Recent advances in oven and dryer technology are only the tip of the iceberg, experts claim. Here's what you might find in the offing. "The next major breakthrough will be non-invasive ways of measuring core temperature," says Jan Gaydos, director of marketing and the Food Processing Tech Center of FMC FoodTech. "It's a difficult challenge. The more overcooking, the less yield. But you can't afford to have undercooked product. We're looking into high tech ways of measuring core temperature without probing directly into the product."

"We have gone as far as to look at systems like MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) to see the contrast between cooked and uncooked product," says James Padilla, director of product development for Heat & Control, Inc. "Can we correlate an MRI image with a desirably cooked product? So far it looks like it will work with some products, not with others. But the technology, as it applies to food processing, is still in its infancy."

A technology used for decades in moisture analysis, Infrared technology now also holds promise as a means of scanning product coming out of the oven.

Look for more changes on the sanitation front, too.

"We are designing the self-cleaning oven," declares The Lanly Co.'s Jim Porach. "After you have had flaking of product, you eventually have to shut down the line to clean it. We are looking at a cleaning system incorporating pneumatics and high-pressure air to carry particles away. It could pay for itself within a year."

Processors have shown interest in microwave drying because of its energy efficiency, notes Aaron Norris, sales manager for B.N.W. Industries, Tippecanoe, Ind., which manufactures horizontal conveyor dryers, coolers and roasters. Equipment manufacturers seem to have made some headway with microwave drying systems, he says, but the systems have inherent limitations.