Can I have your attention for 90 seconds?

Now in my third year at the head of 915 Labs, I’d like to think I’ve perfected my elevator speech. Yet it continues to be a challenge to quickly explain our company’s mission and the technology at the core of our startup without diving into a short history of food processing or our hopes for creating a more sustainable food ecosystem. ‘Microwave assisted thermal sterilization’ is itself a mouthful—which is why we simply call it MATS.

There’s so much behind those four letters: from the industry-government-academic partnership that funded the 10-year development of the technology, to how MATS changes the way food has been processed for more than a century, to its potential for improving the quality of packaged foods. You see my dilemma.

So instead of telling, we’ve decided to show you. I hope you’ll watch our new video on MATS and perhaps share it with a colleague (or two). If a picture’s worth 1,000 words, this video gives us a few million, which should be more than enough to convey our excitement about the game-changing technology we call MATS.

Good News on Combating Hunger

As CEO of 915 Labs and a member of the board at Hunger Free Colorado, I get to do two things I love: drive innovation in the food industry and help to improve childhood nutrition. Since we can all use some good news as 2016 comes to a close, I want to share this great accomplishment: Colorado is now ranked 11th in the nation in terms of participation in the federally funded School Breakfast Program among low-income students, up from 44th place in 2009.

This means more children who qualify have access to a no-cost wholesome breakfast at school before the school day begins. Even better, the meal is often served in the classroom, which is less time-consuming for teachers and reduces the stigma associated with free meal programs.

I’m proud to say Hunger Free Colorado was a driving force behind the state legislation that passed with bipartisan support in 2013, which ensures more schools offer this effective means of addressing child hunger. No one should start their day hungry, least of all children, who need fuel for learning and growing. You can find more information on this program and donate to the good work of Hunger Free Colorado here. Happy holidays from all of us at 915 Labs.

Let’s Start with Great Ingredients and Preserve Them

Michael Locatis, CEO, 915 Labs

Michael Locatis, CEO, 915 Labs

News reports over the last few days are lauding big food makers for reducing the number of ingredients in their products. We too appreciate any effort that results in a cleaner label. But I agree with award-winning journalist and author Michael Moss that a clean label is just half the battle. What’s equally important is how healthy and nutritious your key ingredients are.

The beauty of 915 Labs microwave processing technology is its light touch: it doesn’t strip the nutrients from the naturally healthy ingredients you start with. By using a combination of a hot water bath and microwaves, foods processed in our systems reach sterilization or pasteurization temperatures very rapidly, which eliminates the heat damage that occurs with traditional sterilization, or retort, and the need for excessive amounts of salt and other additives to compensate for that damage.

  Marcus Brody, Food Scientist at Covance Food Solutions, dishes up the vegetarian moussaka he made and had microwave processed at the 915 Labs MATS Boot Camp. 


Marcus Brody, Food Scientist at Covance Food Solutions, dishes up the vegetarian moussaka he made and had microwave processed at the 915 Labs MATS Boot Camp. 

This past week, I watched food researchers and product developers from U.S., Thailand and New Zealand food companies test out recipes on our pilot scale microwave sterilization system. Using healthy ingredients like salmon filets, fresh eggplant, carrots and other vegetables and natural seasonings, they prepared a variety of foods and then following microwave processing, submitted each to a taste test.

The food execs were impressed with the taste, texture and flavor of their dishes including salmon filets paired with compound butter and herbs, vegetarian moussaka with tomato and béchamel sauces and abalone fish in oyster sauce. They left enthused about the possibilities our new technology offers the world of packaged foods.

Food companies are working hard to respond to consumer demands for fewer additives and more recognizable ingredients in our food. But to make high quality packaged food, we have to do more than just get rid of the junk — we also have to start with healthful ingredients and process them in a way that doesn’t significantly reduce their nutritional value. At 915 Labs, we plan to be part of that transformation.

Working Toward Safer, Healthier Food with the IFSH

915 Labs is proud to announce that we have become an industry member of the Institute for Food Safety and Health (IFSH), which houses four important centers dedicated to advancing food safety, processing innovation and nutrition research.

IFSH is housed within the Moffett Campus of the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) a multi-building complex that offers state-of-the-art food processing technologies, synergistic research and a scientific brain trust. Our IFSH membership will give 915 Labs the unique opportunity to work collaboratively with dozens of industry partners, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Division of Food Processing Science & Technology (DFPST) and academic researchers focused on the application and advancement of food safety and nutrition technologies.

Through IFSH, we plan to continue to broaden the exposure and application of MATS and MAPS within the food industry and incorporate our microwave technologies into new and existing research programs and industry training events. In addition, the Center for Nutrition Research and Center for Process Innovation within IFSH offers a great opportunity to conduct cross comparative nutrition and processing research within the preservation arena.

At 915 Labs, we strongly believe that our IFSH membership will be a wonderful opportunity to proactively collaborate with all organizations dedicated to developing and applying the next generation of food safety knowledge and technology.  In conjunction with our foundational partnership with Washington State University and the newly named NIFA Center of Excellence on Food Safety Processing, we have a robust platform for integrating MATS and MAPS into a wide range of ongoing industry research and training.

Cooking Documentary Highlights Need to Reverse Eating Trends

In his beautifully produced Netflix documentary series “Cooked,” Michael Pollan exhorts us to get back into the kitchen and rekindle the tradition humans have enjoyed for millenia of creating nutritious meals from fresh ingredients. Doing so will not only help combat increasing rates of diabetes and obesity, he says, it will also save culinary traditions quickly being lost.

Matthew Raider, COO, 915 Labs

Matthew Raider, COO, 915 Labs

It’s a great suggestion for those who have the time, resources and interest in cooking. Unfortunately, fewer and fewer consumers are falling into that category.

According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Americans spend the least amount of time cooking of any other population. Unfortunately, countries around the globe, particularly in the developing world, are following that trend: the second episode of Cooked includes a visit to India, where the convenience and aspirational appeal of fast food and processed food is rapidly catching on, much to the dismay of traditionalists and public health officials.

To blame, says Pollan, are long workdays that leave no time for meal preparation, and cheap center-of-the store processed foods, engineered with high levels of fat and sugar.

Many American consumers are cooking — just not from scratch — and would actually like to cook more, says the research firm The Hartman Group in Forbes, but time and money get in the way. Instead, they’re eating on the run and reaching for convenient snacks.

The firm says food companies can meet the demand for convenient, nutritious food options by offering healthy ready-to-eat meals, and customizable products that can be eaten alone or mixed with other ingredients for variety or to create larger meals. Other opportunities include offering base ingredients, such as a grain or protein that can be complemented with vegetables and sauces and global cuisine featuring new and exciting ingredients.

All of those options are possible with 915 Labs’ microwave sterilization and pasteurization technology (MATS™ and MAPS™), which allow food companies to produce convenient, natural, healthy foods that retain their nutrients, color, texture, and flavor, and eliminate the need for excess salt and unnatural additives. At our MATS Boot Camp, culinary experts and food companies from around the world have been using our pilot processing system to produce a whole new world of clean-label, healthy, safe and nutritious shelf stable foods that taste unlike anything on grocer shelves today, from gourmet soups to rice and pasta dishes to complete meals.

As much as I hope Pollan can persuade modern consumers to cook from scratch more frequently, the reality is that we in the food industry need to meet time-crunched consumers in the middle. 915 Labs’ MATS and MAPS technologies give both health experts and consumers what they’re looking for: real food and convenience too.

Cooked stills courtesy of Netflix.

Report from MATS Boot Camp: Food Experts Say New Microwave Processing Leads to Better Taste & Could Improve Food Safety

Phil McGrath, a disruptive marketer who builds new food brands, was in a New Zealand food lab working on a new premium food product when his team ran into what he calls “the standard over-cooking problems with retort.” 

“We just weren’t getting the results we wanted,” said McGrath, who developed one of the first baby foods in a pouch, Rafferty’s Garden Baby Food. “I asked ‘Why can’t we microwave it on the inside at the same time it’s heated from the outside?’ I was told it wasn’t possible.”

Undeterred, McGrath jumped online and found it was possible, with 915 Labs microwave assisted thermal sterilization (MATS) system — and within a few weeks he was in the United States, joining a few dozen food company and co-packer executives and culinary experts from around the world at the November MATS Boot Camp, 915 Labs’ five-day seminar on its microwave sterilization and pasteurization technologies. 

The course, hosted by Washington State University in Pullman, includes a primer on microwave technology and the science behind MATS and the Microwave Assisted Pasteurization System, (MAPS), as well as instruction on system operations and associated laboratory processes. 

Mid-week, the participants break into teams and plan dishes for MATS processing. After grocery shopping for fresh produce and other ingredients, they head back to the kitchen to begin cooking.

“Recipe development for commercial products usually takes weeks, if not months or years,” said Matt Raider, COO of 915 Labs. “But for MATS boot camp purposes, we spend just hours.”

At the November boot camp, teams prepared a variety of dishes, including bean and cheese enchiladas, Thai red curry with duck, seafood pasta and corn on the cob. Each was placed in a 10.5-ounce tray and processed in the pilot MATS system — making the dish commercially sterile and shelf-stable — and then nicely plated for taste testing.

“The results of the first run, even without optimization, were phenomenal,” said Raider. “As soon the Indian dish was opened, there was an immediate aroma of spices. Each of the distinct spices stood out.”

McGrath and teammate Beverly Swango, Director of Business Development at the co-packer Truitt Bros., prepared beef stroganoff, Italian white beans with spinach and chicken, and chicken with herbed rice and ancient grains. 

Beverly Swango, Director of Business Development, Truitt Bros.

“The taste and texture was fantastic,” said McGrath of the chicken and rice dish. “Fresh and lemony.”

Swango, a registered dietician who has worked for private companies, NASA and the U.S. Navy, attended the MATS Boot Camp to learn more about the opportunities available through MATS. With 25 years of experience designing food and systems for babies, pets, astronauts and the military, she was well-aware of the work of Juming Tang, Ph.D. — who led the development of MATS — and was anxious to see what the new technology could do.

“I’ve done a lot of experimenting with retort,” she said. 

With the proper development and optimization, Swango said she believes MATS-processed dishes could be significantly better than retort. She was even more excited about the possibilities MAPS offers for pasteurizing fresh-plated, cafeteria-style foods.

“MAPS will allow for better raw ingredients to be used and an extended refrigerated shelf life [for pasteurized products],” she said. “It fits with what consumers want today.”

She also sees opportunities for MAPS to be used as a food safety intervention, or “kill step,” to improve the safety of batch ingredients served by restaurants, cafeterias and commissaries.

“Food safety is a risk in freshly prepared refrigerated foods because there is typically no intervention step performed to ensure the food is safe,” said Raider. 

On the final day of the fall boot camp, the teams went back to the grocery store and selected a frozen entrée that most closely matched a dish they had created and held another taste testing. The verdict? 

“We’ll definitely be using MATS for our product,” said McGrath, who was impressed with MATS. “It improves on a lot of aspects of retort and I’m very excited about its impact on nutrition. MATS is really going to open up the market for improved shelf-stable foods.

“The boot camp was a great opportunity to get in and play with the technology,” McGrath said. “To do that in a sharing environment with other food experts was an amazing benefit.”

“It was a good experience for me,” agreed Swango. “The camp brings the right people together to work through the process.”

Spots for the next MATS Boot Camp, scheduled for March 15-19, 2016, are filling up quick. Contact or call 855-915-MATS for more information.

Inside the Food R&D Lab

Over the last few decades, we’ve all seen dietary villains — from saturated and trans fats to cholesterol and now, gluten — come and go. But nothing quite compares to the clean eating movement we’re now experiencing and the noise around highly processed foods.

It seems as if overnight, canned soups, ready-to-eat meals and convenience foods have come under assault. In actuality, the trend toward healthy eating has been slowly building: according to Fortune Magazine’s, Special Report, The War on Big Food, the top 25 food and beverage brands have lost an equivalent of $18 billion in market share since 2009.

In future blog posts, I’ll be talking more about strategies for improving the quality and nutrition of center-of-the-store food products, but in the meantime, I checked in with John Kowalchik, President and CEO of Wornick Foods, one of this country’s leading food co-manufacturers, to see what’s happening inside his company’s R&D lab.

Wornick Foods is actively exploring alternatives to conventional food processing, or retort, including 915 Labs’ microwave assisted thermal sterilization (MATS)™ technology. A number of the top CPG companies have worked with a pilot-scale MATS-B system in the Wornick Food lab.

“We’re hearing a lot of interest and excitement from CPGs over the MATS technology and how they see MATS fulfilling very rapidly changing customer needs,” said Kowalchik. “Everyone who has worked with MATS recognizes the potential of the technology and is enthusiastic about the opportunity to deploy it in their product development and evolution of their brands.”

Kowalchik said today’s consumers, led by Millennials, mom bloggers and health-conscious consumers, are disrupting the status quo in the food industry by demanding fresher, more natural prepared foods that aren’t laden with additives.

“[Legacy] brands and food processors have been unable to deliver that,” he said. “CPGs have to bring about change.”

By minimizing heat damage during sterilization, foods processed with the patented MATS system retain their nutrients, color, texture and flavors.

“MATS processing results in product quality that is better than any other sterilization technology every developed,” said Kowalchik. “For pastas, vegetables, grains and rices, you get great results. MATS-processed soups require no preservatives and taste home-cooked or white tablecloth-restaurant-prepared.

Wornick Foods quickly recognized the impact a healthier food processing system would have on the food industry. The company was not only an early adopter of MATS, it was also part of a consortium of private companies that worked with Washington State University and the U.S. Department of Defense in developing microwave technology.

“We installed a MATS-B at Wornick because we believe that the technology has the potential to transform our business,” added Wornick. “Our mission is to deliver fresh tasting and wholesome foods.”

Tipping Point for Retort?

Consumers are bombarded with advice from health experts on how to stay healthy and lose weight, including what foods and food ingredients to avoid. From trans fats to high fructose corn syrup to gluten, dietary villains come and go, fueled by new scientific studies, government guidelines and consumer groups.

Pam Koch, Columbia University

Pam Koch, Columbia University

But the current campaign being waged against processed foods is like no other — it is a genuine food movement. Precipitated by health and environmental crises and changing attitudes toward food among Millennials and health-conscious consumers, it is one of the greatest challenges the food industry has ever faced.

Hans Taparia, NYU

Hans Taparia, NYU

Food companies are responding by eliminating ingredients, reformulating legacy brands, investing in organic and increasing transparency. Despite these efforts, pundits like Hans Taparia, Clinical Assistant Professor, NYU Stern School of Business and Pam Koch, Executive Director of the Laurie M. Tisch Center for Food, Education and Policy, Teachers College at Columbia University say they must do more.

In conventional processing, or retort, packaged foods are placed in pressurized cookers at high temperatures for up to an hour. To mask the damage caused by this prolonged exposure to high heat, salt and flavor, texture and color enhancers must be added to the food.

“In spite of some small changes, most products made by large food brands still have myriad artificial additives and preservatives, and use processing techniques that strip their products of most nutrients,” they wrote in the Huff Post Politics.

Taparia and Koch are right. There’s just one thing that stands between big food and its ability to deliver healthier additive-free packaged food: the legacy food sterilization process. You simply cannot produce the packaged foods today’s consumers are demanding with retort.

Replacing the 15,000 machines currently operating in the United States will require significant capital investment. However, many retort systems are past their useful life and ready for replacement.

Meanwhile, food tech is the rage in Silicon Valley — companies like Hampton Creek, Impossible Foods and Soylent that are manufacturing new categories of food are attracting millions of dollars from big name investors. But those investments won’t clean up the labels of hundreds of legacy food brands and convenience foods that Americans rely on to feed their families.

When will we reach the tipping point on retort replacement?  And when, as food analyst Greg Wank of Anchin Block & Anchin LP recently asked in the Dow Jones Business News, are we going to get activist investors in these food giants whose agenda is to accelerate the trend towards healthier eating?

Just Eat It Denver! Raises $17K for Food Rescue Organization We Don't Waste

Having worked for the Obama Administration and as a serial entrepreneur, shepherding several successful startups, I’ve had my share of interesting professional experiences.

But hosting a screening of the indie food film “Just Eat It, A Food Waste Story” will go down as one of the proudest and most memorable moments in my career.

Michael Locatis, CEO, 915 Labs

Michael Locatis, CEO, 915 Labs

Some 200 people joined 915 Labs for the premiere of the award-wining documentary at Denver’s Exdo Event Center on Tuesday, October 21st, raising more than $17,000 for the innovative food rescue organization We Don’t Waste.

From mingling with old and new friends to noshing on food truck fare to listening to the panel of food experts, the evening was a home run. But the highlight of the event was the film: an eye-opening and compelling exposé on the amount of food wasted in this country. I am confident that everyone left that night re-thinking the food they buy, where they discard their food waste and how changing those habits even slightly can have a positive environmental and social impact.

915 Labs COO Matt Raider — who provided the evening’s musical entertainment — and I are proud to have teamed with event sponsors Berenices, Calix, Ciena, Cisco, Connect Denver Foundation, Coriant, Exdo Event Center, Fortis Asset Management, GENBAND, Infinera, OSP Magazine/OSP Expo, Rebound Solutions, SingerLewak in raising awareness of food waste and insecurity and supporting of the efforts of We Don’t Waste. For me personally, being able to share the event with my wife, Jeri Wolf, an executive at CenturyLink who also served on the planning committee, made the evening complete.

As a company, 915 Labs will continue to work toward a more sustainable future for global food — and we invite concerned citizens in Denver and around the world to join in those efforts. If you haven’t already seen “Just Eat It, A Food Waste Story,” –it is now available through iTunes and Amazon — it’s a great first step. Just be prepared: it will forever change the way you think about misshapen fruit and ‘sell by’ dates — and we’ll all be a little better off for it.

Photo credit:

Just Eat It Screening: Denver

915 Labs is proud to be sponsoring the Denver premiere of the award-winning food documentary "Just Eat It" as a benefit for the innovative food rescue organization We Don't Waste serving metro Denver.

Equal parts education and delicious entertainment, the food documentary sheds light on the often overlooked issue of food waste. 

Reducing food waste and improving the sustainability of global food is at the core of the 915 Labs value proposition. Our patented processing method, microwave assisted thermal sterilization (MATS), not only promises to deliver healthier, higher quality and additive-free packaged foods, it will extend the reach of shelf-stable foods to underserved populations and provide farmers in remote areas with the ability to process fresh produce that might otherwise go to waste.

Here in Denver, We Don't Waste is stemming the tide of food waste by recovering food from distributors, restaurants and caterers and delivering it to community-based agencies that serve vulnerable populations.

I hope you'll consider joining 915 Labs for the Denver screening of "Just Eat It," an evening of fundraising for We Don't Waste. For details on sponsorship and tickets, visit

Demand for food processing machinery projected to rise nearly 8% per year

According to a new report from the Freedonia Research Group, worldwide demand for food processing machinery is projected to advance nearly eight percent per annum to $73 billion in 2019.

Driving the growth are six major trends, according to the research group:

  • the transition from manual food processing to mechanical food processing in developing countries
  • the replacement of older food processing equipment worldwide
  • increasing demand for processed foods in developing countries as personal incomes rise and urbanization increases
  • a worldwide dietary shift toward higher value-added foods
  • the development of new health and organic food and beverage products
  • government initiatives to support local food and beverage production in countries like Indonesia and Russia.

Talking Global Food with 915 Labs CEO Mike Locatis

As a former high-level White House appointee who helped craft national policy on securing 16 critical sectors including food and agriculture, Mike Locatis has a broad knowledge base and unique perspective on improving the availability and sustainability of food around the globe.

Locatis, CEO of 915 Labs, says U.S. food policy should be viewed through a global macro lens, taking into consideration food’s growing impact on national and global security.

“Global food is out of balance and unsustainable,” says Locatis, who served the Obama Administration as chief information officer for the Department of Energy and as assistant secretary for the Department of Homeland Security.

Locatis cites several dynamics at play in the global food economy, including:

  • the California drought crippling high-production growing regions and negatively impacting the food supply
  • the lack of a refrigerated supply chain in Southeast Asia, resulting in significant food wastage
  • a dependence on agricultural imports in the Middle East, creating a fragile food supply chain in a volatile part of the world.

Locatis says that while the ‘foodie’ culture and villainizing big food dominates our national conversation — not all Americans can buy all organic from the local farmers market.

“Seasonal availability and limited distribution of fresh produce as well as an ongoing need for safe, convenient packaged foods are driving the need for healthier versions of big food products,” he says.