Center of Excellence launched for better, safer packaged food

Juming Tang uses new microwave technologies to help companies offer safer, higher-quality packaged foods.

Our favorite packaged foods should also be the healthiest for us.

This year, dozens of prepackaged foods, from frozen burritos to turkey salad, were recalled in the United States. Juming Tang, scientist at Washington State University, is doing his part to help make packaged food safer, while using fewer preservatives.

In March, Tang launched the first national Center of Excellence for Food Safety using Microwave Energy at WSU.

“We’re working to spread new knowledge and technologies,” said Tang, “so that food companies, small and large, can produce high-quality, healthy prepackaged meals with longer shelf lives, free from pathogens and chemical preservatives.”

“The benefits will be safer food, better products and more competitive small businesses,” he said.

Tang has developed two new technologies: microwave assisted thermal sterilization, or MATS, and microwave assisted pasteurization systems, or MAPS. Both use a combination of microwave heat and a hot water tunnel to rapidly heat packaged food to sterilization or pasteurization temperatures and hold it there for a minimum amount of time before quickly cooling it down.

Tang says MATS and MAPS will help food companies comply with the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) and will particularly benefit rural communities, where most small and medium companies are located.

“Most small companies don’t have the expertise and infrastructure to develop and test new technologies like this themselves,” he said. “We’ll be able to provide hands-on facilities for them to develop their own products using MATS and MAPS.”

The four-year program is funded by $4 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture program and its Agriculture and Food Research Initiative.

Industry participants gather in Seattle for the Industrial Microwave Alliance kickoff meeting, March 14.

Kickoff meeting connects industry

On March 14, WSU researchers joined representatives from dozens of food processing, packaging, equipment, and supply chain companies in Seattle for a kickoff meeting of the Industrial Microwave Alliance. The Alliance helps the new Center of Excellence with innovation, technology transfer and adoption of new technologies.

“Everyone was excited about the depth and breadth of the expertise the Center brings together,” said Tang. “This face-to-face meeting allowed us to establish industry contacts for future research, and fine-tune our research plans.”

Participating companies included Amazon, Toppan, Kuraray, Trident Seafood, Smucker’s, Bay Valley Foods, Muegge-Gerling, Mitsubishi Gas Chemical America, Inc., and 915 Labs.

WSU participants included Center Project Manager Graham Barnett, research engineers Frank Liu and Zhongwei Tang, Pilot Plant Manager Frank Younce, WSU Technology Licensing Associate Norman Ong, CAHNRS Business Development Specialist Albert Tsui, Senior Associate Dean in the Carson College of Business David Sprott, Director of Corporate Relations University Advancement Dana Ulrich, and graduate students Sasha Barnett and Kara Grant.

Special guests included John Gardner, WSU Vice President for University Advancement; Jim Moyer, CAHNRS Associate Dean of Research; Nate Anderson, FDA Agricultural Engineer; and George Muntean of the Pacific Northwest National Lab.

Along with Tang, core Center researchers include WSU faculty members Shyam Sablani, Carolyn Ross and Karina Gallardo.

Collaborators include the Carson College of Business, North Carolina State University, University of Tennessee, the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Systems Center, and Seafood Products Association.