"For food to survive on a shelf for a year, it has to be completely free of microbes. Sterilization, though, can turn a meal into something that tastes like dog food."Now to sterilize them. Lin scoops the mash into half a dozen plastic retort pouches, and we ferry them to the lab next door, which is crammed full of food-processing equipment: a smoker, a pizza oven, miscellaneous frying apparatuses, an industrial waffle iron. The pouches go one by one into a vacuum sealer, which sucks all the air out of each package, replaces it with pure, mostly inert nitrogen, and seals the bag shut. From there, we pull on hairnets and proceed into the pilot plant, where the retort sits. It's a heavy rusty barrel with a lid that clamps into place. "When you go to a manufacturing facility, like Campbell's Soup, the retort might look like this, only 50 times as big," Stuckey says.