Food Safety Systems
Faced with the problem of how and what to feed an astronaut in a sealed capsule under weightless conditions while planning for manned space mission, NASA enlisted the aid of The Pillsbury Company to address two principal concerns - barring crumbs of food that might contaminate the spacecraft’s atmosphere and sensitive instruments, and assuring absolute freedom from potentially catastrophic disease-producing bacteria and toxins. Pillsbury developed the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) concept, potentially one of the most far-reaching space spinoffs, to address NASA’s second concern. HACCP is designed to prevent food safety problems rather than to catch them after they have occurred. Three other government agencies are taking preliminary steps toward further extending the HACCP solution to meat/poultry and seafood inspection operations.
Ethylene Removal System
A technology development for use in plant-growth experiments aboard the Space Shuttle has resulted in the creation of a new plant-saving product, an ethylene scrubber for plant growth chambers. This innovation presents commercial benefits for the food industry in the form of a new device (Bio-KES) that removes ethylene and helps to prevent spoilage. Using Bio-KES in storage rooms and displays will increase the shelf life of perishable foods by more than one week, drastically reducing the costs associated with discarded rotten foods and flowers. The savings could potentially be passed on to consumers. For NASA, the device means that astronauts can conduct commercial agricultural research in space. Eventually, it may also help to grow food in space and keep it fresh longer. This could lead to less packaged food being taken aboard missions since it could be cultivated in an ethylene-free environment.
Hyperspectral Imaging of Chicken
A suite of turnkey hyperspectral imaging (HI) systems, based on the original groundwork employed by NASA satellites to monitor temperature and climate changes, are now available to the general public thanks in part to the new features and expanded applicability Lextel Intelligence Systems, LLC, has added. A variety of HI systems are used worldwide for a variety of industry applications including medical, military, forensics, and food safety (specifically in chicken monitoring).
Through a NASA Affiliates Program, valuable modifications were made to refrigerator displays built by Displaymor Manufacturing. By working with NASA, Displaymor was able to address stiffer requirements to ensure food freshness. Application of NASA’s space technology enabled Displaymor to continue marketing its cases without incurring prohibitive expenses that would threaten many jobs. Research and development improvements in air-flow distribution and refrigeration coil technology contributed greatly to certifying Displaymor’s showcases in compliance with new federal regulations, which resulted in a refrigerator case that keeps foods cooler, longer, and maintains the openness to displays critical to customer visibility and accessibility, impulse buying, and cross-merchandising.
Packaging & Freeze-drying
In planning for the long duration Apollo missions, NASA conducted extensive research into space food. One of the techniques developed was freeze-drying - Action Products commercialized this technique, concentrating on snack food. The foods are cooked, quickly frozen and then slowly heated in a vacuum chamber to remove the ice crystals formed by the freezing process. The final product retains 98 percent of its nutrition and weighs only 20 percent of its original weight. Today, one of the benefits of this advancement in food preparation includes simple nutritious meals available to handicapped and otherwise homebound senior adults unable to take advantage of existing meal programs sponsored by government and private organizations.
Enriched Baby Food
Commercially available infant formulas now contain a nutritional enrichment ingredient that traces its existence to the NASA-sponsored research that explored the potential of algae as a recycling agent for long duration space travel. The ingredient is an algae-based, vegetable-like known as Formulaid. It was developed and is manufactured by Martek Biosciences Corporation, which has pioneered the commercial development of products based on microalgae; the company’s founders and principal scientists acquired their expertise in this area while working on the NASA program.