Food processors acquire taste for electronic pasteurization

Mark A. DeSorbo

SAN DIEGO—Titan Corp.'s electronic pasteurization technology continues to make the food-processing industry salivate.

Several major food processors, frozen appetizer maker Anchor Food Products (Appleton, WI) being the latest, have agreed to research and use Titan's patented technology. [See “Food processors adopt medical device technology,” December 1999, p.1]. Known as the SureBeam process, the pasteurization method is identical to the technology used to sterilize medical products.

IBP, Cargill/Excel, Huisken Meats and Kraft Foods are among the companies that will be utilizing a facility in Sioux City, IA, to test-market the electronically pasteurized food.
Click here to enlarge image

Under the terms of the agreement, Sure-Beam Corp., Titan's wholly owned subsidiary, will provide the services and the technology whenever Anchor decides to use it. Anchor joins Kraft Foods Inc. (Northfield, IL) and meat producers, including IBP Inc. (Dakota Dunes, SD), Cargill Inc. (Minneapolis), Tyson Foods Inc. (Chicago) and Schwan's Food Service (Marshall, MN). In fact, Huisken Meats (Chandler, MN) launched the nation's first electronically pasteurized hamburgers last June in several Midwest states.

“We're optimistic and very comfortable with the technology,” says Dr. Karl Adams, Anchor's vice president for research and development. “We will explore how and what quality enhancements we will gain, particularly in controlling microorganisms. We feel that it will provide safer food products in the long run.”

SureBeam works similar to a television, or microwave oven. Instead of projecting electrons on a screen or beaming them across an oven space, SureBeam accelerates the electrons. Unlike Cobalt 60 irradiation, which produces and exposes food to gamma rays, the SureBeam charges electrons with a light ray that ruptures the DNA structure of microorganisms and sterilizes them.

While the food supply in the United States is one of the safest in the world, the U.S Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 76 million people get sick, more than 300,000 are hospitalized, and 5,000 Americans die each year from food-borne illness.

So far, the FDA permits red meats, chicken, pork, fruits and vegetables and spices to be treated with SureBeam. Products, such as Anchor's appetizers, have not yet been approved for Titan's process, says Dr. Jeff Barach, vice president of special projects for the National Food Processors Association (NFPA; Washington, DC).

“There are a lot of factors with this method because products each have different parameters. It's not a one-size-fits-all method. You have to determine how long products have to be exposed,” he adds. “Food processors are looking at it and crunching numbers to determine what technology is best for them.”

The differences in product treatment are in the energy and the level of power that is needed and created, Barach explains. Gamma rays, he says, can penetrate deeply, while electron beams can only penetrate a few centimeters. “The advantage of the electronic beam is that it can be added on to an existing processing line. Gamma rays require a fixed facility, and there are only a few of these facilities, where meat and other foods are sent,” he says. “If you're a ground-beef processing plant, you could implement the technology right within the facility.”

In June, Titan was awarded a U.S. patent on the miniaturization of SureBeam technology. Larry A. Oberkfell, SureBeam's president and chief executive, says a smaller, more compact version will allow the technology to quickly and efficiently fit in to the manufacturing process.

Gene W. Ray, Titan's chairman, president and chief executive, agrees, adding that the new patent will further promote SureBeam's advantages. “It also specifically addresses the future needs of the pre-cooked food market by making available an in-house cost-effective, highly efficient means to eliminate harmful bacteria like Listeria from processed foods, such as hot dogs and luncheon meat,” he says.


Easily post a comment below using your Linkedin, Twitter, Google or Facebook account. Comments won't automatically be posted to your social media accounts unless you select to share.