The Role of Food Science in Food Systems Research and Education


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Presented at 2013 Arkansas Association for Food Protection annual conference.

J-F Meullenet
Professor and Head, Food Science
University of Arkansas

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  • First, let me thank the organizing committee and Scott Hurd in particular for inviting me to speak about food systems. In the spirit of full disclosure, I will also admit that I am not an expert on the matter of Food Systems . However, I am a believer in the construct and believe that as the food systems become more complex, food scientists need to be more keenly aware of its intricacies.
  • The concept of modern food systems is not new. We all know about the Farm to Fork or Field to Table catch phrases that have been used and overused. Food system models attempt to describe the relationship between agricultural, industrial, economic, ecological, social and health issues. More recently, the concept of food systems has been expanded to nutrition outcomes, to recognize the that Sustenance and Health are the main outcomes of food systems.
  • Although we originated 150,000 years ago, it was not before 11,000BC that humans shifted from being hunter and gatherers to cultivating crops and domesticating animals for food.Agriculture has been the major driving force in the growth of civilization and has experiences times of prosperity and times of hardship throughout history. Times of hardship came off and on for centuries as growth in food production competed with population growth. However, changing climates, droughts, flooding and diseases have always on food systems.
  • During the 20th century, food systems have dramatically globalized. For the past 50 years, food systems have become extremely specialized and mechanized. Farms for examples, went from being highly diversified in the 1950s to now be highly specialized, often dealing with a single commodity.Tremendous gains in productivity were realized throughout the system from improved genetics and cultural practices to processing and distributionThis has resulted in enormous amounts of food being produced by less than 2% of our population.
  • There are several models used to describe food systems. Food chains are easy to represent but fail to capture the complexity of modern food systems. Food cycles can sometime be appropriate but also have the issue of dealing with complexity. Food webs are probably a more realistic representation but not necessarily easy to interpret.
  • The food and nutrition systems can be divided in 3 sub-systems. The producer sub-system which deals with production aspects of crops and animals as well as the transformation of crops and animals to food (i.e. food processing). The consumer sub-system deals with distribution, retail, preparation and consumption of the food. The nutrition subsystem deals with the transformation of food by the body to provide nutrients. The outcome of the food and nutrition system is wellbeing and health or lack thereof. I will comment here that food scientists deal with the transformation of crop to food at the end of producer sub-system which is a rather narrow scope of the whole system. Food scientists are often well versed in the sciences which make them likely to understand earlier components of the producer sub-system (i.e., production agriculture). However, most food scientists are probably ill-equipped to deal with the consumer and nutrition sub-systems.
  • First, the increased complexities of the systems make them more difficult to control. There is also the issue of public perception (Consumer sub-system) of the food system which is rather poor in this country.Third is the population challenge. By some estimates, food production worldwide will have to increase by 70% to feed the 9-billion people that are projected to occupy the planel by 2050.As a result, scientific and technological advances need to accelerated in time where funding for research is contracting.
  • Up to the 1980s, the research model for food science was commodity based. Some dealt with met science, some with vegetable crops, others with grains. Because of the evolution of the basic sciences, it became necessary for researchers to become specialized in core sciences. However, this came at the expense of knowledge of food systems. This does not necessarily mean that we have regressed as the discipline model has allowed for a much greater understanding about the science in food. To maintain the same level of research relevance to the food system, multi-disciplinary collaborations have become crucial.
  • We believe that placing food processing at the center of research efforts will result in greater relevance to the food industry and greater potential for multidisciplinary. This is a model that I have promoted with my colleagues as a way to create collaborative research efforts. I believe that we have made significant strides in our department.
  • The 19th and 20th century were times of great progress in food processing.
  • If we go back to the Food and Nutrition system discussed earlier, I believe that the 5 core science disciplines of food science are essential to answering food systems research questions. However, the model centered around food processing is not sufficient and we need to be aware of what happens before and after a food is processed.
  • I believe that research in food safety probably spans the greatest proportion of the Food and Nutrition system out of all the core food science disciplines…from breeding for crops or animals that may be more or less susceptible to pathogen hosting to production practices that may impact microbial ecology, to processing technologies to control pathogens, to distribution and retail systems minimizing food safety issues, to employee and consumer education, to traceability. The food safety discipline embodies the need for system research.
  • I would argue that we are not doing very well…at least not enough. Overall, there is not enough time within a bachelor’s degree to learn it all. Since I started my career, the number of hours required to graduate with a BS degree decreased by 12 hours or four 3 hour classes. These classes were critical to broaden students’ viewpoint. The end result is the devaluation of a bachelor’s degree and the increased necessity to attend graduate school.
  • These are our department’s educational goals for a BS in Food Science. The first 4 are technical while the last 2 are soft skills necessary to be successful in industry. There is not mention here about food systems except for Goal 2 or understanding agriculture or distribution, retail, consumers and very little about nutrition and people we feed.
  • What would it take to ensure that our students understand food and nutrition systems? Graduates that understand production agriculture issues that are relevant to careers in the food industry, graduates who understand distribution and retail channels, who demonstrate knowledge of retail and food service industries, understand factors influencing consumer attitudes and behaviors, demonstrate knowledge of factors contributing to health and wellness in developed and developing countries and are knowledgeable about challenges facing worldwide food systems. I am not sure how we mange the implementation but achieving this would yield more competent food scientists.
  • If you really want to get in the complexities of food systems…this should get you started. Thank you.
  • The Role of Food Science in Food Systems Research and Education

    1. 1. THE ROLE OF FOOD SCIENCE IN FOOD SYSTEMS RESEARCH AND EDUCATION JF Meullenet Professor & Head, Food Science Arkansas Association for Food Protection, 9/11/13
    2. 2. WHAT IS THE FOOD SYSTEM ?  The concept is widely used to describe the broad set of activities involved in providing food for sustenance.  The series of transformations involved in food systems have been characterized by statements such as FARM to FORK, FIELD to TABLE or LAND to MOUTH  Models for food systems are conceptual tools for thinking about relationships between agricultural, industrial, economic, ecological, social, and health issues  The concept of Food System has been extended to Food and Nutrition Systems to recognize that the consumption of food leads to health outcomes
    3. 3. HISTORY OF FOOD SYSTEMS  Homo sapiens originated 150,000 years ago. However, it was not before 11,000 BCE that humans started the shift from hunter gatherers to cultivating crops and domesticating animals for food production.  Agriculture has been a driving force in the growth of civilization but has swayed between times of prosperity and hardship  Increase in global food production competed against population growth (boom and bust, resulting in periodic famines up to the 19th century in Europe)  Changing climates, droughts, flooding, diseases, war
    4. 4. HISTORY OF FOOD SYSTEMS  Throughout the 20th century, food systems have globalized. In the past 60 years, food systems have become more specialized and mechanized  Gains in productivity were realized throughout the system from production practices (specialization) to food processing to distribution  Resulting in enormous amounts of food being produced with minimal amount of labor
    5. 5. FOOD & NUTRITION SYSTEM  Definition: The set of operations and processes involved in transforming raw materials into foods and transforming nutrients into health outcomes, all of which function as a system within biophysical and sociocultural contexts.
    6. 6. TYPES OF FOOD SYSTEMS  Food Chain  Food Cycle  Food Web
    7. 7. FOOD & NUTRITION SYSTEM PRODUCE R subsystem CONSUME R subsystem NUTRITION subsystem Farming systems Genetic improvemen t Communicatio n education Eating behavior Food preparation Food safety/ policies Food technology /processin g Agronomic practices Health, Well-Being Resources Food choices Food distribution Adapted from Sobal, Khan and Bisogni, 1998
    8. 8. CHALLENGES OF MODERN FOOD SYSTEMS  Incredibly vast (global) and complex  Poor public perception in the US:  Uneasiness with technology  Low level of science literacy  Labeling  Increased prevalence of obesity  Use of additives in food  Little knowledge of agriculture and the food processing sector  2050 Population Challenge  Feeding 9 billion people (increase food production by 70%)  Food security gap (half of the food grown in the developing world goes to waste because of the lack of proper handling, processing , packaging and distribution systems)  Energy and Resource conservation (increasing food production in a sustainable manner with require gains in efficiencies throughout the food system)  Accelerating scientific and technological advanced will be necessary to meet the challenge
    9. 9. THE FOOD SCIENCE DISCIPLINE MODEL  Up to the 1980s, most food science departments were commodity based  For the past 30 years, the model has been discipline based  This model does not promote a deep understanding of specific food systems Food Chemistry •Carbohydrates •Proteins •Lipids Biochemistry Food Microbiology Sensory Science Human Nutrition Food Engineering
    10. 10. A model centered around Food Processing / Manufacturing Food Processing/ Manufacturing Food Chemistry Sensory Science Food Engineering Food Microbiology Human Nutrition  Core sciences recognized by IFT.. .  Make us more relevant to industry because food processing is the application  Greater potential for multidisciplinary collaborations
    11. 11. FOOD SCIENCE RESEARCH  To meet the 2050 challenge, the development of technology in agriculture and the food processing sectors need to accelerated.  This will only be possible through redoubling of multidisciplinary research and a more holistic view of research by Food Scientists.  What are the hurdles to overcome?  Developing or redeveloping the food system culture  Attracting talent to food system research  Increase in R&D dollars in academia and the private sector
    12. 12. FOOD SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY  What have we done?  Food processing dates a few years back, started with the beginning of Ag  Drying: 12,000 BC in the middle east and Asia  Fermentation: 10,000 BC beer was born  During the 19th and 20th Century  Drying, canning, chemical conservation and fortification were the major achievement  Nicolas Appert (1806) and Peter Durand (1810, tin can) invented Canning  Pasteurization (1864)  Discovery of vitamins in the early 20th century and importance of micronutrients such as iron, calcium and iodine.  Rickets and vitamin D deficiency  Goiter and iodine deficiency  RDAs were introduced in 1941and led to the introduction of fortified foods  Iodized salt was first introduced in 1924
    13. 13. FOOD SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY  Amazing progress was made in the 20th century in refrigeration and freezing, acidification of foods, our understanding of water activity and food safety, development of irradiation, extrusion, modified and controlled atmosphere, food additives such as nutritive sweetners, packaging  Development continues on emerging processes such as microwave heating, ohmic heating , high-pressure processing, pulsed electric fields
    14. 14. HOW DO WE CONTRIBUTE (AS FOOD SCIENTISTS) TO FOOD SYSTEMS RESEARCH  Work in a team…does not suit everyone…academicians tend to be individualists  Having the right expertise on a research team is essential  Work on big research questions but manageable projects…(e.g. NIFA CAPS are not a good example)  Communicate impact of the research
    15. 15. Food and Nutrition System Producer Consume r Nutrition Food Chemistry & Biochemistry Food Microbiology & Safety Sensory & Consumer Science Food Engineering Nutrition & Health Productio n Breedin g Harves t Processing Manufacture Quality control Distribution Retail Prepar ation Ingestion Health outcome Metabolis m
    16. 16. Producer Consume r Nutrition Commodity production Breeding Harvest Processing Manufacture Quality control Distribution Retail Preparatio n Ingestion Health outcome Metabolism Water energy Agricultural products Ingredients Packaging Sanitation Solid Waste Processing Technologies Function Disease Yield Nutrition Environm ent Seeds Natural resources Animals Water fertilizer Practices Feed Formulation Storage Equipment Transportatio n Disease Obesity Diseases Lifecycle Aging Specs Method s Specs Process Control HACCP Quality Safety Satiety Location Occasion Sensation s Home Waste Energy Equipment Time Food Microbiology & Safety Waste Labeling Food Service Energy Grocery Restaurant Ingredients Shelf- Life Environme nt
    17. 17. HOW DO WE DO AS EDUCATORS?  Degrees in food science prepare students to be competent food scientists. Food Science programs go through an approval process with the Institute of Food Technologists.  However, the curriculum deals very little with food systems  Not enough time in 120hrs to become a competent food scientist and be aware of food system complexities?  I think there are opportunities to improve  Food and Health  Production agriculture  Sustainability
    18. 18. PROGRAM GOALS & OUTCOMES  Program Goal 1: Graduates can demonstrate and apply knowledge of the core competencies in food chemistry and analysis.  Program Goal 2: Graduates understand and apply knowledge pertaining to the microbiology of relevant microorganisms in food systems.  Program Goal 3: Graduates are competent in both the principles and application of food processing and engineering concepts.  Program Goal 4: Graduates are able to apply the principles of Food Science to identify, define, and analyze technical problems and develop solutions to these problems.  Program Goal 5: Graduates have basic skills essential for employment (independent and team work, integrity and ethics, socially aware).  Program Goal 6: Graduates are effective communicators.
    19. 19. IFT & FOOD AND NUTRITION SYSTEMS  IFT does not require broadening electives in production agriculture (animal or plant)  IFT requires one course in nutrition which is probably not adequate to understand the issues.  IFT does not require exposure to logistics, distribution or marketing  Program Goal 7: Graduates understand the complexities of the Food and Nutrition Systems  Outcome 7.1: Understands production agriculture issues that are relevant to careers in the food industry (e.g. production management practices important to ensuring a safe food supply)  Outcome 7.2: Understands distribution and retail channels and logistical issues associated with US and worldwide food distribution systems  Outcome 7.3: Demonstrates knowledge of retail and food service industries  Outcome 7.4: Understands factors influencing consumer attitudes and behavior  Outcome 7.5: Demonstrates knowledge of factors controlling health and wellness in the developed and developing countries  Outcome 7.6: Knowledgeable about challenges facing worldwide food systems
    20. 20. THANK YOU