WSU Microwave Technology Earns Second FDA Approval

PULLMAN, Wash. – Efforts to commercialize a new microwave-based technology for food preservation, developed by a team led by Washington State University scientist Juming Tang, are gaining momentum with a second approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for its use in preserving what it calls “non-homogeneous” food – in this case, salmon fillets in sauce.

The second approval came in mid-December. It follows the October 2009 FDA approval for use of the technology for “homogeneous materials” – mashed potatoes, specifically.

“The first approval validates the scientific and engineering premises behind our work,” Tang said. “The second approval makes the technology viable for processing more complex food systems, which is a major milestone to commercialization.”

The WSU Research Foundation licensed the technology in late 2010 to Food Chain Safety of Maple Valley, Wash., a private firm committed to commercializing microwave assisted thermal sterilization. Food Chain Safety just recently completed the designs for commercially viable microwave sterilization systems based on Tang’s work.

Tang and his team were charged with developing a food preservation technology that would extend shelf life and improve food quality and nutrition. 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. The 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.

Spearheaded by C. Patrick Dunne and Tom Yang, Department of Defense Combat Feeding Directorate at the U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center at Natick, Mass., the project has been funded from a variety of sources, including the WSU Agricultural Research Center, and a consortium of industry members that includes Kraft Foods, Hormel Foods, Ocean Beauty Seafoods, Rexam Containers, Ferrite Components, Graphic Packaging and Printpack. As the focus of the consortium has shifted from fundamental research to commercialization, the WSU Research Foundation has helped the consortium to grow considerably. It now includes a number of other major international food processing and packaging companies, including Nestlé.

The WSU team also worked closely with process authorities of the Seafood Products Association in Seattle and Hormel Foods to establish validation procedures and in preparation of filing documents. The success of the second FDA filing was made possible by several members in Tang’s laboratory, including project engineers and research associates Frank Liu, Zhongwei Tang, Galina Mikhaylenko, Peter Gray and Jae Hyung Mah; doctoral students Jing Peng, Fermin Resurreccion, Donglei Luan and many other assistants; and Frank Younce, WSU food processing pilot plant manager.

Washington State University is a nationally recognized research university enrolling more than 25,000 students worldwide. U.S. News and World Report ranks it among the top 60 public research universities in the United States. The WSU College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences, including the Department of Biosystems Engineering, leads the university in winning competitive grant funding.