Saturday, January 26, 2013


Some years ago an entrepreneur of Indian origin with a wadof money and some innovative ideas landed in the country and started exploring the possibility of setting up shop to manufacture packed foods, ready to "heat and eat", with high hopes. Unfortunately the venture did not last long, forcing an early closure without a single packet ever being produced. Whether he was an unscrupulous investor with dishonest intentions or a genuine business man gone bankrupt under Indian conditions is still a mystery! But the idea of ready to "heat and eat" food portfolio, largely relevant to the armed forces, remained a distant dream. Now comes the news that "self heating" food cans are being promoted in the US which are considered very convenient especially during winter season for those travelling. Here is a take on this new development.

Last February, the world welcomed its first self-chilling beverage. Of course, a self-chilling beverage was only of so much interest during a time when much of the world's population could just step outside its door and chill its own beverages in the open air – June might have been a better time for that one. What folks could use during the cold season is a beverage container that automatically warms its contents. That container is called the Hot Can. The double-chambered aluminum Hot Can contains the beverage or soup in its outer chamber, and a mix of water and calcium oxide in its inner chamber. When activated, the water and calcium oxide mix, causing an exothermic reaction that heats the beverage by a total of 50 to 55 degrees Celsius in about three minutes. This means that a drink which starts out at room temperature (20ºC/68ºF) heats up to 70ºC (158ºF) – from a cold cup of mud to a piping hot cup of coffee. A polypropylene outer shell insulates the beverage for about 45 minutes and protects the hands from burns. Using the Hot Can sounds pretty easy. You turn it upside down, remove the protective tab and press the button to begin the heat reaction. Then you shake it for 20 to 30 seconds and stand it upright until it heats up. The heat indicator label lets you know it's hot and ready with a green emblem. If it should get too hot, a red warning sign activates instead. Because the Hot Can adds a set amount of heat to any beverage, it's designed to be stored at room temperature. Storing it in the refrigerator will mean it won't heat up to a warm drinking temperature, while storing it in a hot environment like a car in the hot sun will cause burn risks. Storing it below 5ºC (41ºF) can damage the heating element. The Hot Can could be super-useful for everyday use as well as for specific purposes. You could grab a coffee on the way out the door to work without ever having to brew a pot or stop off at a shop. Hikers, backpackers and other outdoor users could enjoy a hot drink without worrying about lighting a stove or fire".

Self-chilling and self heating food packs can be a little more expensive but should be affordable to those who value convenience and time. An interesting exothermic chemical reaction that occurs in nature has been harnessed to design a container that can be used for heating foods and beverages without the intervention of fire or power in any form. If and when these containers are offered in the market, probably they can be used for warming the already prepared food though it cannot be reused. Probably they can be single use containers suitable for soups and beverage industry to pack their products.


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