Every month, Americans throw out about 40 percent of the food they buy, wasting $2,275 per year. Fruits, vegetables and dairy products go bad quickly, but one of the things most likely to end up in the trash is moldy bread.
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The fungus that causes sour-smelling bread mold is Rhizopus stolonifer, and it grows best in warm, damp environments -- like under the wrapper of that sliced sandwich loaf you left on the counter. But a Texas-based company called MicroZap has come up with a simple way to make bread stay fresh and mold-free for as long as 60 days, reducing the chances of it ending up in the trash.
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MicroZap's technique is exactly what the company's name implies: They've found a way to zap bread with a special microwave-like device, killing mold spores. It takes about 10 seconds, and the bread stays mold-free for about two months.
"We treated bread in the device, and after 60 days, it had the same mold content as fresh bread coming out of the package," Mircrozap CEO and Director Don Stull told Yahoo! Shine recently. It had a slightly different water content after being zapped, "but it was not noticeable on any taste tests that we did."
The change in water content "may have had to do with the fact that the taste test was 60 days later," he added.
Right now, many big commercial bakeries rely on preservatives and additives to keep mold at bay. "Preservatives to extend shelf life, and additives to mask the taste of the preservatives," Stull said. Still, unrefrigerated bread usually starts to get moldy in 10 days or less.
MicroZap's technology was originally designed to kill bacteria like salmonella and MRSA, and can also treat most meats and vegetables to keep them fresh longer. But though it has a lot in common with run-of-the-mill home microwave ovens, you can't just nuke a couple of slices in your kitchen and call it good.
"Our machine uses the exact same magnetron frequencies that's in your home microwave -- 2.45 gigahertz," he said. "We penetrate the chamber in multiple different ways and with multiple different sources, which allows us to get a uniform signal." In other words: No hot or cold spots, and they can control the zap so that they don't accidentally cook, heat up, or dry out the product. (A home version of their device is in the works and would cost about $100 more than a regular microwave oven, Stull told the Associated Press.)
Even though people tend to associate a super-long shelf-life with fake food (like Twinkies), there's no question that mold-free bread and bacteria-free fruit is appealing. MicroZap's technology could be a huge benefit in developing countries where food availability is scarce and safety standards nearly non-existent. "It could help us provide an abundant food source for those in need," Mindy Brashear, director of Texas Tech University's Center for Food Industry Excellence, told the Associated Press. And MicroZap could make plenty of other products safer as well.
"Salmonella is unfortunately fairly ubiquitous in the pet food industry," Stull told Yahoo! Shine. "People really love their pets, so we've done a lot of work with pet food and pet treats."
But even once we can control mold, there's still a chance that the pre-zapped bread could end up in the trash.
"There would certainly be some questions that I would have around the texture of the bread holding for 60 days," Brian Strouts, head of experimental baking for the Manhattan, Kansas-based nonprofit American Institute of Baking, told the Associated Press. Bread could still get stale, crumbly, or rancid. A quick zap "would not be the answer to all the problems with baked goods," he added.
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