There’s a persistent urban legends that the American snack cake, Twinkies, actually last forever due to the amount of preservatives they contain.  This myth seems to have been de-bunked and most estimates claim the real number is 25 days.

Canned Spam, on the other hands, is apparently good for around 10 years. I suspect this is an under-estimate. In the Well This Is What I Think household we recently ate some where the can label was printed in runes, and it was just fine.

“Fresh as the day she was landed, guv. Stand on me. Would I lie to you?”

Joking aside, food spoilage is a significant problem: 30% of all food in America, for example, spoils before being eaten and estimates are as high as 70% in developing nations.  Imagine if we could increase the amount of available food in the developing world by that 70%! Conquering this problem would not only mean a lot more people wouldn’t go hungry, but also the huge amounts of energy used in food production and transportation would not be burned off to no good purpose.

Spoilage is usually caused by bacteria.  New techniques for controlling bacteria place food in a plastic pouch and subject it to very high pressure (87,000 psi).  According to a recent Time article, fruit treated this way remained fresh for three years and a pork chop tasted ‘normal’ seven years later. The bride recently enjoyed a piece of cajun salmon which was suck-wrapped in a container that took fully ten minutes to get into and pronounced it delicious. Just think of all the extra exercise we’d get opening the packaging, too.

This technique could not only improve food safety but also significantly reduce the vast amount of energy we use to cool and store foods. Instead of all the bleating we hear in favour or against carbon taxes – or even, still, whether or not man-made global climate change is real (as my mother used to say, “There is none so blind as those who will not see”) – our governments and industries would do the world a big favour if they were to invest in such technologies, make them “tax advantageous” to overcome short-term cost implications for the food manufacturers, and thus see them used more widely.

The new packaging could also reduce – or eliminate the reason for – young people’s recent enthusiasm for “dumpster diving”. We have at least two nearby families whose young adults delight in invading the rubbish bins of nearby supermarkets for food that is past its “Use By” date but which they consider still edible. Some dumpster divers, who self-identify as freegans, aim to reduce their ecological footprint by living exclusively from dumpster dived goods.

We applaud the practical morality of these young people. Bravo. We just don’t visit their folks for dinner any more. Salmonella is such an unpleasant take-home gift.

Mind you, dumpster divers highlight a serious problem that would be addressed by breakthroughs in sterile packaging.

Irregular, blemished, or damaged items that are still otherwise functional are regularly thrown away. Discarded food that might have slight imperfections, that is near its expiration date, or that is simply being replaced by newer stock is often thrown away despite being still edible. Many retailers are reluctant to sell this stock at reduced prices due to the belief that people will buy it instead of the higher priced newer stock, that extra handling time is required, and that there are liability risks.

There now, bet you never knew an article on packaging could be interesting, right?

Nom, nom, nom.

PS  Here are some other popular myths about Twinkies for our American readers.

  1. Myth: Twinkies aren’t baked, but extruded in a process where sponge cake is made from a chemical reaction that causes a cake-like material to foam up, then coloured dark brown at the bottom to give the appearance of being baked.
    Fact:
    Twinkies are in fact baked and their primary ingredients are flour, sugar, and eggs.
  2. Myth: Twinkies contain a chemical used in embalming fluid which helps account for some of their extreme longevity.
    Fact: No, they don’t have any such thing.
  3. Myth: The Twinkie will last longer than the cellophane wrapper they’re wrapped in.
    Fact: After 25 days they get stale and go bad in a similar fashion to any other bread (supports the baked fact also).
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