LUBBOCK, Texas — Attention, bread shoppers: A Texas company could have the answer to some consumers' unwelcome discovery that just-purchased loaves contain mold.
MicroZap Inc. claims its technology allows bread to stay mold-free for 60 days. The bread is bombarded with microwaves for about 10 seconds, which kills the mold spores, chief executive officer Don Stull said.
The process, developed over eight years, could eliminate bakers' need for preservatives and ingredients used to mask preservatives' flavor, as well as reduce food waste and increase bread's shelf life, he said.
The microwaves used in the Texas Tech 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.
Researchers at the university also see using the technology in bread made in developing countries, where there are fewer food safety standards and spoilage is a problem.
"It could help us provide an abundant food source for those in need," said Mindy Brashear, director of the Lubbock university's Center for Food Industry Excellence.
After 60 days, researchers found the treated bread that remained packaged had the same mold content when compared to a freshly baked loaf, Stull said. In the end, though, he knows it comes down to consumers' palates.
"The consumers saw no discernible quality difference in the breads," Stull said of testers who found the treated bread's taste and texture unchanged.
Unrefrigerated bread in plastic packaging will succumb to mold in about 10 days, so keeping it at bay for 60 days presents a fresh proposition.
Not so fast, says Ruth MacDonald, professor and chair of food science and human nutrition at Iowa State University. There are thousands of airborne mold spores everywhere, she said, adding that though bread producers might like the technology for storage and transportation, those spores are problematic at home.
"Once you open (the bag of bread), all bets are off," she said.
Researchers with the university tested the MicroZap on three different mold types on breads inside plastic bags with twist ties, and the microwaves destroyed each one.