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U.S. Army Soldier & Biological Chemical Command
U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center-Natick
Public Affairs Office
Kansas Street
Natick, MA 01760-5012

Contact: Chief, Public Affairs Office
(508) 233-5340

Date: January 17, 2001
No: 01-03

Improved Pouch Bread

NATICK, Mass. -- Unlike hardtack soldiers ate during the Civil War or the crackers soldiers find in today's rations, shelf-stable pouch bread provides them extra nutrition and variety along with bread's appealing taste and texture.

First produced in 1988 and successfully fielded during Operation Desert Storm, pouch bread technology was patented in 1991 and led to an expanded variety of shelf-stable bakery items for individual and group rations. Now a better version of pouch bread is being developed and will be available in 2002.

"It's not meant to compete with fresh bread," said Barbara Daley, project officer for the improved pouch bread program at the Department of Defense Combat Feeding Program at the U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center (Natick). "It's a very good complement to the (Meal, Ready to Eat) when fresh bread isn't available."

The Office of the Surgeon General considers the bread to be a mandatory meal supplement for soldiers living entirely on MREs for the first 21 days of deployment.

Studies have shown that including bread with meals increases troop morale, and soldiers' acceptability and consumption of other ration foods.

Pouch bread is preserved by using ingredients and techniques to control water activity, which prevents mold and minimizes staling. Ingredients that stabilize and retain moisture along with oxygen-absorbing sachets placed in each foil container prolong shelf life. Issued separately from the MRE, pouch bread has a minimum shelf life of three years at 80 degrees F or six months at 100 degrees F.

Packaged in the same flexible and tough material as MRE foods, the current pouch bread is about the size and shape of a hamburger patty.

The bread provides 160 calories, about one-third of them fat calories from hydrogenated soybean or cottonseed oil. Available in white or wheat, both are enriched with vitamins and minerals.

Although it met the guidelines and soldiers liked having the item, pouch bread improvements were desired because quality deteriorates before reaching its three-year shelf life.

"The current MRE pouch bread in the system is not as well received as we would like," Daley said. "Two big problems we face are general staling and off-flavor development."

The goal, as with all combat rations, is to create a product that is highly acceptable so that soldiers eat the food and get the nutrition. Daley is in the second of a two-year program to remove the barriers to acceptance.

"I'm looking at other ingredients to control water activity and experimenting with flavor-masking ingredients," Daley said. "There's some discussion by the services of reducing the shelf life to 18 months, which would further assure a fresher product reaches our soldiers."

The manufacturer, Sterling Foods, Inc. in San Antonio, Texas, also plays a role in quality by ensuring the best possible processing at the plant, she said.

The improved pouch bread can be eaten alone or with other MRE foods, such as with the grilled chicken breast entrée to make a sandwich. She said the bread is a main component of the science and technology program for Mobility Enhancing Ration Components (MERCs). MERCs are prototype shelf-stable sandwiches, which would provide soldiers eat-on-the-move capability.

Daley is also working on a different name, new packaging that looks more commercial-like, and a rectangular-shaped split-top for the improved pouch bread. "We want soldiers to know this is different from MRE bread of the past," she said. White bread will be the only variety offered initially, but the technology may be applied to the wheat bread formulation.

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