“We need to supplement nutrition to our frontline workers. They may have skipped meals for work making them vulnerable to diseases during this health crisis”, told Dr. Elizabeth Parac, College Dean of the Caraga State University-College of Agriculture and Agri-Industries (CSU-CAA), in an interview. 

The need to help the health workers to be at their fittest during the pandemic challenged the food technologists of the Caraga Food Innovation Center (FIC) at CSU to initiate a dietary intervention for the frontliners in Butuan City and neighboring areas. They produced “InstaCaldo” – a processed version of the Filipino comfort food Arroz Caldo or Chicken Rice Porridge usually cooked by mothers for kids with fever. Prepared as an instant formulation, the Instacaldo suits the need for easier consumption and longer shelf-life. 

Arroz Caldo is made of rice, chicken, carrots, ginger, scallions, white onions and garlic. It has nutrients such as protein, carbohydrates, dietary fiber, vitamins and minerals making it a powerfood.  

In 2014, the Department of Science and Technology-Industrial Technology Development Institute (DOST-ITDI) developed ready-to-eat chicken arroz caldo meal, dubbed “A Pack of Hope”, to address immediate food requirements during disasters [DOST cooks up a ‘pack of hope’ for hungry disaster victims]. This is one of the inspirations for “InstaCaldo”.  With the limited time, budget and equipment, FIC modified the process and came up with the rich instant soup-in-a-cup to supplement dietary needs of COVID-19 frontliners. 

Since the homemade soup is prone to spoilage due to its high moisture content, the Caraga FIC used freeze drying and dehydration processes to improve its shelf-life. DOST-developed food processing equipment provided through the funds from DOST-PCIEERD were used to make “InstaCaldo” easier to consume. All it needs is boiling water, about three minutes of stir and it’s ready to eat. 

The CSU Office of the Vice President for Research and Extension approved and funded the project for immediate start of the production in the second week of March, 2020. As of writing, the first batch, about 60 cups, have been delivered to the Department of Health Caraga for COVID 19 frontliners.

INSTANT ARROZ CALDO. (Left) DOH representative receives the first batch of “InstaCaldo”(Right) Photo via College of Agriculture and Agri-industries, CSU

Mr. Genesis Jared Cumatora, Director of Caraga Food Innovation Center said they target to produce 350 cups as a dietary intervention to Butuan City frontline workers. “Although we don’t promise to mass produce since our process is not optimized, we try our best to help”, the director told DOST Caraga. 


Not your ordinary snack 

With donations from faculty and staff of Caraga FIC and CSU, a protein-packed snack dubbed “Manna Bar” was developed by the FIC to boost the immune system of medical and security frontliners amid COVID-19. “Manna” means food from heaven. It also symbolizes an unexpected aid, benefit or assistance”, Mr. Cutamora, FIC Director said. 

Manna Bar is made of mung beans (powdered), malunggay, honey, rolled oats, cashew nuts, sesame seeds, raisins vanilla, and salt. It contains essential nutrients mostly proteins, vitamins, iron, and healthy fats that can supplement nutrient requirements of the body. Like “InstaCaldo”, it has no preservatives and sugar added. 

Since “InstaCaldo” is a bit expensive, this serves as a more affordable alternative. “We have malunggay in our organic farm here in the college. Most of the ingredients are locally acquired so we can cut the cost. As long as it has the important nutrients so we can help provide energy to the frontliners in this time of crisis”, Dr. Elizabeth told. 

FOR THE FRONTLINERS. (Left) FIC staff and CAA faculty packaging the first batch of “Manna Bar”. (Right) Distribution of the product to police checkpoints. Photo via College of Agriculture and Agri-industries, CSU

“Manna Bar” also takes less time to make. Since they started production, they have reached 275 packs of the 350 targets. They delivered 125 packs to DOH Caraga and remaining packs were distributed to police checkpoints in Brgy. Ampayon, Antongalon, Sumilihon, and Taguibo.

As of today, they have improvised labels and packaging materials due to lack of resources since the implementation of Enhanced Community Quarantine in Butuan City. Director Cutamora said that although they lack resources, they enjoy improving and working with these products so they can use it in the future. 


Starting point for research and development 

“We, as agriculturists and food scientists, have a role in food security issues. That’s why we take advantage of this as preparation and starting point for future development”, Dr. Parac said. 

Slowly, they are improving some aspects of the products to see the viability of future production. They assume this initiative is a good starting point to address emergency food response, food security, research and development including extension in the region. 

The dean believes she has a good team and these products have a lot of potential in the future. “We will continue to find solutions to this kind of problems even after the health crisis”, Dr. Parac added. 

Director Cutamora said they prepared proposals for the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) and other agencies that are willing to fund and donate for future production. “We also encourage other food innovation centers in the country to plan about locally produced products and innovate with available resources to address issues like this”, Director Cutamora told DOST Caraga. 

The FIC and CAA team would like to thank the COVID-19 frontliners for the hard work, the university and Caraga Food Innovation Center for the support in making this initiative possible.

Written by Dionard N. Mendova, S&T Promotions Unit

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