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Combat Feeding Directorate Improves Meals

Driven by Warfighter preferences, DoD Combat Feeding Directorate
keeps improving and adding items to Meals, Ready-to-Eat.

Natick Soldier Center News Release

NATICK, Mass., May 15, 2006 – Driven by warfighter preferences, DoD Combat Feeding Directorate keeps improving and adding items to Meals, Ready-to-Eat.

The nation's Warfighters can look forward to numerous new food items and improvements in the next version of Meals, Ready-to-Eat (MREs), which were recently approved and will go into production in 2008.

MREs were developed by the DoD Combat Feeding Directorate, part of the Natick Solider Center, in the early 1980s.

The directorate has since worked continuously to update the meals to provide optimum nutrition, improve taste, and to reflect the current preferences of servicemen and women.

"We have seen a trend in the past several years that the Warfighters tend to like ethnic foods, sandwich-type items, and eat-on-the-move snack items."

Judy Aylward, senior food technologist

The meals meet the Office of the Surgeon General's nutritional requirements and are packaged to withstand airdrop, rough handling, and temperature extremes. Items included in the MRE must be shelf stable for three years at 80 degrees Fahrenheit and six months at 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

MREs are used to sustain individuals in all the Armed Forces during operations where meal preparation is not feasible. The meals include 24 different menus.

The new items and replacements are the result of extensive evaluations with the very people who will be eating the meals, the nation's warfighters.

Thirty-eight new items were evaluated by approximately 400 soldiers at Fort Greeley, Alaska, in September 2005.

According to Judy Aylward, a Combat Feeding Directorate senior food technologist and project officer for the Fielded Individual Ration Improvement Program, new items must receive a score of 6 or higher on a quality scale of 1 to 9 (with 1 being extremely disliked and 9 being extremely liked) to be included in the annual field evaluation.

Results from the field evaluations, combined with recommendations by Natick Soldier Center scientists, were presented for approval to the Joint Service Operational Rations Forum, which included representatives from all of the Armed Services, in February 2006.

Aylward has noticed changes in warfighter preferences over the years.

"We have seen a trend in the past several years that the warfighters tend to like ethnic foods, sandwich-type items, and eat-on-the-move snack items," said Aylward. "They also are more health conscious and read the food labels. All MRE items have the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) food label, which includes nutritional information and ingredients."

Aylward said the following items were approved to be included in MREs:

Granola with blueberries or strawberries (just add water and you will have a bowl of granola with milk)
Instant vanilla or chocolate pudding
Toaster pastries, chocolate chip or French toast
Chipotle snack bread
Chocletto's candy (chocolate toffee candy)
Twizzler Nibs (small red licorice candy)
Chocolate-covered coffee beans
Patriotic cookies (sugar cookie with flags/Soldiers imprinted on surface)
Cheez-Its, hot and spicy
Irish Cream flavored coffee
Banana strawberry dairy shake
Salsa verde (condiment)
Butter Buds
Splenda packet (sugar substitute)

Some items from previous editions of the MRE will be replaced. Chicken pesto pasta will replace the chicken with cavetelli. Lasagna with vegetables, a vegetarian meal, will replace the vegetarian manicotti.

Combat Feeding Directorate also tries to include commercial-off-the-shelf products in MREs when possible.

"Name brand recognition provides a little bit of home to the warfighter, which especially helps to improve morale,"said Aylward.

According to Aylward, this next version of the MRE will go into production in 2008 and will be available in the field by 2009 or 2010.
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