at the same time locals can use this system as a source of money. Residents can carry food stocks (grains) and water to a central location for sterilization thereby improving the quality of living.
These researchers have also developed microwave washers and dryers that can treat towels and linens that can be used in hospitals and gyms. They plan on developing smaller units that can be used to serve restaurants, grocery stores and even homes.