New FDA-approved Food Processing Technology Developed at WSU Wins International Award

The new microwave food processing technology developed by Juming Tang and his team is being called revolutionary. It improves the quality, flavor and nutrition of processed foods while extending their shelf life.

For more than 10 years, WSU Biological Systems Engineering professor Juming Tang and his team of university, industry, and U.S. military scientists researched a new application of microwave technology for food processing. The outcome results in food that has a longer shelf life as well as better flavor and nutritional value compared to more traditional processing methods such as canning.

For example, imagine a salmon filet that looks, tastes and is as nutritious as fresh cooked salmon, but has a shelf life of more than six months.

For the first time ever, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in October approved the use of microwave energy for producing pre-packaged, low-acid foods, a major milestone that clears the way for its commercialization. In April the team was awarded the prestigious Institute of Food Technologists’ 2010 Research and Development Award.

“This award speaks to the revolutionary change this technology brings to food preservation,” said Ralph Cavalieri, director of the WSU Agricultural Research Center. “It is important across a range of applications from feeding astronauts on long-term space missions or soldiers in the field to transporting and storing food to areas of the world where people are unable to produce enough food locally to feed themselves.”

Dan Bernardo, dean of the WSU College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences, called the technology revolutionary.

“There have been very few advances leading to FDA accepted food processing technologies in recent history,” he said. “The FDA’s approval of this new technology truly could revolutionize the way we process and preserve food.”

The team’s Microwave Sterilization Process technology immerses the packaged food in pressurized hot water while simultaneously heating it with microwaves at a frequency of 915 MHz — a frequency that penetrates food more deeply than the 2450 MHz used in home microwave ovens. This combination eliminates food pathogens and spoilage microorganisms in just five to eight minutes and produces safe foods with much higher quality than conventionally processed ready-to-eat products.

“New processes for producing shelf-stable, low-acid foods must pass rigorous reviews by FDA to ensure that the technology is scientifically sound and the products will be safe,” Tang said. “Our team patented system designs in October 2006. We spent another three years, developing a semi-continuous system, collecting engineering data and microbiologically validating the process before receiving FDA acceptance.”

Evan Turek, senior research fellow at Kraft Foods, said Tang’s new technology will make a huge difference for the food industry.

“Since the introduction of industrial microwave ovens in the late 1940s, the food industry has been interested in exploiting the rapid heating capability of microwaves to improve the quality of canned food,” he said.  “Kraft Foods is proud to have been an early supporter of the research program at WSU and looks forward to the commercialization of the technology.”

To view a video about the microwave processing technology, visit