Effect of oxygen-absorbing packaging on the shelf life of a liquid-based component of military operational rations.
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Oxygen within the sealed package can reduce the quality of liquid-based food products with high oil content such as hot-filled meal-ready-to-eat (MRE) cheese spread, a component of military operational rations. The aim of this study was to test a novel oxygen absorber-containing laminate material and its ability to maintain and/or extend shelf life of a cheese-spread MRE item. An iron-based oxygen absorber (ABSO(2)RB(R)) activated by moisture was incorporated into the laminate and used to pack hot-filled cheese spread MREs. The kinetics of oxygen absorption due to humidity and temperature were characterized and peel tests performed to ensure pouch seal integrity. Accelerated shelf-life tests of ABSO(2)RB and regular MRE pouches without the O(2)-absorber were conducted for 3 mo at 51.7 degrees C (125 degrees F), and 6 mo at 37.8 degrees C (100 degrees F) by measuring oxygen concentration (Mocon O(2)-analyzer), microbiological, and physicochemical quality characteristics, including color, texture, moisture, free fatty acid (FFA), pH, water activity, and vitamins and A. Pouches stored at 26.7 degrees C (80 degrees F) for 12 mo served as calibrated controls. Consumer tests were conducted in-house and a confirmatory sensory test was conducted at Natick by a trained panel using a 9-point hedonic scale. ABSO(2)RB-laminates maintain the same seal integrity and strength as those of the control samples. The headspace oxygen concentrations in these pouches reached (P < 0.05) < 0.5% in 11 d of storage at 26.7 degrees C (80 degrees F) and remained below this level throughout the storage period (1 y). No microbial growth (aerobic, coliforms, yeast, and molds) was detected (P < 0.05) for both packages. Overall, the ABSO(2)RB-pouches indicate an improved reduction in oxygen and vitamin C retention compared with MRE controls and maintained product quality (physicochemical and organoleptic). ABSO(2)RB-laminates met the accelerated shelf-life requirement of 1 mo at 51.7 degrees C (125 degrees F), and 6 mo at 37.8 degrees C (100 degrees F). This study clearly shows the benefits of using active packaging technology on retaining nutrition and prolonging shelf life of high-fat, liquid content MRE items.