LSG Group’s Space Food: How it is produced and what is worth to know

Jörg Hofmann; ESA Space Food

When ESA astronaut Matthias Maurer leaves for the International Space Station (ISS) at the end of 2021, the LSG Group will ensure that, in addition to the standard space food, he will have his favorite dishes with him in space. This is the second time since 2018 that the company will produce the “Crew Choice Meals” for an astronaut and provide a taste of home while stationed 400 kilometers above the earth’s surface.

“We look forward to working with ESA again and making Matthias’ time on the ISS more palatable. This is made possible by autoclaving the dishes. The process sterilizes the food and guarantees the necessary shelf life of two years. In addition, as many nutrients are retained as possible.”

Jörg Hofmann, Head of Global Culinary Excellence at LSG Group

Eleven restaurateurs from Maurer’s home state will compete for the most votes to determine which dishes the Saarland-native will have with him on the ISS. (Click here to find out more about the competition and how you can be involved.) The LSG Group will subsequently prepare them such that they can be sent to the ISS safely and perfectly seasoned. 

Questions and answers

What is autoclaving?
Autoclaving is the only reliable sterilization method that uses high-pressure steam and is, above all, the safest method. Water is heated in a closed pressure vessel, also known as the autoclave or steam sterilizer, and kills endospores with steam temperatures of 120 degrees Celsius for 120 minutes. The end product is germ-free, i.e. free of reproductive microorganisms in either their dormant stages or permanent forms (e.g. spores). Autoclaving also ensures the retention of as much vitamins and nutrients as possible. Comparatively, products of the normal pasteurization process contain significantly fewer vitamins and nutrients.

How are the “Crew Choice Meals” produced?
After autoclaving, compact cans are filled with the mostly pre-cooked components. Astronauts onboard the ISS consume the food directly from the can. The filling weight is approx. 200 grams. Different cooking times of the food have to be taken into account during the preparation, as they will once again be exposed to heat during the autoclaving process. Goulash, for example, should be 80 percent cooked, but the pasta side dish should only be blanched briefly so that both components will have the right consistency after autoclaving.

Which dishes and ingredients are particularly suitable?
Ingredients robust in flavor and consistency are particularly suitable because the dishes are exposed to heat three times and must be able to withstand temperature fluctuations during storage and transport. Stews and braised dishes are recommended because protein, vegetables and starchy foods can be mixed or layered in the can. Goulash, for example, can be layered atop a base of potatoes, and finally topped with a layer of beans and roasted onions.

Which dishes are less suitable?
Due to the food regulations on the ISS, salt must be avoided as far as possible. Vegetables with a high water content, such as zucchini, cucumbers, mushrooms or fresh tomatoes, should also be avoided. Even short-roasted meat is not suitable because autoclaving removes liquid from the food. Sauces are only possible in small quantities and must be bound to ensure that no food particles come loose and float in zero gravity during consumption onboard the ISS.

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