U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center-Natick
Public Affairs Office
Natick, MA 01760-5012
Contact: Chief, Public Affairs Office
Date: May 29, 2001
Natick helps Navy gain more efficient cooking equipment
Natick, Mass. --- Afloat 21 is leading the Navy's food service program to a higher level with the introduction of several pieces of galley equipment.
A part of the Department of Defense Combat Feeding Program at the U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center (Natick), Afloat 21 is testing and eventually fielding a submarine-hatchable Combi Oven and two new grills in the latest effort to adapt emerging technologies in commercial food preparation and food service equipment for Navy ships.
Finding products that are multifunctional, and reduce cooking and cleaning times, are primary goals of the program. Just as important is maintaining the flavor and nutrition of the food.
"Everything we do in this program is aimed at reducing the amount of labor aboard Navy ships," said Dave Dillon, project officer for Afloat 21, Navy Food Service. "If we can make their lives easier, then we've done our job."
Furthermore, Dillon said he believes the equipment could benefit the other services.
They have been aboard a few dozen Navy ships since about 1996, said Dillon. However, the latest Combi Oven has a modular design for easy installation and removal from submarines.
It can be installed in several pieces through a submarine's 26-inch-diameter hatch without carving a hole out of the submarine's steel hull. Removal was similarly destructive because the oven needed to disassembled.
The submarine-hatchable Combi Oven uses one-third the amount of water of a regular Combi Oven and is made with solid-state components for reliability and durability. Dillon said it is the only one strengthened for shipboard use. Repair downtime should be reduced to zero because if something breaks, parts are easily swapped.
"It's very important that it will stand up to 24-hour-a-day operation," said Dillon, a retired Navy master chief. "The equipment is used constantly because of limited space."
Cooking versatility is a major feature of a Combi Oven, and it allows cooks to do more with less.
Using steam, cooks can prepare vegetables or reheat leftovers. Traditional dry hot air baking is used for breads, casseroles or roasts. Combining the two methods brings some fresh possibilities, such as bagel production.
"I don't think the average person can tell the difference between a boiled and a Combi Oven bagel. It's comparable," Dillon said.
Another option is rapid and precisely cooked meats with reduced shrinkage. In testing, chicken frozen to minus 10 degrees went from "freezer to plate" in 35 minutes. The usual thawing, washing and baking process was skipped, which has another benefit besides saved time.
"We're eliminating the chance of food-borne illness from bacteria that may form during thawing," said Dave Villar, equipment specialist.
If a cook runs out of food or a crew is late for dinner, preparing a meal becomes as easy as taking out frozen foods and putting them into the Combi Oven.
The Combi Oven replaces a separate steamer and deep-fat fryer. This helps the Navy because it removes the need for a fire suppression system, someone to monitor the system and grease storage for a deep-fat fryer, and eliminates hazards of a pressurized steamer. Fewer pieces of equipment save limited space.
Sailors also benefit from a lower- fat diet. For instance, french fries baked in a Combi Oven are crisp on the outside without absorbing the grease used in a deep-fat fryer. An automatic quenching system prevents flavor transfer when cooking a variety of foods simultaneously, providing maximum use of the oven's capacity.
The submarine-hatchable Combi Oven will undergo operational testing for six months beginning in May. Another six months of testing aboard the U.S.S Kearsarge, an amphibious assault ship, is set before recommending the Navy purchase the item, according to Dillon. Blodgett Corp. in Williston, Vt., manufactured the Combi Oven for Natick.
"A grill is one of the hardest surfaces to clean. I used to get burned when the cleaning stone got caught and my knuckles hit the metal," he said.
Cooking and cleaning take a leap forward with the AccuTemp grill manufactured by AccuTemp Products, Inc., in New Haven, Ind.
A conventional grill's heating elements usually produce one concentrated hot spot in the middle of the cooking surface. The temperature at the edges of the surface can be nearly 100 degrees lower, but the AccuTemp grill has an even cooking temperature with a less than 3-degree variation across the entire surface, said Dillon.
After flipping food, cooks no longer need to wait for the grill to recover the proper temperature to resume cooking. Even frozen food can be cooked without thawing.
Fast heat recovery results in faster cooking. For instance, instead of eight minutes needed to fry a hamburger, the AccuTemp takes four minutes.
"We can reduce the amount of time a cook has to stand in front of the grill, and the consumer gets a fresher, warmer burger," Dillon said.
Dealing with the mess is simple because water can be poured on it. Using mild detergent and a nylon scrub brush, the grill is spotless in about 10 minutes compared to 30 minutes for a conventional grill. Because the AccuTemp uses a vacuum plenum of water to heat the surface, there's no danger of electrocution or warping the steel surface, according to Dillon.
"The glamorous part of the job is cooking and serving the food. Cleaning is the unglamorous part. As much as half of the time in food service is spent cleaning," he said.
The AccuTemp grill will go aboard the repaired U.S.S Cole and be retrofitted to the Navy's Arleigh Burke Class destroyers.
The MagiGrill maintains total operating consistency during high-volume food service operations, ensuring that foods have ideal temperature, moisture and appearance. With six preset menu selections, cooks can efficiently shift from chicken patties to waffles or breaded pork tenderloins to bagels.
"One cook working alone can prepare 1,000 hamburgers per hour," Dillon said.
Food items are sent through the conveyerized grill at one end and drop out the other side into a serving pan. Teflon-coated belts, adjusted to the appropriate height and speed, rotate from the top and bottom for remarkably fast cooking, and the grill won't operate unless it has reached the set temperature.
A hamburger that in a conventional grill cooks in eight minutes or in the AccuTemp in four minutes is slashed to two minutes. Cheese sandwiches are evenly browned and ready to eat in 45 seconds as opposed to five minutes.
Cleanup is as easy as removing the two belts and running them through a dishwasher, taking no more than 20 minutes.
A newer version of the grill will have dial controls to set the height of the burners, temperature and time instead of push-button operation.
Dillon said the grill has cooked food for the NASA space station because of its consistency in cooking temperature. The U.S. Naval Academy uses the grill, and the hope is to have a MagiGrill aboard the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Reagan and other large ships where a high output grill is desirable. Maytag manufactures MagiGrill.
Achieving the best value is a goal of Afloat 21. It's a constant search for food, equipment and techniques that cut shipboard labor without sacrificing meal acceptability and nutrition.
"What's the best bang for the buck?" Dillon said. "We're giving the Navy options. Smarter equipment reduces labor, and longer-lasting equipment will save the Navy money over the long-haul."
Natick is part of the U.S. Army Soldier and Biological Chemical Command (SBCCOM). For more information about SBCCOM or the Soldier Systems Center (Natick) please visit our website at http://www.sbccom.army.mil.