Consumer Corner: Taking the guesswork out of microwave cooking

By MARCELLA S. KREITER, United Press International  |  July 4, 2010 at 4:39 AM
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Ever microwave a frozen meal only to find the middle still cold and inedible? Or zap some soup and find it too hot to consume?

There's an app for that.

Robert Schaffel of Microwave Science, his brother, Steven, and engineer Steven Drucker have introduced TrueCookPlus, a software/hardware system that takes in all the variables -- food temperature, altitude, texture, wattage, voltage -- that make microwave cooking such a guessing game.

It all started with Schaffel's son, Sam, who suffers from cerebral palsy. Schaffel, who spent years in the film industry, was looking for a way to allow his son some independence when it comes to cooking for himself and others.

"He's only able to use his right hand," Schaffel said. "He has balance issues. I was worried about him falling toward an oven and burning himself."

Sure, anyone can pop prepared foods into a microwave but can they cook them sufficiently to kill any possible pathogens? That was another concern.

Schaffel said his brother came across Drucker's software system five years ago and alerted him. Drucker provided a microwave prototype that had been modified to recognize special codes developed for a variety of pre-packaged foods.

Sam, now 22, took the microwave to school and was able to feed himself -- and his friends.

"With our technology, what happens is when you put the code in, it (the microwave) does all the thinking and controls all those variables for you. The codes are on the package or on our Web site," Schaffel said.

So far two manufacturers -- Kenmore and LG -- have incorporated the TrueCookPlus system and General Mills, Pinnacle Foods Corp., Diamond Foods and Schwan's have started putting the codes on their packages. Negotiations are under way with other companies as well, Schaffel said.

Does this mean all those popcorn kernels at the bottom of the bag will pop now?

Yes, Schaffel said.

"The Pop Secret people were really happy with our results," he said. "It really enhanced their product."

The first modified microwaves came out about 18 months ago and prices are comparable to those unequipped with the system, starting at $199. Foods are tested and coded at the Los Angeles company's Atlanta lab.

Schaffel said the system guarantees foods will meet Food and Drug Administration and Food Safety and Inspection Service standards. It will be a number of years, however, before the system can be applied to fresh foods.

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