Let them eat cake

June 1, 2005
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Manufacturer uses oxygen sorbents to provide shelf-stable baked goods to the military.

Workers at Sterling Foods’ plant prepare baked goods for military meals. Sterling uses FreshPax oxygen sorbents to remove remaining oxygen from the packaging and thus increase the shelf life of these items. Source: Multisorb Technologies.
Imagine what a prepared cake tasted like after going through the retort process," says Nick Davis, COO of Sterling Foods, San Antonio, TX. "Items were gelatinous and the texture wasn't anything that would be considered an enjoyable cake." Years ago, the retort process was the only option available to companies like Sterling Foods that were trying to achieve 36-month stability for military food items. The retort process subjects hermetically packaged food to high pressure and temperature for a period of time in order to sterilize it for long-term stability.

The US military currently uses three ration programs: Meals Ready to Eat (MRE), Heat & Serve and Unitized Group Ration-A (UGRA) rations. Shelf life for MRE and Heat & Serve rations is required to be 36 months while UGRA rations must be packaged to last 18 months.

To meet these demands, Sterling tried vacuum packaging but the product had to be able to withstand the suction of the vacuum process. Most baked items including cakes were squashed flat. Porous baked goods also house countless pockets or atmosphere that must be neutralized, which made vacuum packing a timely process for the company. "We needed a way to modify the atmosphere and still maintain the integrity of cakes and baked items," says Davis.

To remove the majority of oxygen within the package, Sterling backflushes the high barrier ration packaging. However, backflushing leaves trace amounts of oxygen inside the package along with pockets of atmosphere contained within the baked item itself. This residual oxygen is enough to allow mold growth and oxidation of the baked good. Removing the remaining oxygen within the package was a high priority for Sterling and the company turned to Multisorb Technologies for a solution.

Sterling tried Multisorb's FreshPax oxygen sorbents, which are inserted into the package to remove all remaining oxygen from the headspace and trapped pockets of atmosphere inside the baked items themselves. Without the oxygen sorbents, the sealed packages contained anywhere from two to five percent residual oxygen in headspaces. While modified atmosphere equipment can be adjusted to keep this level at a minimum, it can become costly and slow line speeds. The FreshPax oxygen sorbents reduce the oxygen level to zero, which allows Sterling to provide the zero oxygen atmosphere necessary for 36-month shelf life.

"Multisorb's oxygen sorbents are critical for maintaining shelf stability in rations. This is the most efficient method to create a zero oxygen environment in a bakery item," says Davis. Multisorb also offers two types of oxygen sorbents, one oxygen-activated and the other moisture-activated. "The different oxygen absorber formulations have also been a tremendous help," continues Davis.

Today, Sterling produces 85 to 90 percent of all bakery items for military rations. Troop requests have spawned most of the current menu items including a peppermint patty brownie and kreamsicle cookie. "We continually receive letters from troops complementing us on the quality of the products," says Davis. "It makes us feel good that we're putting products out there that our troops appreciate."

For more information:

John Solomon, Multisorb Technologies, Inc.,

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