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New Food Technology: It's Not Your Grandfather's K-Rations

The candlelight and soft music might be missing, but one company says its new product can make you think you're eating gourment meals, even when you're out in the field, responding to an emergency.

The Wornick Co. has released a line of ready-to-eat, shelf-stable food in flexible packaging that can be utilized by first-responders in emergency situations – such as hurricanes or large-scale disasters – where it is not feasible to set up kitchens or cafeterias.

The A la Smart pouches offer entries such as Burgundy beef stew – which includes meet, onions and bacon – and chicken and dumplings (white meat, carrots, peas and biscuits) and a Louisiana dirty rice dish.

The company is making bold claims for the food (Editor's Note: We received the food today but have not had the opportunity to taste-test it.). "Our challenge was to make great food," said Dirk Beekman, director of research and development for the Cincinnati-based food processor. "We had to team up chefs, food scientists and process engineers to make it happen."

Jon Dareff, a Culinary Institute of America graduate, oversees the a la Smart effort to create on-trend products that compliment the Wornick process. "We created these products to be restaurant quality," Dareff said. "People are surprised when they cut against competitive products in the marketplace. They notice the quality of our products and how easy they are to prepare."

The products are cooked in pre-packaged pouches in boiling water. There is no need to thaw frozen products, which saves on food preparation expense and storage cost. The flexible pouch design eliminates injury caused by sharp edges from opening No. 10 cans and is HACCP certified to ensure food safety.

One A la Smart 80-ounce pouche will serve 10 to 15 people, depending on serving size. One 20 lb. case can serve 50 or more people. Unopened pouches have 18-24 month shelf life. Any opened pouches can be resealed and stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. Most entrees can be served for between 45 cents and $1.89 per serving – on par with the cost-per-serving at large institutions that require additional personnel to prepared canned or frozen foods.

A la Smart heat and serve entrees include: Burgundy beef stew, beef teriyaki, szechwan chicken, Swedish meatballs, meatballs in marinara sauce, beef chili with beans, beef chili with no beans and chicken and dumplings. Side dishes include white rice and Louisiana-style dirty rice.

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