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Few Clouds 42° Good Afternoon

Microwaving may keep bread mold at bay

LUBBOCK, Texas -- Attention, bread shoppers: A Texas company could have the answer to some consumers' unwelcome discovery that just-purchased loaves contain mold.

MicroZap Inc. claims its technology allows bread to stay mold-free for 60 days. The loaf is bombarded with industrial microwaves for about 10 seconds, which kills the mold spores, said chief executive Don Stull.

The process could eliminate bakers' need for preservatives and ingredients used to mask preservatives' flavor, as well as reduce food waste and increase shelf life, he said.

Researchers at Texas Tech University see using the technology in bread made in developing countries, where there are fewer food safety standards and spoilage is a problem.

"It could help us provide an abundant food source for those in need," said Mindy Brashear, director of Lubbock University's Center for Food Industry Excellence. The prospect of helping people in developing countries is what motivated the microbiology professor to help develop the technology over the past eight years.

After 60 days, researchers found the treated bread that remained packaged had the same low mold content as a freshly baked loaf, Stull said. In the end, though, he knows it comes down to consumers' palates.

"The consumers saw no discernible quality difference in the breads," he said of testers.

An Associated Press reporter found that, though slightly warm from the microwaves, a piece of whole-grain white bread was soft and tasted like one that hadn't been zapped. Sixty-day-old bread was not available to taste.

The Natural Resources Defense Council estimates that, in 2008, in-store food losses in the United States totaled 43 billion pounds, 10 percent of mostly perishable foods supplied to retail outlets. Unrefrigerated bread in plastic packaging can succumb to mold in about 10 days, so keeping it at bay for 60 days presents a fresh proposition. -- AP

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