The WSU system was patented in 2006, and a 76-by-12 ft. pilot unit went into service soon after in the pilot plant at WSU’s Pullman, WA campus, processing salmon fillets and other low-acid foods. But developing a computer-vision method based on chemical-marker formation to determine the cold spot in trays being conveyed through the system required a combination of perseverance and good fortune. With October’s FDA approval, the project entered a new phase, as investment groups and equipment builders began exploring commercialization opportunities.
In the meantime, the WSU team led by Professor Juming Tang continues to optimize the design and prepare FDA filings for additional products. Tang has taught food engineering at WSU since 1995, following similar academic duties at South Dakota State University and Canada’s Acadia University. Since 2001, he has served as director of the Microwave Sterilization Research and Development Consortium, which includes Kraft, Hormel, Rexam Containers and the US Department of Defense. Tang earned an undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering at Central-South University of Technology in Hunan, China, before studying in Canada, receiving a master’s degree at University of Guelph and a PhD in agricultural engineering at the University of Saskatchewan.
FE: Describe the microwave system’s design.
Tang: We use single-mode microwave energy and concepts found in a conventional retort: recirculated water spray in a pressurized vessel and an environment where you raise the temperature close to 250