This article was originally published on the foods-future website.
We love a good Kickstarter. So when we heard that Hong Kong’s very own IXON had been 100% funded on Kickstarter in under one hour, doubling that funding in the next hour, we took a good look. This might be the most revolutionary product we’ve seen anywhere all year.
IXON ASAP technology on Kickstarter
Imagine going to your mailbox and retrieving a large, heavy envelope. Inside is a room-temperature, juicy piece of beef with olive oil in a plastic sleeve. Ah, steak for that special dinner planned for next week! You put it in the cupboard with carefree abandon. Do I mean the fridge? No, in the cupboard!
IXON has developed patent-pending ASAP technology (packaging and processes) that sterilises fresh meat for long-term, shelf-stable storage. ASAP stands for “advanced sous-vide aseptic packaging”, and it enables the storing of food products such as whole muscle proteins at room temperature, without refrigeration or preservatives, for up to two years – with no sensory differences to fresh meat.
A brief history of IXON
Initially, Felix and Elton were studying the microbial risk of bird’s nest (spoiler: it’s not good news). This led to studying cooking methods to reduce this risk without affecting the structure of the food, sous vide specifically. They formed IXON and have been working together ever since, perfecting the techniques and technology for ASAP, and have recently started receiving attention for their work outside Hong Kong.
In 2018, Felix and Elton had already set up their laboratory using state-of-the-art equipment and applied for multiple patents for their technology. That year, they attended Foodie’s very own Food’s Future Summit at Hotel ICON and met Johan Jörgensen from Sweden Foodtech. This was exciting for them because liquid aseptic packaging was invented and developed in Sweden, the birthplace of Tetra Pak.
Johan toured IXON’s laboratory on his way to the airport and was so impressed that he invited the Hong Kong duo to Sweden to debut their technology at the Sweden Foodtech Big Meet in 2019. Following that, IXON travelled to Europe, presenting at Future Food Tech and Food Matters Live in London and FoodTech Accelerator in Milan. ASAP technology was shortlisted for a number of awards in 2019, with IXON included in multiple top start-up lists.
In Hong Kong, they are still relatively unknown, but that is changing with the success of their Kickstarter campaign.
The IXON ASAP ® pork chop
Having just returned from the IXON laboratory, we’re excited to share our experience. Felix and Elton gave us an IXON ASAP-sealed pork chop to examine. It looked unremarkable. Thick cut, it felt quite solid, having been deprived of any air cushioning, and was vacuum-sealed with only two ingredients: extra-virgin olive oil and salt.
Felix tells us this is the best olive oil they could find. The pork chop was flown in from Canada in a long loin piece and cut on-site to minimise any outside interference with the meat. Having worked on this project for so long and now starting to see real results, they see no point in taking chances with substandard ingredients.
The IXON ASAP pork chop
What we thought were thick air bubbles was actually myoglobin (a pink, blood-like fluid) – proof that this pork chop had not undergone retort sterilisation, which is a high-heat, high-pressure method of sterilisation that would cook the myoglobin.
Cooking the IXON pork chop took just a few minutes
Our pork chop was prepared in a few minutes, using only a culinary torch to sear the surface and crisp the fat. We are able to vouch for the flavour, texture and quality as well as how easy it is to prepare. It was very lightly salted, and the texture was perfect – firm but not chewy. The meat was very moist, but juices did not run from the cut chop.
Whilst the inside did not look pink at all, Felix told us this was a function of not having had any oxygen for a long period of time and that some pinkness would return if we were to leave it exposed to the air.
The standard of this pork chop, served in a laboratory kitchen on a toothpick, was incredible. This is a perfect product for food lovers who don’t have the time nor desire to be home chefs but are very conscious of quality, taste and safety.
The price right now is high but still significantly cheaper than a US rib-eye from a high-end HK supermarket. IXON is showcasing their technology with the best ingredients they can find, and they have not yet implemented the automation required to bring down the costs. ASAP is currently a very manual process, and the number of pieces able to be produced daily is limited. IXON is planning to bring customised automation to life in the USA, where they will partner with a beef supplier for ultimate freshness and quality control.
But Felix and Elton are both proud Hong Kongers, and they will keep their laboratory here as a research and development centre.
The ASAP ® technology
It does take some time to process all of the ways in which ASAP technology could be of use, including:
- Reducing food waste and energy use – cold-chain logistics and cold storage are expensive and, when not done properly, the product is wasted
- Safety – traditionally, there are a good number of processing steps in which a meat product may become contaminated
- Nutrition – meat served from the ASAP process does not require preservatives and retains the nutritional profile of fresh meat
- Convenience – consider the convenience of delivering, storing and preparing meat, for consumers and restaurateurs alike
IXON also has patents pending on a variety of peripheral technology and is planning on using these to produce a range of restaurant-quality, ready-to-eat meals.
How is the ASAP method different from traditional methods? Instead of blasting everything with high heat, ASAP separately sterilises each component in a different way and recombines them once sterile to sous vide:
- The food packaging uses vaporised hydrogen peroxide
- The olive oil uses retort sterilisation
- The meat’s surface is heated to 160°C for 30 seconds
- Items are recombined and sealed in a sterile environment and set to sous vide at 60°C
Bacteria is only found on the surface of meat, which is one reason why IXON imports large cuts of meat and cuts it themselves. High-quality meat is also required to ensure that bacteria has not already been active for a significant time, which would produce toxins that can survive high heat.
Felix and Elton have been experimenting with and testing these things for most of the past decade, and quality control is their most important consideration.
How do they know there is no contamination?
After the ASAP process is complete, IXON puts each of its products at 35°C for five days – they incubate it.
They try their very hardest to grow the nastiest bacteria and see if it works.
There are many non-invasive visual tests such as changes to the myoglobin, subtle degradation or deterioration that are obvious to the trained eye. If it passes these tests, there really is no bacteria.
The IXON video explaining the process
It sounds deceptively simple. But Felix and Elton have been working on these processes for the past four years, and there are a number of things we couldn’t discuss in too much depth owing to their proprietary nature. There are no photos of any of the equipment, for instance.
Whilst you could certainly try this at home, without the equipment, testing capability and knowledge, you are likely incubating bacteria. We do not recommend!
The last word on sous vide
At home and in restaurants, using sous vide to cook food (meat in particular) has become extremely popular. However, at these temperatures (60°C or so), there is a danger of growing bacteria on your food when care is not taken to minimise risk.
Felix recommends the following:
- Destroy surface bacteria before adding food to the bag (rarely done in practice but important)
- Sear the surface of the meat after the sous vide and before serving
- Do not leave standard sous-vide food at room temperature after cooking – either eat or refrigerate