The above military pizza looks normal and appetizing, like a school lunch you had in high school. But it’s different because this slice actually has an insane shelf life of up to three years—and it will remain safe to eat. Not even under the most dire circumstances would I consume a three-year-old slice of pizza, but apparently it tastes “just like a typical pan pizza.” I’ll never look at Digiorno the same way again.
Researchers at the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development, and Engineering Center say this is the “holy grail” of MRE (meals-ready-to-eat) foods while soldiers are in battle. MREs have been a staple of combat situations since 1981, when they replaced canned foods. According to food scientists, Michelle Richardson, pizza is one of the most requested items by soldiers; Richardson says she has been working on the recipe for the past two years “in a large kitchen full of commercial equipment.”
Pizza has been an especially difficult food to preserve, Richardson explained. Moisture in tomato sauce, cheese and toppings tend to migrate to the pizza’s dough over time, resulting in soggy pizza and providing an environment conducive to mold. But researchers devised a way to prevent this moisture from migrating using science. Additionally, scientists were able to tweak the acidity of the sauce, cheese and dough, making it more difficult for bacteria to thrive. The result is a slice that has an incredibly unappetizing shelf life.
But Richardson says it’s like any pizza you’d buy from the store. Not many soldiers have tried it yet because it’s still being developed, but the latest prototype has been received well. “The only thing missing from the experience would be it’s not hot when you want it,” Richardson said. “It’s room temperature.”
The current prototype has been tested with pepperoni, but a turkey alternative is also being developed for those who don’t eat pork. Another food scientist working on the prototype said, “It tastes pretty much [like] what you would get from a pizza parlor.” And now suddenly I no longer love pizza.