Imagine a quick gumbo that does not need refrigeration and can be heated in the microwave for a delicious meal in a few minutes.
Imagine a sweet potato dish as an after-school snack, a naturally sweet, fiber-rich treat full of vitamin C and vitamin A that can be a replacement for vanilla- and chocolate-flavored pudding cups.
Imagine Louisiana Gulf Coast shrimp as part of a lunch kit or a high protein snack and stored in your book bag.
Imagine pre-cooked rice ready for the microwave to go with pre-cooked beans spiced to Cajun perfection for a healthy beans and rice meal that is ready in minutes.
These are examples of shelf-stable foods preserved only with heat and pressure that can be kept for months or longer in the pantry. Nutritious, tasty and easy to prepare, they are packaged in cans, glass, rigid plastic or flexible pouches. The technology is not new, but it is continuously improving.
LSU AgCenter researchers are studying shelf-stable foods that help consumers get wholesome, delicious meals on the table in minutes with minimal preparation time. The AgCenter food scientists are using technology that applies heat and pressure in a controlled way to kill pathogens and spoilage organisms but retains nutrients, flavor and texture. Their laboratory includes equipment called an Allpax 2402, which works something like a large, commercial InstaPot.
The food science team has garnered the interest of the thermal process and packaging industries and others interested in food security and food sustainability. Interest in shelf-stable foods is driven not only by the need for food security after natural disasters but also by interest in more sustainable food production, processing and distribution. Choices of preservation and packaging methods will provide more sustainable food choices in the future.
Louise Wicker is a professor in the School of Nutrition and Food Sciences.
(This article appears in the fall 2019 issue of Louisiana Agriculture.)
Sharon Hymel, project coordinator, loads package platens into the Allpax 2402 SHAKA research and development retort to create shelf-stable foods. Photo by Randy LaBauve
Package of food sealed by using the Control GMC PL200 package sealer. This is the beginning of a research process testing ways to create shelf-stable foods. The sealer can also perform a variable nitrogen flush to ensure low oxygen in the sealed package. Photo by Randy LaBauve
Package being probed to determine headspace analysis for oxygen. Too much oxygen in the package could shorten the shelf life. The LSU AgCenter Nutrition and Food Sciences department is using this final step as part of a research process to test ways to create shelf-stable foods. Photo by Randy LaBauve