NC1023: Engineering for food safety and quality
Statement of Issues and JustificationISSUES
With an increasing demand by consumers for fresh-like, healthy, nutritious and safe food, the US food processing industry is continually challenged. Furthermore, emerging pathogenic microorganisms, tolerant to conventional treatment methods, create a demand for improved and novel food processes. The industry must constantly redefine technology to assure wholesomeness in processed foods. Thus, new and existing technologies must meet the challenge and play a pivotal role in improving the quality of value-added food products. Without extensive research, it would be difficult for the industry to meet these demands. To effectively compete in the global markets, the US food industry requires ready access to the scientific knowledge, well prepared personnel with appropriate skills, and a continuous dialog between academic researchers and industry practitioners. Collaborations among engineers, food scientists and other experts across the nation can effectively address these needs of the industry by advancing technologies through research, preparing our future work force through educating the students, and bridging the gap between research and implementation through outreach. The stakeholders impacted by this project will include the food industry, federal regulatory agencies, and consumers.
NC-1023 MISSION STATEMENT
The mission of this multistate project is to advance technologies for the purpose of improving food safety, quality and security. This will be accomplished by virtue of collaboration and synergy among participating experiment stations and disciplines. The research outcomes of this project will be used to enhance education and outreach programs for stakeholders.
The strong collaborative nature of the NC-1023 Committee over the years (as NC-136 in the past) has been central asset to its continued success. Its collaborative structure enables the experiment stations to share knowledge, personnel and research facilities to achieve their objectives in an efficient manner. It offers opportunities to solve the emerging issues in a timely fashion and develop appropriate measures for immediate implementation. Changing economic, social, and demographic conditions around the world have created an increased demand for food products with higher sensory quality, increased convenience, advanced delivery systems, and safer and more nutritious foods. The greatest challenge to the food industry is to keep pace with new technological advances and consumer trends. Increasing societal problems like obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular illnesses and cancer have created demand for food products with health claims. The increase in market share by organic foods and popularity of dietary supplements cannot be ignored. The need to improve quality while assuring food safety and retain nutritional value has resulted in a number of alternative thermal and non-thermal preservation technologies. These technologies are under investigation with the aim of producing high-value end products. New and exciting trends in science, including systems biology, nanotechnology, and nutragenomics, are changing the way in which engineers and scientists address issues such as process efficiency, product safety and quality. As demand for new food products containing bioactive compounds are increasing, reliable means to characterize the effectiveness of these ingredients as well as their interactions with other base ingredients are urgently needed. Rapid methods based on optical and/or biological sensing techniques for real-time evaluation of food systems during processing and storage must be investigated.
The NC-1023 Committee, which initially focused on thermal processes (as NC-136), has increased its focus during the last 5-year cycle on the study of non-thermal processing technologies. During the next 5-year cycle, the emphasis will shift to advancing the processing technologies. A whole new body of knowledge will be developed by integration of engineering principles with molecular biology, biochemistry and microbiology in addition to continued reliance on advances in physics and chemistry. The need for characterizing the biophysical properties, understanding transport processes in food systems and scale-up from the molecular to a commercial scale will continue. Research into solutions that combine non-thermal food processing technologies, biological preservatives (e.g., bacteriocins), and enhanced packaging technologies must continue. Sensor systems are also needed in real time applications for process control and endpoint prediction. Systems that can provide real-time detection of food-borne pathogens will be investigated. Mathematical modeling will continue to play increasing roles in industrial research and development as well as efforts by academia to understand food systems during processing and distribution. Modeling efforts will also continue to describe microbial death kinetics for alternative processes to develop better understanding of the interaction of microorganisms with each other, and the environment under processing and storage conditions. In addition to focusing on advancing the technologies, efforts will also be made to develop learning modules to incorporate research findings into the classrooms. The past accomplishments in collaboratively developing learning modules to teach food engineering will be expanded to include development of virtual learning environment that can be deployed across the nation. Proactive measures will be implemented for effective assessment of new learning techniques and identify best pedagogical practices in teaching food engineering to food science students.
The other major emphasis for the project for the next five years is to include an active outreach component. In addition to publishing refereed journal articles, book chapters, books, and conference presentations, there will be increased number of active workshops, and demonstrations of advances in technologies to stakeholders. Specific implementation strategies are being developed through collaborative faculty having outreach responsibilities in various experiment stations.
The capabilities presented by the multi-state collaborative nature of the NC-1023 project provide a unique opportunity to partner research, education and outreach for identification, characterization, development and improvement of modified and novel food products which will positively impact human nutrition and health. Expected impacts of the collaborative efforts are an understanding of the effects of food processing methods on stability and safety of foods; an insight of the functionalities of the food molecules to allow for dramatic improvements in food quality; advances in the modeling complex phenomena in foods; and improved delivery of research information through education and outreach. The NC-1023 plays an important role in keeping US food processors at the forefront of a global industry. This is demonstrated by the number of grants given to the member institutions by the food industry. Agricultural producers and consumers benefit from a competitive and innovative domestic food processing industry. Rapid and substantive progress will be best achieved through the continued sharing of resources and unique capabilities that can be brought to bear through NC-1023.
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