SSC-Natick Press Release
U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center-Natick
Public Affairs Office
Natick, MA 01760-5012
Contact: Chief, Public Affairs Office
Date: April 18, 2005
Navy menu adopts food industry conveniences
NATICK, Mass. -- Prepared packaged foods are gaining a foothold in Navy food service through the 21-day advanced operational menu, a project managed by the Department of Defense Combat Feeding Directorate at the U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center here, intended to reduce labor and cut costs.
Navy culinary specialists traditionally have prepared recipes with ingredients from scratch, but now the push is to find efficiencies aboard ships.
“Years ago, the military didn’t look at labor as an issue. Now, the less people you put on a ship, the better,” said Dave Dillon, a retired Navy master chief and project officer for the Navy’s food equipment program. Besides improving galley equipment, another way to save time is through menu management. Dillon said every ship has its own six-week cycle, which could be the same or completely different, based on Armed Forces recipes or local recipes. Packaged foods were tried in 1994 during initial research into a new menu, but they were rated unacceptable in taste testing.
Beginning last year, the Navy Food Service Division revisited the idea.
In Phase I of the program, the division assembled a prototype menu for the Pacific Fleet and Fleet Forces Command using “1 NSN,” the name given to a fresh-food group ration similar to what’s used in the Army. Each 1 NSN contains 50 servings of a protein, starch and vegetable.
Although sailors liked the food and cooks saved time while enjoying more flexibility, costs were higher than desired and storage was limited, according to Deb Sisson, a physical scientist and project officer for the advanced menu.
After demonstrating the potential of 1 NSN in Phase I, the Navy went to Combat Feeding for Phase II to provide the data to support the goals of cutting labor, costs and simplifying re-supply without compromising nutrition and taste.
Time studies with lasagna showed that a “speed scratch” recipe, one that combines at least some manufacturer-prepared ingredients, took 30 minutes vs. 90 minutes for scratch. A frozen heat and serve entrée shortens preparation time to five minutes. Alternatives to scratch recipes also rated well in sensory panels.
“We used lasagna and a few other entrees because we knew they were labor-intensive,” Dillon said. “Every product got similar scores (to scratch recipes) in evaluations. Industry has done a good job of getting products that save time and are high quality.” In the past decade the amount of pre-packaged or heat and serve products from major food manufacturers has “exploded,” said Sisson, leading to new opportunities to incorporate them into a standardized menu.
Through market surveys, Sisson learned that nearly every major chain of quick serve and quick casual restaurant was using some variety of pre-cooked protein in their menu. For instance, frozen raw chicken vs. cooked frozen chicken can taste about the same, but cooked frozen chicken requires less than half the preparation time and lowers the chance of food contamination during handling.
“I don’t think the average consumer knows the difference between pre-cooked and fresh,” Sisson said. “There aren’t many cooks (at these restaurants) cooking from scratch.”
Still, sailors and cooks don’t need to fret about the end of scratch meals. The plan calls for one speed scratch or heat and serve selection to supplement a meal made from scratch.
“By using the foods Deb has researched, we’re still giving culinary specialists a chance to use their skills. Instead of spending 13 hours a day just trying to get the food served, they’ll have time to do training or work on a new recipe,” Dillon said.
Storage is increased because pre-cooked packaged foods occupy less space than raw foods. He said by using the new menu the Navy can easily pack a ship for up to 60 days.
How the Navy orders menu items is another way to gain efficiency, according to Sisson. One of the goals is to reduce the size of the prime vendor catalog the Navy uses to order food from more than 1,500 items to 600 items.
“The logistics to support that catalog is enormous,” she said. “If everyone has spaghetti on the same day, we could reduce the logistics and cost.”
Another advantage of prepared foods is reduced reliance on deep-fat fryers aboard ships, which eliminates the hazards of cooking with hot oil, fryer maintenance, and oil handling and disposal, according to Dillon.
Major food service companies have demonstrated hundreds of prepared foods for Combat Feeding scientists to evaluate, the latest demonstration offering 43 samples of fish, chicken and beef entrees, and soups and sauces.
Sisson said chefs who have come to Natick work with major chains to help develop their menus, but only the highest-rated products from the manufacturers will be selected for the 21-day operational menu scheduled to be sent to the fleet in June for evaluation.
She said the Navy will then gather comments from sailors to help Combat Feeding to improve the menu.
For more information about the U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center, please visit our website at: http://www.natick.army.mil.