NC1023: Engineering for food safety and quality

(Multistate Research Project)

Status: Active


Consumer demand for healthy, nutritious, and safe foods has redefined food quality attributes and created huge challenges to the US food industry. Food engineering research is tasked to develop new products and new processes to help food industry meet the consumer demands. However, food scientists and engineers must overcome following key technical challenges in order to accomplish their research tasks: (1) emerging food, biological and engineered materials and new pathogenic microorganisms, whose properties are poorly understood; (2) increasing need to develop new types of foods with health benefits; (3) urgent need to develop advanced analytical techniques and mathematical models to evaluate, predict, optimize, and control food processes, quality, and safety; and (4) establishing strategies for sharing and fast dissemination of knowledge developed through the research for the purpose of commercial applications and students and workforce education and training. In addition to these technical issues, there is a strong need for a platform for collaborations among engineers, food scientists and other experts across the nation and for a continuous dialog between academic researchers and industry practitioners. NC1023 is positioned to serve all these needs in the next 5-year project period.

To advance engineering knowledge and technologies for the purpose of improving food safety, quality and security, and enhance health benefits of food products through extensive research in focused areas. This will be accomplished through collaboration and synergy among participating experiment stations and disciplines. The research outcomes of this project will also be used to enhance education and outreach programs for stakeholders.

Engineering research employs advanced techniques and knowledge to develop new processes and products. Modern research is increasingly complex, requires a broad range of skills and talents, and can benefit greatly from networking and collaboration of individual researchers and institutes. 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 attributes. 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 is 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 has increased its focus during the last 5-year cycle on advancing new processing technologies, education, and outreach. During the next 5-year cycle, the project will be focused on characterizing multi-scale physical, chemical and biological properties of food, biological and engineered materials using advanced analytical techniques and instruments; developing new and sustainable technologies to transform raw materials into safe, high quality, health enhanced and value added foods through processing, packaging and preservation; developing mathematical models to understand, predict and optimize for safe and improved quality of foods, and to enhance consumer health; and disseminating knowledge developed through research and novel pedagogical methods to enhance student and other stakeholder learning and practice.

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 in-depth understanding of the physical, chemical and biological properties of food, biological and engineered materials and their relationships to processing and product quality and stability; development of new processing and packaging technologies that ensure the sustainability of the US food industry; establishment of advanced models and analytical techniques for understanding, prediction, and control of complex phenomena in foods and processes; and improved sharing and 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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