MATS technology could be the next game changer in packaged foods
Microwave assisted thermal sterilization, or MATS technology, could be the next big wave of innovation to hit packaged food. It promises to preserve the nutrients, color, texture and flavor of foods — while providing a shelf life equivalent to conventionally processed foods.
This seems like a pretty lofty goal, but it might be closer to a reality than we think. Let’s take a look at the MATS technology and how it might help to change the landscape of packaged foods as we know them.
What is MATS
As stated above, MATS stands for “microwave assisted thermal sterilization.” 915 Labs, the exclusive developer of this technology, believes it can solve one of the most ardent challenges facing the food industry today: providing consumers with high quality, natural, and additive-free packaged foods. On paper this seems great, but how exactly does it work?
MATS technology immerses packaged food in pressurized hot water while simultaneously heating with microwave energy at a frequency of 915 megahertz. Unlike retort processing, MATS can eliminate pathogens and spoilage microorganisms in a matter of minutes, rather than hours. As we know, the longer food is cooked under high heat and pressure the more it degrades the color, flavor, and nutrient bioavailability.
You could see then, how if MATS can deliver on its promise, our expectations of shelf-stable foods could change dramatically.
What About Pasteurization?
Conveniently enough, MATS units also provide microwave assisted pasteurization technology (MAPS) without any additional equipment. This results in restaurant-quality, ready-to-eat foods and beverages with a shelf life of up to 12 weeks.
The extended shelf-life for the likes of prepared foods and ready-to-eat meals, beverages, vegetables, fruits, dips, sauces and salsas means less waste, higher quality, and greater availability. This can become especially important in food desserts, where convenience stores and bodegas serve as the primary grocery centers for a large population.
What Other Benefits Can MATS/MAPS Offer
Aside from increased quality and shelf-life, the technology can also assist in the clean label mission. By extending shelf-life through mechanical means, MATS can reduce the amount of preservatives and flavor enhancers needed to make packaged foods safer and tastier. Think of needing less sugar, salt, and artificial flavors in foods because the natural flavors haven’t been cooked out.
These benefits could also parlay into school food programs, nursing homes, cafeterias, and meal kit enterprises.
What’s Next for MATS Technology?
E-commerce providers like Amazon, Alibaba, and Jet are especially interested in this technology as they try to break into the prepared foods market. The ability to create high-quality, shelf-stable meals that are safe to eat for 12 months plays directly into their supply chain strengths.
The interest from these companies in MATS technology is not passive. Amazon was an early investor in 915 Labs for use in its AmazonFresh brand. Many observers are connecting its interest in this technology with the acquisition of Whole Foods markets. The digital and brick-and-mortar avenues could offer Amazon a large advantage in the distribution of ready-to-eat and meal kit foods.
The U.S. Military has also been a long supporter of MATS technology as a way to provide more nutrient dense, portable meals as a replacement for the classic MRE (meal ready to eat).
As MATS/MAPS technology continues to merge into the packaged food realm, we need to be ready for the potentials that come along with it. Consumers have driven the demand for clean label options, along with healthier foods. MATS could be the bridge that brings fresh tasting, long lasting, healthier foods to shelves and refrigerators nationwide. It’s important that packaged food producers become intimately acquainted with the technology as consumer demand could soon drive a global change in quality expectations.