The Wornick Company plans to invest $10 million to establish a pilot project to help bring a cutting edge technology to sterilize food to a wider market. If all goes well, the privately owned Blue Ash firm hopes a full production run could eventually add several hundred jobs.
The company has received a grant of $1.7 million from the Ohio Department of Development to buy the initial equipment, which will be used to provide products for manufacturers and the U.S. Army. The company's additional investment will allow consumer products companies to test the MATS process at its Blue Ash food processing plant.
MATS is the acronym for Microwave Assisted Thermal Sterilization. It's a process that uses microwave heating for food sterilization, as opposed to other new technologies, such as electric pulse and high pressure, which kill the microbes in food processing.
In awarding the grant, the Ohio Department of Development said MATS has the potential to "fundamentally change the way food is processed." The process takes a few minutes and results in better taste, texture, and nutrition in the food, the department said. Wornick is equally high on the process, which was first developed at Washington State University.
"In my 25 years in the industry, I've not seen an advanced technology with this much potential," Jon Geisler, president of Wornick, said in a recent statement.
Wornick is a leading supplier of convenience foods and military rations to restaurant chains, consumer-product companies, and the U.S. government. It provides meals ready-to-eat, known as MREs, to the U.S. military.
"Wornick Foods is uniquely equipped to support the commercialization of new food stabilization technologies. This initiative deploys the significant investment that we have already made in product development and engineering resources."
Wornick Foods joined the Washington State University Microwave Sterilization Consortium in 2010. Other members include the U.S. Army, the Natick Soldier Research Development and Engineering Center, and several industrial partners. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the microwave sterilization process in 2009.
Wornick already employs about 500 people at its Blue Ash location, and has more than $200 million in annual sales. Wornick said it will take about a year to get the high-tech microwave equipment manufactured and installed at Wornick's plant. It expects to initially employ 18 to 28 on the pilot line.
The company has had other recent successes: In January, the Safe Quality Food Institute gave it Level 3 certification - the highest level the global institute certifies. In November, it announced that the Defense Logistics Agency awarded it a $41 million contract to provide MREs to the U.S. military and some federal civilian agencies.
Writer: Paul Long
Source: Wornick Company