New Technology Could Keep Bread Fresh for 2 Months

Freshly baked bread
Freshly baked bread

A Texas company says it has found a way to keep bread fresh and mold-free for two months, the Associated Press reports.

The device, called MicroZap, bombards bread with microwaves for about 10 seconds, killing mold spores. The process could eliminate the need for preservatives and ingredients used to cover up the taste of the preservatives, said MicroZap Inc. CEO Don Stull.

Researchers also say the device would be great for use in developing countries, where spoilage is more of a problem.

"It could help us provide an abundant food source for those in need," Mindy Brashear, director of Texas Tech University's Center for Food Industry Excellence, told the AP. Brashear, a microbiology professor, helped develop the technology over the last eight years with exactly that goal in mind.

Researchers found that the microwave-treated bread that remained packaged had the same mold content after 60 days as a freshly baked loaf. Microwaving the bread also did not appear to alter its taste or texture.

There's a big "but," however: Microwaving the bread won't keep it from going stale.

"There would certainly be some questions that I would have around the texture of the bread holding for 60 days," Brian Strouts, head of experimental baking for the Manhattan, Kan.-based nonprofit American Institute of Baking, told the AP. "It would not be the answer to all the problems with baked goods. There's a lot of things that can start happening," including bread going rancid.

It also can't prevent bread from being exposed to more mold spores once the packaging is opened -- all bets are off at that point. Bread generally lasts about 10 days after being removed from the package.

MicroZap's goal is to find a bread manufacturer that wants to implement a pilot program -- using a similar metallic device as the testing prototype -- in a production line. The U.S. Department of Agriculture also has contacted MicroZap about possibly using the technology for exported fruits and vegetables.

MicroZap is also working on an in-home unit so that consumers could treat bread and other foods themselves. The microwaves used in the university lab are the same frequency as commercial units, but delivered in an array that gets a homogenous signal to the bread, eliminating the hot and cold spots common when heating food in kitchen microwaves.

The technology -- an effort funded by $1.5 million from Texas' Emerging Technology Fund -- was initially intended to kill bacteria such as MRSA and salmonella. But researchers discovered it also killed mold spores in bread and sterilized fresh or processed foods without cooking or damaging them.

And here we thought Wonder bread already had a shelf life of several years.

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