Ration Testing And Evaluation

The evaluation of military rations has traditionally focused on the sensory and hedonic responses to the food items that make up the ration (see above). In a typical sequence the food item is first tested under controlled conditions in a laboratory setting with civilian panelists. If the product is satisfactory, it is incorporated into the ration and subsequently tested for its acceptability to military consumers in a field-feeding context. If the ration is acceptable under field conditions, it is purchased and incorporated into the military feeding system.

Several converging lines of evidence have led to a reappraisal of this methodology. First a series of recent ration field tests that employed measures such as body weight, food consumption, water consumption, hydration status and consumer perceptions of the ration as well as the more traditional acceptance measures revealed that this more comprehensive profile is needed to adequately assess the effectiveness of operational rations for long-term use (11,12). These studies also revealed that, al though the rations received high acceptance scores in the field, they were not consumed in sufficient quantity to meet the surgeon general's recommended daily allowance for calories. A decision to feed these rations over an extended time period based solely on acceptance measures would have been a mistake. A second shortcoming of relying solely on acceptance measures was revealed in a series of laboratory and field studies (13,14). This research showed that social and situational variables, can influence food acceptance and consumption as much as the intrinsic properties of the food. The third consideration that prompted a review of the way military rations are tested is that rations of the future are likely to emerge as unfamiliar and unconventional products in order to meet ever more stringent weight and volume requirements. Based on these factors, the U.S. Army Natick Research, Development and Engineering Center has developed a comprehensive seven-phase ration testing program.

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