Preserving perishables

April 5, 2009

When the cruise began, each meal included a salad bar stocked with fresh pineapple, carrots, mango, avocado, melon slices, radishes, and a variety of greens. A self-serve refrigerator was stocked with fresh juices, milk, plums, peaches, apples, oranges, and pears. Though we have been out at sea for more than a month, the salad bar, dairy, and fresh fruit are still available. Granted, as time has passed, certain foods have disappeared. Mangoes, pineapples, and watermelons vanished first, followed by romaine lettuce. Fresh items on the salad bar have been replaced by canned fruit, pickles, olives, and cole slaw. All lettuce varieties except iceberg are now gone. Still, everyone has marveled at how long fresh food has lasted. Everyone came up with possible explanations, including freezing, refrigeration, or storage in a special gas environment that slows spoiling.

Crates of plums slowly ripen in a chilled cold room in the galley. Behind sits ultra-pasteurized chocolate milk. Photo by Amanda Kahn.

Crates of plums slowly ripen in a chilled cold room in the galley. Behind sits ultra-pasteurized chocolate milk. Photo by Amanda Kahn.

A tour and interview with Alejandra Monje Miranda revealed how avocados persisted two weeks into the cruise, and how fresh milk, peaches, and plums still wait in the self-serve refrigerator. Fruits and vegetables were bought at various stages of ripeness, then chilled and stored in cold rooms to prevent spoiling. Bananas were made into banana bread after they became too ripe to eat. Frozen meat is stored in a separate cold room. Canned and frozen vegetables are also common, though the galley avoids using them when fresh food is still available. Milk is ultra-pasteurized to increase its shelf life, and is packaged in small-volume containers that can be consumed quickly once they are opened.

So far, we have been incorrect every time we’ve tried to predict how long a fresh item would last. Everyone hopes that fresh food will continue to the end of the cruise.

—Amanda Kahn