How the military war rations and the packaging industry changed food

08 Nov, 2017

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When soldiers are deployed in campaign, they carry with them a little engineer wonder, and we’re not precisely in weaponry but to packaging. We are talking about the technical approach applied to the troop’s food to make it special. This is because all of the requirements that must be met in order to provide food for the troops during extreme temperature campaigns and situations.

Whilst publicity took advantage of war to earn millions, the packaging industry found a way to come up with a solution that could improve the conditions of the soldiers during these dire times. Military specification packaging for military war rations had to be not only light and easy to transport,but it also had to be able to maintain itself in good condition, regardless of how many weeks the package would have to endure the outdoors.  Given the amount of calories a soldier needs -over 4000 per day–, it is required from the package to be of high quality and yet cheap to the wallets of the contributors. To meet these requirements, science has developed a lot of tricks that are being applied by the packaging industry in every space, including the food we find in supermarkets.

 


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To Anastacia Marx de Salcedo, the writer of the book “Cooking ready for combat“ one of the most interesting foods developed from this technological perspective is the bread. The bread starts to get hard right before it gets out of the oven, thanks to the traces of a particular starch called amylose that’s found all over the bread to make it thicker. That’s why a baguette is not pretty attractive after a couple of days and it feels like razors against your gums. However, in the mid 20th century, scientists dedicated to the food and packaging industries, during a research they carried out at Kansas University, discovered that adding heat resistant amylose could avoid this problem. And further, preserving the bread using specific material contributed to this process even more.

This amylose enzyme comes from heat resistant bacteria that remain in good condition after the bread is baked, which makes that the bread stay soft and flexible for a long time. This kind of food produced this way and packaged under specific standards, became a vital resource in the military rations. In fact, almost all the bread that’s commercialized nowadays contains this kind of bacteria, working to maintain the smoothness of the bread for a long time, which is why it is so important to keep it in the right kind of package.

In recent times, military scientist’s investigations have shifted their focus towards dry and active yeast. Until now, corporations had been using suspended animation techniques to pack the fungus and spread yeast portions for a consumption of no more than 10 days. However, this can also be prolonged if the package used for storing these foods meets the industry requirements.

Another interesting chemistry example involved in the military ration design is the so called water activity. A wet product is friendlier for bacteria, fungus and mold than a dry one. For tangible evidence of it, you just have to put a slice of brie cheese and a grain of corn almost ready to mature, and see which one starts to rot first.

What really matters to enlarge the useful life of the product is not the absolute humidity content but how many of the water molecules are floating without being attached to anything else, which is also an important role for the packaging. This are the ones that can make difficult the conservation of the quality in the product but the only thing you need to do is taking that water activity to a desired level, which can be easily accomplished if the product is stored in the right package.

 

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