Improving the Nutritional Quality of Shelf-Stable Foods for Emergency Situations

Formulations

In the aftermath of natural disasters and other emergency situations, people are often forced to rely on shelf-stable foods of low nutritional qualities. However, through the strategic use of healthy ingredients that also increase shelf-life, CPG companies can provide consumers with better alternatives. Image Credit: Flickr usr Chopbooey

In the aftermath of natural disasters and other emergency situations, people are often forced to rely on shelf-stable foods of low nutritional qualities. However, through the strategic use of healthy ingredients that also increase shelf-life, CPG companies can provide consumers with better alternatives. Image Credit: Flickr usr Chopbooey

This summer, communities around the United States have faced multiple natural disasters. Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma devastated communities in the South, leaving millions of Americans without access to power and with limited access to fresh food. Wildfires in the West have also knocked out power for some communities, and made it hard for fresh food to be transported to affected areas. During emergency situations like these, people are forced to rely on shelf-stable foods that are free from contamination and do not require cooking.

Often, the foods that are shelf-stable and safe to eat in the aftermath of a disaster are not as healthy as fresh food. This can be fine for a couple of days, but when people are facing recovery efforts that last for months or even years, they will need healthier options that support their long-term wellness. As the country faces increasingly severe natural disasters, consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies can meet the needs of these consumers by improving the nutritional quality of shelf-stable foods for emergency situations. Modern formulations software can aid in these efforts.

Reducing Bacterial Load to Increase the Shelf-Life of Less Stable Foods

Traditionally, food formulators have increased the shelf-life of foods by adding one of three ingredients: sugar, salt or fat. As a result, some of the healthier shelf-stable foods–such as low-sugar jelly, low-salt condiments, and low-oil salad dressings–have shorter shelf-lives because they contain less of these ingredients, making them more prone to contamination. Although there are a broad range of general strategies to increase the shelf-life of a food product, one of the more promising  options is to reduce the bacterial load by decreasing the water activity in these products.1

ost bacteria require a moist environment to survive, so lowering the water activity can reduce their potential to contaminate food products. In this way, lowering water activity of a food product can increase its shelf life. As a general rule for minimally processed foods, the water activity should be about 0.07 or lower. Some of the alternative ingredients that may be added to a product to achieve a low water activity level while maintaining and even improving nutritional quality include the following:

  • Polydextrose. In addition to reducing water activity and improving shelf life, polydextrose also increases the fiber content of foods. The highly branched structure of this polymer, which is made up of multiple carbohydrates, makes it only partially digestible, so it only has one calorie per gram, and it promotes a favorable blood glucose response.2 As an added benefit for food formulators, polydextrose also acts as a bulking agent, which can make healthy, shelf-stable foods seem heartier.
  • Trehalose. There are several ways in which trehalose, an alternative sweetener, increase shelf-life. Not only does it lower water activity as much as regular table sugar, but it also reduces the rate of protein denaturation. At the same time, adding trehalose to a food prevents the loss of aromatic volatiles, making it possible for a food to retain its flavor for longer.3 Although the health benefits of trehalose are not yet fully understood, early observations suggest that it supports improvements in cardiovascular function, protection from neurodegenerative diseases and better gastrointestinal health.
  • Antioxidants. Adding antioxidants like vitamin E to foods has been shown to support the maintenance of an ideal flavor, texture, and appearance over time. At the same time, antioxidants are known to protect heart health and can even guard against certain types of cancer. Especially for individuals in emergency situations who lack access to fresh fruits and vegetables, antioxidant-fortified products can provide a valuable nutritional boost.
Using Formulations Software to Support the Development of Healthier Shelf-Stable Products

In order to offer consumers healthier shelf-stable options in an increasingly disaster-prone world, CPG companies can start by reformulating existing products, replacing sugar and salt with alternative ingredients that reduce the microbial load. Another option is to develop entirely new products altogether, where ingredients like polydextrose, trehalose, and antioxidants are included within the original formula.

In both cases, using formulations software can significantly increase the efficiency of the research and development process. Today’s technology makes it possible to examine the effects that a certain ingredient will have on a product in silico. As a result, food formulators can optimize ingredient ratios for a recipe before bringing it to the bench for a traditional test. This cuts down on wasted time and resources, thus reducing time it takes to get new products to market and into the hands of the consumers who need them.

BIOVIA Formulations is an innovative software solution that can support CPG companies that are looking to improve their product offerings, including packaged foods with longer shelf lives. Contact us today to learn more about this and our other offerings!

  1.  “Formulating for increased shelf life,” February 24, 2006, http://www.foodprocessing.com/articles/2006/039/?show=all
  2.  “Polydextrose,” 2017, https://fiberfacts.org/polydextrose/
  3. Trehalose – a multifunctional additive for food preservation,” 1994, https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007%2F978-1-4615-2173-0_7