TEWKSBURY, MASS. — Raytheon Co. has developed a food safety pasteurization technology that focuses concentrated energy in the form of heat produced by millimeter waves to the surface of food products. The company said the technology is effective with whole muscle meats, deli meats and citrus.
The energy and subsequent heat produced by the millimeter waves do not get absorbed deeply below the surface of a product, said Namir Habboosh, senior engineer and subject matter expert for the technology.
"At a maximum it penetrates a 50th of an inch," said Mr. Habboosh. "The energy gets absorbed into the surface layer and does not heat the mass of the food."
In tests conducted using multiple samples of meat pre-contaminated with three strains of E. coli, Salmonella and Listeria, the company said the system killed all three in less than 16 seconds.
But Mr. Habboosh added that the tests, which were conducted in conjunction with a third-party laboratory, actually achieved sterility for all three pathogens in the 16 seconds.
"I think that in an actual production environment the time would come down, especially if the density of the energy is increased," he said.
With Listeria, in particular, Mr. Habboosh said test results showed the technology to be effective after only one second of exposure.
Raytheon also tested the system using oranges and it proved effective.
"We did it with the vision of using the technology in commercial juicing operations," said Mr. Habboosh. "Citrus is generally juiced whole and not peeled. In our testing we wanted to make sure we were addressing surface contamination issues."
The technology also has been tested on products packaged in plastic wrap. It proved effective and did not degrade the performance of the plastic wrap, Mr. Habboosh said.
The next step for Raytheon, said Lee Silvestre, vice-president of mission innovation, is to work with companies in the food industry and bring the technology to market.
"Since we patented the first microwave oven nearly 65 years ago, Raytheon has had a rich history of developing innovative solutions for our customers," she said. "As our world food supply is becoming increasingly susceptible to contamination, it is important that we continue to develop healthier, more efficient methods to keep our food supply safe."
Mr. Habboosh said Raytheon is interested in working with both food processors and equipment manufacturers to determine the next best steps for the technology.
"We want to work with food producers so we can better understand what their needs and limitations are," he said. "We are not in the food equipment business so we also want to work with people who are more familiar with the market." FSM