Shyam-SablaniPULLMAN, Wash. – Washington State University researcher Shyam Sablani has received a $450,000 grant to develop plastic packaging that will extend the shelf life of prepared food up to five years.

The packaging would be used for commercial purposes, military rations and space missions. NASA wants a way to store food for five years in anticipation of a trip to Mars.

Metal cans and glass jars are used for packaging shelf-stable foods, which are processed with steam or hot water to kill spoilage and disease-causing bacteria. Pioneering WSU technology relies instead on microwaves to kill bacteria in foods. Since metal cans and microwaves don’t mix, and glass is too dense, plastic packaging is preferred.

But plastic affords a shorter shelf life compared to metal and glass because it doesn’t block oxygen and water vapor well. Sablani, an associate professor in biological systems engineering, and his team will incorporate oxygen- and water vapor-absorbing materials into plastic polymers to create better storage bags.

The team includes WSU professor Juming Tang, U.S. Army scientists, researchers at Bowling Green State University and Kuraray America Inc. The grant is from the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture.