Florida Univer­sity re­search on re­duc­ing waste in mil­i­tary meals


Univer­sity of Florida (UF) Re­searcher Jef­frey Brecht is leading a team of sci­en­tists work­ing to elim­i­nate waste and stream­line the process of dis­tribut­ing the US Army’s leg­endary Meal, Ready-to-Eat (MREs). In a five-year, $6.7 mil­lion study, Brecht, the Di­rec­tor of the UF In­sti­tute of Food and Agri­cul­tural Sci­ences’ Re­search Cen­ter for Food Dis­tri­bu­tion and Re­tail­ing, and col­leagues tested the longevity of MREs, along with First Strike Ra­tions (FSRs) for front-line troops, in­clud­ing Spe­cial Forces.

“These ra­tions were orig­i­nally de­vel­oped with a shelf life of three years for MREs and two years for FSRs – but at 80 de­grees,” Brecht ex­plained. “How­ever, when they send them to the Mid­dle East, they could be ex­posed to tem­per­a­tures as high as 140 de­grees, at which point the shelf life could be 4 weeks or less, in­stead of the three years.”

That degra­da­tion, Brecht said, costs the US mil­i­tary mil­lions of dol­lars a year in lost ra­tions.

They also de­vel­oped a tem­per­a­ture-mon­i­tor­ing sys­tem that re­lies on ra­dio fre­quency iden­ti­fi­ca­tion (RFID) tech­nol­ogy for wire­less in­for­ma­tion trans­fer, which al­lows for re­mote mon­i­tor­ing and pre­dic­tion of re­main­ing shelf life for ra­tions and per­ish­able prod­ucts.

The re­search shows that the RFID sys­tem can fa­cil­i­tate smarter de­ci­sion-mak­ing at all points in the MRE sup­ply chain in terms of which ra­tions should be dis­carded, which should be shipped first, and where ra­tions can be shipped with con­fi­dence that qual­ity won’t suf­fer when they ar­rive.

For­mer UF Pro­fes­sor Jean Pierre Emond and Ismail Uysal, an As­sis­tant Pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of South Florida who was a post­doc­toral as­so­ciate at UF at the start of the project, helped de­velop the RFID sys­tem, while fel­low re­searcher and UF Pro­fes­sor Char­lie Sims pro­vided the sen­sory data to de­velop the shelf-life pre­dic­tion model, and ver­i­fied that the sys­tem works.

“This re­search pro­vides a sys­tem to in­sure that mil­i­tary ra­tions de­liv­ered to our soldiers around the world will have good qual­ity,” Sims said. “This sys­tem will en­able the mil­i­tary to pre­dict the qual­ity or shelf life left in a food af­ter be­ing stored un­der any con­di­tion.”

For­mer UF As­sis­tant Pro­fes­sor Ce­cilia Nunes, now on the fac­ulty at the Univer­sity of South Florida, mea­sured the phys­i­cal and chemical changes in the ra­tions at the dif­fer­ent stor­age tem­per­a­tures, in­clud­ing the colour and tex­ture, the wa­ter con­tent, and the taste-re­lated and nu­tri­tional com­po­si­tion. Ex­tend­ing the shelf life and how to best han­dle fresh fruits and veg­eta­bles were also tested.

These aren’t your grand­dad’s com­bat ra­tions, eaten in the vil­lages around Saigon. Out of 30 days of com­plete menus, the menu items tested in­clude: ba­con ched­dar sand­wiches, filled french toast, honey BBQ sand­wiches, Ital­ian-style sand­wiches, car­bo­hy­drate-en­hanced ap­ple­sauce, beef ravi­oli in meat sauce, nut raisin mix, chipo­tle snack bread, and pork sausage in cream gravy.

Each year, the US Army’s Com­bat Feed­ing Direc­torate at the Nat­ick Sol­dier Re­search, De­vel­op­ment and En­gi­neer­ing Cen­ter in Mas­sachusetts de­vel­ops, tests and eval­u­ates new items for all op­er­a­tional ra­tions de­signed to op­ti­mise the cog­ni­tive and phys­i­cal per­for­mance of warfight­ers, while ad­dress­ing the mil­i­tary’s unique con­straints. The De­fense Lo­gis­tics Agency buys ap­prox­i­mately 30 mil­lion MREs an­nu­ally for all of the US armed forces, said Joseph Zanchi, a lo­gis­tics man­age­ment specialist at the cen­tre.

“These ef­forts, when ef­fec­tively in­te­grated within the sup­ply chain, can help en­sure that warfight­ers con­tinue to re­ceive high qual­ity, highly ac­cept­able ra­tions with min­i­mal prod­uct losses,” Zanchi said. He added that the MREs meet the Army Sur­geon Gen­eral’s strict re­quire­ments for nu­tri­tion in op­er­a­tional ra­tions, pro­vid­ing about 1,300 calo­ries, com­posed of 169 grams of car­bo­hy­drates, 41 grams of protein, and 50 grams of fat – the re­quire­ments are much dif­fer­ent from those sug­gested for civil­ians.

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