Preserving out-of-this-world food
November 5, 2013
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NATICK, Mass. (Nov. 5, 2013) -- Getting enough vitamins in one's diet is tough enough on this planet. Consider the health of astronauts in extended spaceflight.
The depletion of vitamins in astronauts' food during lengthier missions in outer space is one of the reasons NASA requires a five-year shelf life at 70 degrees Fahrenheit for stabilized foods.
The Department of Defense Combat Feeding Directorate, or CFD, at the Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center is looking at compressed bars and dried drink mixes to study essential vitamins in nutrient-dense foods and develop packaging that will better preserve essential vitamins for NASA.
This study is based upon a three-year contract for a possible mission to Mars, titled, "Stabilized Foods for Use in Extended Spaceflight: Preservation of Shelf-Life, Nutrient Content and Acceptability."
Blueberry granola bars and chocolate drink mixes have already been developed by CFD to be used in this study. Since vitamins naturally chemically degrade through time, CFD will encapsulate vitamins in these food products with a protective shell material and also adjust the chemistry of the food based on its chemical environment.
"You have two different chemical environments in food," said Ann Barrett, CFD principal investigator for this project, "water-loving, or hydrophilic, and fat-loving, or lipophilic. Sometimes a water-loving antioxidant will have better survival and shelf life, and conversely, a non-polar or fatty-type antioxidant would have worse retention in a non-polar environment."
After encapsulating the vitamins with either a lipid coating or carbohydrate coating, CFD will be provided with data showing the percentages of essential vitamins retained during accelerated storage.
CFD is also analyzing different packaging prototypes to better preserve food's shelf life. The Advanced Materials Engineering Team has been developing advanced packaging materials for extended shelf-life during the past several years, both internally and externally.
"Packaging technologies similar to those developed in these past studies is required by NASA for deep-space missions," said Danielle Froio-Blumsack, CFD principal investigator for the project. "Meeting the shelf-life requirement is one of the biggest challenges involved in developing packaging for both space missions and military application."
Packaging for the NASA prototypes has to not only preserve vitamins, but also be compatible with advanced sterilization processes. These processes minimize the amount of time the food is exposed to high temperatures, which in turn reduces the degradation of vitamins during processing.
Thin nanocomposite and aluminum oxide barrier coatings are being used during this study to maximize durability and protection of food contents that will undergo more extensive testing. The packaging will undergo complete characterization and performance testing, both before and after the sterilization processes.
"This will allow us to pinpoint what material properties are most affected by the different sterilization techniques," said Froio-Blumsack.
The combined effort will provide data showing the ideal chemical environment and processing/packaging method to ensure food quality and, more specifically, nutrient retention.
"This study is important because it will help ensure the health of astronauts and it also has bearing on our Soldiers," said Barrett, "because if we learn techniques that preserve vitamins in these model systems, we can apply that to our own food for the troops."
This study will allow for better understanding of general food preservation, not only for retaining vitamins, but also for selecting the best packaging and sterilization processes to deliver quality food to Soldiers, astronauts and consumers.
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