His resolve to create better shelf-stable foods led North Carolina State University professor Josip Simunovic, 58, to a new microwave technology for Raleigh-based Aseptia.
--As told to Deirdre van Dyk
To have a safe food product, you need very high temperatures. But no matter what kind of conventional heating you use, when you heat slowly, there is drastic degradation of vitamins and antioxidants. If you have technology that can heat rapidly and uniformly, and you can control it, this problem is solved and there's no need for preservatives, refrigeration, or freezing.
We started with the technologies that were available. Microwave heating is, of course, almost universal. Our first success was processing sweet potatoes. We invited engineers to watch as the potatoes came out of these two boiling cylindrical microwave applicators. A number of the engineers ran out to look behind the wall to see where the real heaters were. And that product beat everything in taste panels, including freshly made. Eventually, after three or four years, we decided to develop our own technology. That was the breakthrough, AseptiWave. This enabled processing of a wider range of products--beverages, purees, soups, salsas. Once we had a working technology, we built our first processing plant, in Troy, North Carolina, Wright Foods.
I kept working on this problem for 20 years, because I'm very stubborn. I'm very hardheaded. When I bite into something, I don't let go. When I was starting out, I told another professor what we were trying to do and he said to me, "Young man, your chances are one in a million." And I said, "I love those chances!" When they say I'm crazy, I love it. What that means is that everybody sane has already given up. Only the crazy guys are still on the battlefield making it happen.