Skip to main content

UF Researchers Obtain $4 Million Federal Contract to Improve Military Food Distribution

  • By:
    Tom Nordlie – (352) 392-3567
  • Sources:
    Jeffrey Brecht – jkbrecht@ufl.edu, (352) 392-1928 x213
    Jean-Pierre Emond – jpemond@ufl.edu, (352) 392-1864 x229

Jeffrey Brecht and Jean-Pierre Emond show packaged military rations at a laboratory on the UF main campus
View Photo

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — University of Florida researchers have obtained a one-year, $4 million contract to develop better technology ensuring military rations traveling overseas arrive intact, fresh and nutritious.

Scientists with UF’s Center for Food Distribution and Retailing contracted with the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development & Engineering Center to improve methods of distributing rations and reducing losses. The results could lead to greater efficiency, cost savings and innovations that benefit the government, and, ultimately, private industry and consumers.

The contract is the largest obtained by IFAS researchers in the past 10 years, said Jimmy Cheek, UF senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources.

“We’re very pleased and proud that the Center for Food Distribution and Retailing will be able to assist our nation’s military,” Cheek said. “This is yet another example of the level of excellence our IFAS programs have achieved.”

The project was funded because military food distribution became increasingly important after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, said Jeffrey Brecht, director of the center, part of the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

Most of the food being consumed by deployed U.S. military personnel is shipped from the United States in a complex supply chain, said Brecht, a professor with UF’s horticultural sciences department.

One big problem is that environmental conditions during transport and storage can reduce the nutritional value of food that’s otherwise edible, Brecht said.

Researchers with the Natick center, in Natick, Mass., have been conducting research on radio frequency identification tags to measure and record environmental temperatures and calculate the shelf life of combat rations, said Stephen Moody, a team leader in the Department of Defense’s Combat Feeding Directorate.

The $4 million will enable UF scientists to work with Natick personnel and investigate ways to improve and expand the system.

Military food-storage temperatures in Iraq and Kuwait average 100 degrees Fahrenheit, with some containers exceeding 150 degrees, he said. The heat can destroy rations worth millions, and emergency replacement of unusable food can add to the cost.

Improved RFID technology could lead to development of an automated inspection process, Moody said. It would enable personnel to monitor environmental temperatures more closely, check individual pallets of food from remote locations, calculate food shelf life based on its environmental history, and quickly issue rations nearing the end of their shelf life.

The UF center was chosen for the contract partly due to its national reputation for shelf-life modeling and RFID research focused on food distribution, said Jean-Pierre Emond, co-director of the center. The project has four principal investigators, Emond, Brecht, and Cecilia Nunes and Charles Sims of UF’s food science and human nutrition department.

The first step proposed by UF researchers is to replicate Mideast storage conditions in the laboratory, said Emond, an agricultural and biological engineering professor.

“Since we’re evaluating conditions in transport, we can simulate them exactly and look at the condition of the product,” he said.

Packaged combat rations called first strike rations will be the first items studied, Emond said.

The project will later look at other environments and issues such as sensors that can detect food spoilage, he said. Researchers hope to secure funding for a five-year study.

Results from the study could benefit the food industry and the public as new technologies emerge and filter into the private sector, Brecht said. Much of the military’s food distribution equipment is manufactured by corporations, and improvements developed in conjunction with the equipment could be used on a wider scale.

Funding for the contract came from a Department of Defense appropriation secured with support from U.S. Reps. Cliff Stearns and Adam Putnam of Florida.

“As a result of this research, our service men and women will receive high-quality and nutritious rations even under severe conditions,” Stearns said.

-30-