An Army laboratory has figured out how to make ready-to-eat pizza that lasts for three years, and perhaps most surprisingly, it actually tastes good.
"It's a fully assembled and baked piece of pizza in one package," said Lauren Oleksyk, a food technologist at the US Army's Natick Soldier Research, Development, and Engineering Center, a lab that helps create the military's meals-ready-to-eat (MRE) rations.
Sometime in 2017, soldiers will be opening up MRE #37 and tearing into the pizza pouch, scarfing down a slice of pie that Oleksyk says tastes like "day after pizza" or the kind you'd find in a school cafeteria. While it won't taste nearly as good as a New York slice, it will likely be decent enough to lift morale in a combat zone.
"We've actually had feedback from the warfighter for years," Oleksysk said. "Pizza just seems appealing to all."
The Natick lab has been working on developing a pizza meal for about five years, among other interesting developments, like testing the possibility of 3D-printing food.
Making a pizza that can sit on a shelf for three years at 80 degrees was particularly challenging for Army researchers, since ingredients like pizza dough and sauce needs water for taste — which also introduces the possibility of mold. They used something called Hurdle technology to stop bacteria from forming.
With Hurdle technology, researchers create a series of "barriers" that stop bacteria from forming on the pizza over the years. This include such things as controlling sauce acidity, water, oxygen in the package, and proper layering of ingredients — though it still uses regular pizza components and dough.
"The only difference is in the sauce," Oleksyk said. "We control the pH so it's a little more acidic."
Still, researchers say they "received high marks" from soldiers in testing. In order to make sure it would last, Oleksyk said it went through a number of internal tests where they analyzed color, texture, and gathered baseline data.
Then they did an accelerated storage test by putting the pizza in a chamber at 100 degrees for six months, which Oleksyk says simulates 3 years at 80 degrees. It it's still edible after that, it's a winner.
While the pizza can be eaten straight out of the package like the cold pizza of your college years, soldiers can also warm them up if they have time. All MREs come with heaters that activate when mixed with water, so perhaps that year-old pizza can taste like it just came out of the oven in Afghanistan.