• active packaging;
  • headspace;
  • laminate;
  • oxygen absorber;
  • rancidity

ABSTRACT:  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 (ABSO2RB®) 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 ABSO2RB and regular MRE pouches without the O2-absorber were conducted for 3 mo at 51.7 °C (125 °F), and 6 mo at 37.8 °C (100 °F) by measuring oxygen concentration (Mocon O2-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 °C (80 °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. ABSO2RB-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 °C (80 °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 ABSO2RB-pouches indicate an improved reduction in oxygen and vitamin C retention compared with MRE controls and maintained product quality (physicochemical and organoleptic). ABSO2RB-laminates met the accelerated shelf-life requirement of 1 mo at 51.7 °C (125 °F), and 6 mo at 37.8 °C (100 °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.