915 Labs, a leader in natural food processing and packaging technology, introduced today its new microwave sterilization system, a transformative technology that will help meet the growing consumer demand for high-quality, natural and additive-free packaged food. The company’s Microwave Assisted Thermal Sterilization, or MATS, systems are currently operating in commercial test kitchens and the first full-scale system is on order for installation at a North American food company processing facility.

Processing food with MATS is dramatically different than conventional food processing, also called “retort.” In conventional processing, food is vacuum-packed in a can or pouch and placed in a pressurized cooker at temperatures above 250 degrees 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 immersed in pressurized hot water and heated by microwaves at a frequency of 915 megahertz (MHz), which eliminates pathogens and spoilage microorganisms in a fraction of the time, with minimal heat damage to the food. 915 Labs pairs the microwave technology 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 from 915 Labs 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 tender spears of asparagus to spicy Indian dishes to gourmet foodstuffs — 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.”

“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.”

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.

915 Labs’ first full-scale commercial system, the MATS-150, has been ordered and will be delivered to a major U.S. customer in 2017. 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 apart from 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.

About MATS
MATS technology was developed by food engineering scientist Juming Tang, Ph.D., at Washington State University, in conjunction with a consortium of private food packaging and equipment companies and the U.S. Department of Defense. Patented in 2006, the MATS technology is the first microwave sterilization technique approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

About 915 Labs
915 Labs is a leader in natural food processing and packaging and the exclusive licensee of the MATS technology. A team of seasoned executives with extensive experience in the food technology sector leads the Denver, Colorado-based company. CEO Mike Locatis is a successful startup entrepreneur who has also served as Assistant Secretary for both the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy in the Obama Administration. 915 Labs investors include New York-based New Ground Ventures, an investment firm with stakes in a number of branded food and food technology companies, and San Francisco-based Theorem Ventures, an early-stage investor in technology-related companies.