From Gaganyaan to COVID-19: DFRL provides quick meals for healthcare workers

Over 10,000 ready to eat meals have been supplied to healthcare workers

 Indian food items being considered to serve as part of the Gaganyaan menu Some of the Indian food items being considered to serve as part of the Gaganyaan menu, pending modifications to suit the conditions in space| Rekha Dixit

From the Kargil conflict to expeditions to Antarctica and the upcoming Gaganyaan human spaceflight mission, the responsibility of feeding India’s heroes under extreme conditions lies with the Mysuru-based Defence Food Research Laboratory (DFRL).

With the whole country engaged in fighting COVID-19, DFRL has now prepared and distributed over 10,000 Ready-to-Eat (RTE) meals for healthcare professionals in Kochi and Mysuru. The meals included tomato rice, vegetable pulao, sooji halwa, khichdi, combo meals like white rice and dal, and ready-to-drink packets of pineapple juice, all distributed in the last two days.

These meals are also what the DFRL will be providing for the astronauts who will be part of the upcoming Rs 10,000 crore Gaganyaan human space-flight mission.

"From potable water in pouches with dispensing system to Oral Rehydration solution(ORS), Saline water, food heater, cutlery, in pouch rehydration system, waste disposal & restraining bag, DFRL has been tasked by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) to provide space food,” a senior DRDO official privy to the development told THE WEEK.

From the 1999 Kargil operation to expeditions in Antarctica, mountaineering missions in Kanchenjunga, Nanda Devi and Mount Everest and rowing expeditions, scientists of DFRL have proved themselves by providing processed food. They have also done so during natural calamities like the Latur and Gujarat earthquakes, Malpa and Chamoli landslides, Orissa cyclone, J&K floods, Chennai floods and 2018 Kerala flood rescue and relief operations.

The DFRL Mysore, established in 1961, was assigned to cater to the needs of varied foods of Indian Army, Navy, Air force and paramilitary forces. Their aim is to design light-weight convenient packed food with longer shelf-life under varying climatic conditions.

Since then, scientists of DRFL has developed to produce many ready-to-eat, quick-cooking and instant foods with longer shelf-life. Some of them are, long keeping chappatis (shelf-life six months), high protein snacks (nine months), spiced potato parathas (six months), fruit bars (nine months), mutton pickle (six months), stabilized chikki (one year), fruit juice powder (mango, pineapple, mosumbi (one year) and chicken pulao with a shelf-life of one year. Besides, precooked dehydrated (PD) dal/curries, PD rice, and PD potato peas curry, scientists have also come out with instant pulao mix, instant curries, dal, instant kheer mix, instant khichadi mix, instant basmati rice, instant upma mix—with each a shelf life of one year.

DFRL has developed various rations including the Main Battle Tank (MBT) ration, submarine rations and survival rations for the Army, Navy and Air Force. Besides, DFRL has also designed emergency ration for Army, emergency flying ration for aircrew, survival ration for Navy and commandos.

Explaining about Meals-Ready-To-Eat [MRE] ration for Indian Army, scientists said that it does not require any cooking since the contents are thermally processed. And it can be consumed readily after a little warming if required.

"The food products are processed in a special retort to internationally accepted food standard. The Indian MRE supplies adequate calories and nutrition during operation and competes very well with well-known international rations like MRE of USA and UK in nutritional quality and hygienic. Its shelf life is 12 months," scientists explained.

While describing the role of military food during Operation Vijay, a scientist recalls DFRL had supplied 50,000 survival rations and 30,000 MRE rations to the Army for Kargil operation at a very short notice of only 48 hrs. Besides, it supplied 1,000 MRE rations to the Navy and 125 MRE rations to Air Force station, Pune. "Packaged Biryani for army personnel deployed in icy heights like Siachen and Kargil, can now expect mutton and chicken biryanis or non-vegetarian sandwiches with all nutrients and home-made taste," he narrates.

Scientists also spoke about ‘minimally processed vegetables’, a new technology by which a variety of tropical, subtropical and temperate vegetables like cauliflower, cabbage carrot, beetroot, potato, sweet potato, sponge gourd, ridge gourd, radish, papaya raw, mango raw and French beans are processed.

"Additives and preservatives are used up to permissible level. But the technology does not include any thermal treatment as it retains the freshness of vegetables for a longer period. They are safe from microorganisms besides being rich in ascorbic acid. The process condition and additive treatment change with the vegetable. This technology gives the product a shelf-life of 14 to 28 days," another military scientist said.

DFRL is also engaged in the food supply to the paramilitary forces. The food requirements of paramilitary forces are different from that of the army in general as paramilitary forces need energy-rich food with less volume since they are constantly on the move and are engaged in Low-Intensity Combat (LIC) operations.

"Research is going on for the new packaging material and technology to increase the shelf-life of the food products," scientists added.