A technique developed by a research company linked to Texas Tech University can prolong the shelf-life of bread for up to two months. The new technology could become the most significant bread-related development since the invention of the bread-slicer.
The sophisticated device developed by MicroZap, a Research and Development company affiliated to Texas Tech University, applies a principle similar to that used in a commercial microwave. The procedure works by killing the spores of fungus that make bread go mouldy within about 10 days.
The machine was originally developed to sterilize other food products. The objective was to kill MRSA bacteria (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), and other human-threatening bacteria such as salmonella in eggs, and listeria, which could be present in foods derived from livestock animals.
The method has been used to sterilize other food products including fresh turkey, herbs, fruit and vegetables, reports MailonLine. The researchers also tried the procedure on bread and discovered that it could kill in around 10 seconds the spores of Rhizopus stolonifer, the fungus causing what is known as “black mould”.
The technique could have several benefits. The most direct benefit would be being able to prolong the quality of bread for a period about six times longer than its current shelf-life. Other benefits include the possibility of reducing the use of preservatives used by bread manufactures to delay mould and of other chemicals added to mask the taste of the preservatives.
Food wastage is a serious problem in many countries, particularly in developed economies. Estimates suggest that in the United States and Canada about 40% of food purchased ends in trash bins since too much was served on the plate and a portion of it goes uneaten, or because it is beyond its prime or has completely spoiled. In the USA, that translates to about US$165 billion worth of food thrown in the garbage. In the UK, about one third of the bread purchased is thrown away.
Drawbacks of the procedure could be the potential increase in costs of food processing in an industry with tight margins, and potential consumer rejection of bread that has received some sort of irradiation which makes it last so much longer than expected.
If commercially successful and applied in large scale, the MicroZap device could become one of the most important developments in bread processing since 1928, when American inventor Otto Frederick Rohwedder designed a machine able to slice and wrap bread to keep it fresh.