URI team gives military a mouthful of tasty rations

KINGSTON, R.I. — June 22, 1999 — Since an army marches on its stomach, it’s good to know that those bellies will have some good tasting food in them, thanks to the expertise of a URI graduate student and a URI alumnus. We’re not talking just the U.S. Army, but all the military branches. And we’re not talking canned army rations like beef stew. We’re speaking about pocket sandwiches like beef burritos, nacho-flavored beef, barbecued chicken, sausage and pepperoni and that old-stand-by peanut butter and jelly. With newly-applied technology, these foods can hang around for a few years without refrigeration. Although the Army already had the technology to keep today’s bread from becoming tomorrow’s penicillin, keeping sandwich fillings bacteria free presented a challenge. That’s where Michelle Richardson of Providence, a URI food science graduate student and URI alumnus Dr. Andre Senecal, come in. They are two-thirds of a three-member Mobility Enhancing Ration Components team, employed at the U.S. Army Soldier Biological and Chemical Command in Natick, Mass. Working with the third member, Jack Briggs, the team used an innovative adaptation of intermediate moisture food technology to form the sandwich ingredients. The technology is the careful balancing of moisture, pH, and water binding that gives food soft, moist qualities without promoting microbiological growth. “It’s an intermediate moisture technology. Think raisin,” explains Richardson. “Another way to explain it is to say we set up hurdles to stop the growth of bacteria,” says Senecal who earned his Ph.D. from URI in 1991 as part of the Army’s long-term training program, the same program Richardson is using to earn her master’s degree. “The bacteria spends so much energy trying to get over one hurdle after another that it slows down and stops.” The team was recently recognized for its innovative work. It was presented an Award for Excellence in Technology Transfer from the Federal Laboratory Consortium for Technology Transfer in Salt Lake City, Utah. The newly-developed sandwiches are filled with advantages, according to Richardson and Senecal. They are safe, even after sitting on the shelf for years. Soldiers can identify the food. The sandwiches don’t require a utensil and come in pouch. They don’t have to heated or have water added to them. Soldiers can eat them on the run whether in the arctic or the jungle. The sandwiches are tasty. They have been field tested in the largest sense of the word. The sandwiches won’t be ready for military consumption until 2001 to 2002. However, major food companies that have Cooperative Research and Development Agreements (CRADAs) with the U.S. Army are already eyeing the commercial aspect. For instance, the Army is working with Sara Lee on a bagel filled with cream cheese. “The Army shares the technology through CRADAs so not to have military unique items which helps keep the cost down,” says the 32-year-old graduate student who worked for the Army at Natick since graduating from URI in 1990. It is at this site that the Army does all food research and development for the military. This summer, Richardson is working with Dr. Garth Rand, URI professor of food science, and her Army team partner Senecal on biosenors that detect pathogens in food as part of her thesis. “It’s a good fit. My job is interesting because it’s something different all the time,” says Richardson. Food science is obviously something both she and Senecal can sink their teeth into. -xxx- For More Information: Jan Sawyer, 401-874-2116; jansawyer@advance.uri.edu