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Jul 11 / scott.campbell

A Closeup for Decaying Food

Food preservation is a consistent theme on our blog – how to make food that tastes good last a long time.  That’s what I love about cured meats – they taste good (if done right), but they are the product of thousands of years of informal testing so they last a long time.  A coworker pointed me to a fascinating program from the BBC that looks at the opposite of preservation.  It’s called “After Life: The Strange Science of Decay”. Finding it available online, I started watching it.  I am glad that scientists have yet to discover a method for transmitting odors through a wire, because many of the pieces of rotting food they filmed (over 2 months) would’ve certainly been ripe.

Soon, though, the show turned to a technology leader in food preservation: the US Armed Forces.  They maintain a research center in Natick, MA that is tasked with developing MREs that last forever and taste good.  Michelle Richardson, a food technologist there, makes an appearance to explain the science behind a high-tech sandwich that lasts for 3 years.  Although I didn’t hear the words “water activity”, I did hear “humectant”, which is rare enough.  A humectant is an ingredient that lowers the water activity in a food, such as sugar or salt.  Michelle, who is an AquaLab customer I’ve met many times, explained that humectants and oxygen scavengers give their MRE sandwich a long shelf life.  It’s great to see exposure for food preservation technology, even if the BBC program isn’t one you want to watch during dinner.


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