By Jane Benson, NSRDEC Public AffairsMarch 16, 2018
NATICK, Mass. -- It's ready, set, dough for the Meals, Ready-to-Eat pizza.
Scientists in the Combat Feeding Directorate at the Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center have overcome the obstacles inherent in creating and producing a shelf-stable pizza to be included in the MRE.
Most people are used to eating pizza that's fresh or frozen, but creating a pizza for the warfighter in the field, in remote areas, or in combat presents a series of unique scientific challenges. MREs must stay shelf-stable for three years in temperatures up to 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Moreover, achieving this extended shelf life with the combination of traditional pizza ingredients is particularly difficult.
Prior to NSRDEC's Combat Feeding Directorate taking on the challenge, developing a pizza that meets all these requirements had never been done before. Fortunately for the Soldier, CFD was up to the task. CFD scientists are longtime experts in developing foods for the military and NASA.
CFD used a combination of technologies involving water activity, pH levels and innovative packaging to create a shelf-stable pizza. Initial pizza prototypes developed by CFD were successful at the lab level.
Difficulties arose when the commercial food industry began larger scale production of the pizza. Foods made for the commercial market do not need to withstand the stringent requirements of foods developed for the military or the space program. CFD's expertise and experience were needed to solve the problems posed by larger scale production.
CFD conducted three large-scale tests to make sure the pizza was producible at two different food processing plants. The tests were also carried out to verify the capability of the plants to produce pizza that adhered to the detailed military specification. CFD then updated the specification to improve pizza quality.
Combat feeding subject matter experts provided on the ground technical support during the multiple large-scale production tests to ensure the pizza's success.
"Partnership with industry is essential to ensure that what works in government laboratories is practical and achievable in a commercial full-scale production setting," said Stephen Moody, director of NSRDEC's CFD.
CFD then conducted a user evaluation of the commercially produced item with troops. Based on positive results, CFD recommended the pizza for inclusion in the MRE.
"This product is a great example of using food science to meet the challenging and unique requirements for military rations," said Moody.
The first shelf-stable pepperoni pizza will be assembled into MREs beginning in March 2018.
Thanks to the hardworking military food experts at CFD, Soldiers will get their piece of the pie and then some, in the near future.
The U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center is part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, which has the mission to provide innovative research, development and engineering to produce capabilities that provide decisive overmatch to the Army against the complexities of the current and future operating environments in support of the joint warfighter and the nation. RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command.