Texas company: Microwave keeps bread mold at bay (Update)

Jan 08, 2013 by Betsy Blaney

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, said chief executive officer Don Stull said.

Mold is a type of fungus that forms because bread wrapped in plastic packaging still has water inside it. When that trapped water begins to evaporate inside the bag, the bread's surface becomes moist, creating the ideal environment for mold.

But there are characteristics that the zapping won't improve; it won't keep bread from going stale. As for touch, firmness and flavor after 60 days, one scientist had his doubts.

The process 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.

Researchers at Texas Tech 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. The prospect of helping people in developing countries is what motivated the microbiology professor to help develop the technology over the last eight years.

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.

An Associated Press reporter found the same. Though slightly warm from the microwaves, a piece of whole-grain white bread was soft and tasted like one that hadn't been zapped. Sixty-day-old bread was not available to taste.

"There would certainly be some questions that I would have around the texture of the bread holding for 60 days," said Brian Strouts, head of experimental baking for the Manhattan, Kansas-based nonprofit American Institute of Baking. "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 becoming rancid.

Stull said MicroZap has just completed drawings for an in-home unit, so that consumers could treat bread and other foods themselves. He estimated an in-home unit would cost about $100 more than a regular microwave.

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, a contagious bacterial infection that's resistant to many commonly used antibiotics, and salmonella. But researchers discovered it also killed mold spores in bread and sterilized fresh or processed foods without cooking or damaging them.

While bread manufacturers have expressed interest in the technology, there's concern it could push up the price in an industry with already tight margins.

"I think the consumers are going to drive this more than companies," Stull said.

Explore further: Rooting out horse-meat fraud in the wake of a recent food scandal

5 /5 (2 votes)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Food For Life spelt bread is recalled

Mar 19, 2008

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced the voluntary recall of Food For Life brand spelt grain bread due to a labeling error.

Live Christmas tree brings scent, mold

Nov 14, 2007

Live Christmas trees may bring more than a fresh evergreen scent to U.S. homes during the holidays, they may bring allergy symptoms, a study showed.

Old recipe making a come back

Dec 05, 2011

Humans ate sourdough bread in ancient times and it's remained a traditional part of the diets in some countries and regions. Now Baltic scientists have reinvented this centuries-old technique for the needs of the food industry ...

Recommended for you

A refined approach to proteins at low resolution

Sep 19, 2014

Membrane proteins and large protein complexes are notoriously difficult to study with X-ray crystallography, not least because they are often very difficult, if not impossible, to crystallize, but also because ...

Base-pairing protects DNA from UV damage

Sep 19, 2014

Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich researchers have discovered a further function of the base-pairing that holds the two strands of the DNA double helix together: it plays a crucial role in protecting ...

Smartgels are thicker than water

Sep 19, 2014

Transforming substances from liquids into gels plays an important role across many industries, including cosmetics, medicine, and energy. But the transformation process, called gelation, where manufacturers ...

User comments : 16

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

ScooterG
2.1 / 5 (7) Jan 08, 2013
"I think the consumers are going to drive this more than companies," Stull said.

I will not knowingly purchase food product treated in this manner.
FrankHerbert
2.3 / 5 (12) Jan 08, 2013
Lol, so you spew anti-enviromental garbage on here everyday, but you're afraid of microwave ovens?
For the record, I'm good friends with the owner of an organic restaurant and even she isn't that cooky.
FrankHerbert
2.1 / 5 (11) Jan 08, 2013
The process 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.

Yes, I would much rather eat all that crap than zap it with PHOTONS! for 10 seconds.

This sounds awesome. Any nutrients lost would be minimal it seems. Either way it will be studied. Certainly the bread is not harmful as a result of the treatment.
RealScience
not rated yet Jan 08, 2013
@Frank - well said.
I agree - I've put frozen bread in a microwave before for a lot longer than 10 seconds a loaf, and eating it afterward didn't seem to do any harm. Of course I didn't wait 60 days before eating it.

@Scooter - I understand not wanting to eat 60-day-old bread, but if microwaving food killed people, someone would have noticed by now.
Myno
not rated yet Jan 08, 2013
The article offers...

"The consumers saw no discernible quality difference in the breads," Stull said of testers who found the treated bread's taste and texture unchanged. An Associated Press reporter found the same. Though slightly warm from the microwaves, a piece of whole-grain white bread was soft and tasted like one that hadn't been zapped. Sixty-day-old bread was not available to taste.

...which only informs us that those who did not taste a difference, did not taste a difference. Oh, and that a single reporter also did not taste a difference.

What the article leaves out is what fraction of tasters did not taste a difference. 99 out of 100 testers might have tasted a difference, but the 1 out of 100 that did not taste a difference is the miniscule portion of the data that the article chooses to inform us of. Plus one reporter.
ScooterG
1.8 / 5 (5) Jan 08, 2013
Lol, so you spew anti-enviromental garbage on here everyday, but you're afraid of microwave ovens?
For the record, I'm good friends with the owner of an organic restaurant and even she isn't that cooky.


I don't spew anti-environmental garbage. I simply point out fraud and deception. And what do you care what I eat or why?

You're just hurt because I ignore your incessant, idiotic PM's.
ScooterG
1.8 / 5 (5) Jan 08, 2013


@Scooter - I understand not wanting to eat 60-day-old bread, but if microwaving food killed people, someone would have noticed by now.


So you're saying that unless something actually kills a person, it's okay to consume it? You're saying we know everything about everything?
RealScience
5 / 5 (3) Jan 08, 2013
@ScooterG - I was attempting humor.
I most certainly would NOT say that we know everything - we're just barely scratching the surface, and we don't even know how much we don't know.

It wouldn't surprise me if microwaves decreased nutritional content for some fragile vitamins, but bread is not a big source of these.
And if 10 seconds in a microwave for a whole loaf made food toxic, given that individual servings are microwaved for minutes and hundreds of millions of people have each consume hundreds of such servings per year for decades we would have noticed something (even if it didn't outright kill people).
And I know enough about how microwaves interact with molecular bonds to be pretty sure that their most likely non-thermal damage to living systems (e.g., influencing transcription-factor binding and thus gene expression) would not make baked bread toxic.

So I would bet dollars to doughnuts that microwaved bread would be less dangerous than the preservatives now used in bread.
kochevnik
1 / 5 (4) Jan 09, 2013
@Scooter So you're saying that unless something actually kills a person, it's okay to consume it? You're saying we know everything about everything?
That's the conservative mantra
Yenaldlooshi
not rated yet Jan 09, 2013
I store my breads on an old large oval Fiesta ware uranium red platter.
No mold problems!
RealScience
not rated yet Jan 09, 2013
@ScooterG: Speaking of how little we know, how does such a small dose of microwaves stops mold from growing?
The dose barely warms the bread, so if the biological effects of non-ionizing radiation are purely thermal (one of the arguments used on cell phone safety), then how does it stop the mold?

While mold could be a much better absorber of microwaves than bread and gets much hotter than the bread itself, given the high heat of evaporation of water and the wicking action of bread, it would have to be a fantastic absorber, which seems unlikely (and that would teach us something about microwaves and mold anyway).

Another possibility is that mold is sensitive to non-thermal effects of non-ionizing radiation, which would support cell-phones-are-dangerous, terahertz-airport-scanners-are-dangerous arguments. And such sensitivity in a simple organism would be perfect for starting to figure out how such non-thermal effects (if they exist) work.

Much more interesting than stale bread.
ScooterG
1 / 5 (4) Jan 09, 2013
@ScooterG: Speaking of how little we know, how does such a small dose of microwaves stops mold from growing? [q/]

I can't answer that.

I'm not saying the microwaves are bad, but when I look around, I don't see a lot of healthy people.

Seems to me that trading one unknown for a lesser unknown just to gain some mold resistance is reckless and stupid.

And can we trust this Texas company to thoroughly test the product before they put it on the market?? Hell no. Can we trust their insurance company to investigate the product before they insure it?? Hell no.
FrankHerbert
2.6 / 5 (7) Jan 09, 2013
I don't think you understand how photons work.
alfie_null
not rated yet Jan 13, 2013
Can we trust their insurance company to investigate the product before they insure it??

Ummm - yes?
Anda
3 / 5 (2) Jan 13, 2013
Hey guys. You don't have to eat it.
The guy worked on this to help people in developping countries as he says...
If people have to eat bread with mold found in the garbage they will surely prefer to eat this "mold free" bread.
ScooterG
1 / 5 (2) Jan 13, 2013
Can we trust their insurance company to investigate the product before they insure it??

Ummm - yes?


Right...tell that to the people whose houses were damaged by Zurn/Q-Pex