KAREN BANASIAK

Natick develops compressed meals
Food scientists at the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Center’s Combat Feeding Directorate, Natick, Mass., have developed a new tightly packaged ration called Compressed Meal (CM) that delivers fresh-food quality for use by mechanized infantry units.

A CM is much smaller than a Meal Ready-to-Eat (MRE), occupies up to one-third less volume, and weighs less without giving up any of the accessories or calories found in an MRE. The main entrée in the CM is subjected to freeze drying and air drying to achieve the lower weight and volume than MREs. Mixes in foods that do not have any water to remove, such as rice and pasta, are also dry blended. And the shelf life of CMs is said to last well beyond the required minimum of three years at 80°F or six months at 100°F without affecting quality.

Focus groups of soldiers who tested the six lunch/dinner meals and three breakfast meals last year commented positively on the taste, compactness, and ease of preparation of the meals. The CMs include meat and vegetarian selections, as well as egg entrées that were never well regarded when part of MREs. The focus groups comprised soldiers not in the field; soldiers in the field will test the products as early as next year.

More of a functional meal than haute cuisine, soldiers prepare CMs by cutting open the pouch, breaking apart large clumps, adding 12 oz of boiling water, stirring, folding the pouch to retain heat, waiting 10 min, and stirring before serving.

The meals were developed by the Directorate’s food scientists and manufactured by its industry partner, Oregon Freeze Dry Inc., Albany, Ore.

Kraft to cut jobs
Kraft Foods Inc., Northfield, Ill., announced on January 30, 2006, that it expects to eliminate about 8,000 positions at all levels of the organization (about 8% of its workforce) and close up to 20 production facilities, including production facilities in Broadmeadows, Victoria, Australia and Hoover, Alabama.

Kraft has also reorganized management in the European Union by creating a new European Union Region, which will combine its Western Europe and Central Europe Regions into a single management structure. The company will focus on three core categories—chocolate, coffee, and cheese and dairy—that will be managed centrally in Europe.

The company will continue to reduce the number of SKUs, a program that began in 2004—it eliminated approximately 20% of its SKUs in the past two years and plans to eliminate an additional 10% this year. The changes are part of Kraft’s three-year restructuring program that was announced in January 2004.

Beverage group addresses obesity
Recognizing the public concerns about the rising levels of obesity and diseases related to poor diets, the Union of European Beverages Associations, which represents a large part of the European non-alcoholic beverages industry, has developed and begun to implement initiatives to address these issues.

The association and association corporate members—Cadbury Schweppes European Beverages, Cantrell and Cochrane Ireland, Coca-Cola Co., Coca-Cola Enterprises, Coca-Cola Hellenic Bottling Co., Gerber Foods Holdings Ltd., GlaxoSmithKline, Pepsi Beverages Europe, and Unilever—said that they will limit advertising to children in school and not advertise in printed media, on Web sites, or during broadcast programming that is aimed at children under the age of 12 years.

Additionally, they will avoid appealing directly to children to persuade parents to purchase products and will make sure that promotional activities offering prizes or rewards will not require consumers to drink excessive amounts of products to participate. They will produce more new low- or no-calorie beverages and light versions of existing beverages.

These initiatives are in response to the European Union Platform for Action on Diet, Physical Activity, and Health.

Sandwich offerings get spicy
As consumers continue to purchase and cook foods that contain various different spices and flavors (see “What America Eats” in the January 2006 issue of Food Technology), one company recently decided to spice up one of its own sandwich offerings. McDonald’s Corp., Oak Brook, Ill., now offers a new Spicy version in its line of Premium Chicken Sandwiches.

The sandwich combines smoked jalapeño pepper, cayenne pepper, and other spices and will be available in more than 13,700 McDonald’s restaurants in the United States.

The company reports that it leads the U.S. foodservice industry in sales of chicken strips and chicken sandwiches and that in 2005 it recorded a 27% share of chicken sandwiches, more than its top three competitors combined.

Process produces edible film
The U.S. Dept. of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service has developed a new process for the continuous manufacture of casein film, which could be used to help protect some food products.

This edible and water-resistant film is first made by extracting casein from milk with high-pressure carbon dioxide. The casein is then mixed with water and glycerol and left undisturbed to dry. The result is a water-resistant, flexible, film-like substance. ARS holds a patent on this method.

Michael Kozempel, a retired chemical engineer from USDA’s Eastern Regional Research Center, developed a continuous pilot-plant process which uses a suitable belt material and feeding mechanism so that the solution can be uniformly spread and dried to form a film that can be easily removed from the belt. ARS has filed a patent application on this process.

Researchers say that the film could be used as stand-alone sheets or as thin coatings that form a barrier between the food product and the environment. It locks in moisture, thereby allowing it to coat dairy food products or function as part of a laminate in packaging for cottage cheese or yogurt.

U. of Illinois receives $10 million grant
The University of Illinois recently received $10 million from the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture for a project that will sequence the pig genome. Two animal geneticists at the university, Lawrence Schook and Jonathan Beever, who recently created a side-by-side comparison of the human and pig genomes, said that now they will be able to see how various proteins in the genes work together.

“After many years of laying the foundation for sequencing of the pig genome it is truly rewarding to see our dreams of a porcine sequence come true,” said Beever. “The implications will help tremendously in the swine industry, but will also have biomedical importance as well, such as pig-to-human transplants.”

U.S. Rep Tim Johnson, a member of the Illinois delegation on the House Agriculture Committee, worked on behalf of the researchers and said that the work on the pig genome will also affect livestock safety and productivity and public health.

Scientists at other universities and research facilities are collaborating with the University of Illinois researchers. The $10 million from USDA will pay for half of the total needed for the project.

FDA celebrates 100 years
In celebrattion of its 100th anniversary this year, the Food and Drug Administration will be holding events around the country throughout 2006.

In 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt signed the Food and Drugs Act and assigned the implementation of this law to the Bureau of Chemistry of the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture. The bureau, which is the oldest U.S. consumer protection office, eventually became FDA.

Visit the FDA Centennial Web site at www.fda.gov/centennial for more information.

Jobs to remain steady in academia
Over the next five years, food science-related jobs will remain at current levels, according to a November 2005 Food Technology/IFT poll. About 48% of the 153 respondents to the one-question survey said that food science-related jobs in academia will stay about the same, while 35% believe they will increase. About 16% feel that jobs will decline.

Among the most cited reasons for the same levels include steady student enrollment and financial constraints of academic institutions. “The food science field will expand to include other ‘outside’ fields, so academia will ‘borrow’ rather than expand,” said a respondent. Those who think that jobs will increase noted the greater complexity surrounding food safety, ingredient functionality, and nutrition, which will require more academic expertise.

Cleaning method developed
Penn State University researchers have developed a new method to clean and disinfect milking equipment that uses little more than salt water. They said that this method could be a safer and less expensive alternative to cleaning systems currently used.

The method uses electrolyzed oxidizing water to clean milk pipes. The water is produced when electric current flowing through two electrodes immersed in a weak salt solution and separated by a membrane produces an alkaline and an acidic solution.

This water has been used to clean fresh produce and eggs.

The U.S. Dept. of Agriculture funded this project.

by Karen Banasiak,
Assistant Editor
[email protected]