Some genetically engineered foods such as White Russet potatoes and Arctic apples that don’t brown remain controversial.

But not all food technology innovations discussed at the North Carolina Biotechnology Center’s AgBiotech Summit 2016 earlier this month engender social fears.

A company named Aseptia, for instance, partnered with North Carolina State University to develop a way to sterilize food and packages with heat that provides long, unrefrigerated shelf-life. Its award-winning technology has been widely accepted and makes possible those little packages of coffee creamers, Dole Foods purees and smoothies, soups and other products with unrefrigerated shelf lives of up to 24 months.

Josip Simunovic, Ph.D, co-founder and chief scientific officer of Aseptia and a research professor in NCSU’s Department of Food, Bioprocessing and Nutrition, outlined the development of the Aseptia microwave heating process. Using an impressive array of equipment in various sizes, it separately heats products and packages with high temperatures for a short time.

“It’s a method of sterilizing and preserving foods and packages,” he explained. It has some package size limitations, but the technology continues to evolve.

Simunovic won the 2016 Research and Development Award from the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT), which said, “Since the company’s inception in 2006 – and for years beforehand – Aseptia co-founder Dr. Josip Simunovic has worked tirelessly toward the technology’s emergence within the marketplace as well as its continued advancement.”

It’s technology affecting food, and it’s OK with consumers

His individual accomplishment followed a year after Aseptia and its research partner NCSU were recognized with an IFT Food Technology Industrial Achievement Award.

In July 2016, the company announced another technological advancement with AseptiSense. Aceptia CEO David Clark said the product “uses technology to take food producers inside their own processes. It really gets inside the pipes and shines a light into the shadows. That’s pretty powerful.”

Aseptia also won the internationally recognized Edison Awards for both 2015 and 2016. Aseptia’s 2016 Silver Edison award acknowledges its AseptiSense technology – described as “a system of tools for process simulation, particle-flow monitoring, and safety validation of complex particulate food products that are sterilized with aseptic processes.”

It won a gold award in 2015 for its patented AseptiWave process, “which uses rapid, consistent heating to produce shelf-stable foods that retain the qualities of fresh foods without preservatives or refrigeration.”

Genetic engineering benefits are a hard sell

All this is in contrast to three other technologies briefly examined during the Summit’s second day: the genetically engineered potato originally named Innate, whose name was changed by developer J.R. Simplot Co. in July 2015 to White Russet; the Arctic apple from Okanagan Specialty Fruits; and AquaBounty Technologies’ genetically modified salmon. All three have suffered from consumer fears regarding genetically modified foods.

NPR, for instance, ran a story in 2015 headlined, “GMO potatoes have arrived, but will anyone buy them?”

It noted that some of the biggest potato buyers in the country, such as Frito-Lay and McDonald’s, seem afraid to touch these potatoes.

Joe Guenthner, Ph.D, emeritus professor of the Department of Agriculture and Economics at the University of Idaho, explained the positive benefits of the White Russet potatoes, which have non-browning characteristics and late blight resistance.

They could, he said, save some of the $1.4 billion in potato waste caused by bruising, which surveys show consumers find “disgusting.” It could also save $90 million in producer costs, 60 million pounds of CO2 emissions, 6.7 billion gallons of water and 170,000 acres of pesticide spraying.

Labeling issues a problem

Despite consumer fears about genetically modified foods, Guenthner said he is optimistic about the product, which has sold 40 million pounds in the 10 months it has been on the market.

A video about Arctic apples, which have only the gene for browning removed, did not go into its troubles with consumer perceptions, but a Google search easily reveals it faces the same GMO fears as other such products.

Ron Stotish, Ph.D, CEO, president and executive director of AquaBounty, also in a video presentation, admitted that “Labeling issues in the U.S.” for its genetically modified salmon “are among the most controversial issues we face.”

“Because it’s a new product, the public hears it’s dangerous or unhealthy, but there is nothing further from the truth,” he said. “We have the most studied salmon in history.”

The genetic modification significantly increases the growth of Atlantic salmon by integrating a Chinook growth hormone gene. It can reduce the time to market of farmed salmon by three years.

Stotish pointed out that non-traditional increases in food production will be necessary to feed the world’s growing population, a sentiment expressed by a number of speakers at the Summit.

In other presentations, executives from the Center for Food Integrity addressed the question of how to meet consumer skepticism head-on, with transparency and a focus on shared values.