Gentlemen, we have the technology: A better sandwich

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The shelf-stable pocket sandwich gives soldiers a portable ration that they can eat on the go. (Bob Reinert / Army)

Modern science and state-of-the-art packaging have made it easier to feed deployed troops. Science has also made the food last longer and taste better.

As the Army Times’ John Ryan reported, a new crop of super food could be rolled out in spring. The rations developed by the Natick Soldier Systems Center in Massachusetts can deliver caffeine in gum or relieve inflammation through meat sticks infused with herbal substances that reduce swelling.

Maybe these über-rations will be delivered with another military culinary marvel: a sandwich that can last up to two years. The pocket sandwich stays fresh without the need of refrigeration, freeze-drying or the addition of water.

How does one keep a sandwich from going bad for so long? Natick’s senior food technologist Michelle Richardson tells The Salt, NPR’s food blog, that the key to extending the sandwich’s shelf life is controlling moisture and oxygen inside the packaging to prevent bacteria from growing.

“If you think about bacteria as sprinters in a food system, what we’re trying to do is put enough hurdles in so they can’t survive,” Richardson tells The Salt. She says the hurdles include lowering the pH, binding the water to something the bacteria can’t use it, and adding a packet of “oxygen scavengers,” or iron filings, to absorb the oxygen so that it’s not available to bacteria, yeast and mold. “All this keeps the bread, meat and filling from going rancid,” she says.

The packaging itself is an important component to keeping MREs and First Strike Rations edible and portable, as Natick’s packaging integration team leader Joanna Graham tells Bob Reinert of Soldiers magazine:

“… So much of what is now available in the field is made possible because of the flexible packaging,” Graham said. “The historical transition from cans to flexible packaging changed the way our Soldiers eat and the food products that we are now able to supply, such as shelf-stable pocket sandwiches.”

But all of the research and development that goes into making a sandwich last for two years doesn’t do much good unless it passes the taste test.

Five varieties of the pocket sandwich are already available. Soldiers interviewed by the BBC say they are fans.

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2 Comments

  1. Stephen Broomfield on

    As an old QM Officer it never ceases to amaze me at what the lab
    develops. I would liked to have had sandwiches in Vietnam.

  2. Who on earth did the BBC ask? Those sandwiches are disgusting!! Really, not a single person in my platoon will eat those things.

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