A new startup aims to change the way food is preserved and stored, using technology that keeps meat, fish and tasty produce at sub-zero temperatures.
“More than a third of the food we produce today is simply wasted or lost in one way or another. It has a lot to do with how we store food and how we preserve it,” said Paul Levins, co-founder of EverCase, which announced its debut in June.
EverCase’s technology can keep food flexible, preventing it from turning into a frozen block at temperatures as low as -12 degrees Celsius, according to the company’s studies. Its food crates can be adapted to store everything from whole fish to steaks and berries, and they can fit in standard freezers.
The 8-person startup has roots in Seattle and operations in the city. Levins and CEO and co-founder Chris Somogyi were previously executives at Intellectual Ventures spin-out Xinova, which helped match inventors’ ideas with customers and closed last year.
Somogyi then founded BlueNalu, a startup that markets fish products grown in cell culture.
Somogyi also served as a business development manager at PARC, a subsidiary of Xerox, a renowned Silicon Valley research and development company known for contributing to the development of laser printing, Ethernet, and graphical user interfaces. . This is where the idea of EverCase began to develop.
Somogyi was intrigued by the technology developed by Soojin Jun, a professor at the University of Hawaii and co-founder of EverCase. Jun’s food processing lab studies ways to preserve food by supercooling it.
When food freezes, the ice crystals damage cell structures. This is why a frozen steak tastes like a frozen steak. This is also why liquid oozes after defrosting.
Jun has developed a way to prevent water in food from forming ice crystals at low temperatures. His device applies electric and magnetic fields to foods to help them resist the formation of ice as they cool.
Researchers have conducted experiments for years suggesting that electric fields can affect ice formation. The reason for this effect is not fully understood, although water molecules have a positive charge at one end and a negative charge at the other, and thus react to electric fields. Studies also show that magnetic fields, mysteriously, also have an effect on the formation of ice in food.
“It’s a very active area of research,” said Will Cantrell, a physics professor at Michigan Technological University who studies ice formation in the atmosphere.
Jun’s technology was incorporated into PARC, which provided seed funding and attracted additional intellectual property. The team can now harness electric and magnetic fields to chill food to lower temperatures than other systems, Levins said. They also overcame an earlier limitation of the technology that required the electrodes to be in physical contact with food.
“There are approaches using very high energy pure electric fields. We prefer to have low-power, high-security approaches, and flexibility with format and easy transfer across cold chain nodes,” said Somogyi, who has a background in bioengineering and is based in Wimberley, Texas.
Somogyi said he didn’t know of other startups focused on similar technology, although he noted that big companies such as Daikin and Siemens are involved in traditional refrigeration.
Bringing such technology to industrial scale poses additional challenges, Cantrell said. The strength of electromagnetic fields decreases as one moves away from its source. But making it work is potentially very profitable, he said. “You could extend the shelf life and you could extend the scope of your shipment,” he said. Perishable items like berries might also be available beyond their normal season.
After testing over 20 prototypes, EverCase has a system ready to go to market. The company’s studies show that their cases can prevent the formation of ice crystals in food at temperatures between -4 and -12 degrees Celsius.
The EverCase team is currently researching custom systems for early customers. Potential customers include food producers and shippers.
“We all get the same benefits from freezing while maintaining quality and texture,” Levins said. “It will disrupt the cold supply chain.” And the business can also reduce food waste, he said.
Additionally, the system has the potential to be tailored to tissues or organs, added Levins, who is based in Sydney, Australia.
Charlotte Guyman, a former Microsoft executive and director of Berkshire Hathaway, is a member of the Seattle-based EverCase advisory board. The company also has operations in Australia and Spain and is raising a Series A round.