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Understanding food science

In Featured Posts by Prof8 Comments

As we will discuss in class later this week, ensuring that students, from K-12 to college, are science-literate is now recognized as one of the more important missions of our schools and universities.  Given all the issues we’ve discussed this semester, a list that includes organic foods, GMOs, food safety, obesity, and allergens, one can argue that food science literacy is particularly important. Indeed, so important is this topic that the prestigious U.S. National Academy of Sciences convened a workshop in Fall 2015 to address Food Literacy.  The proceedings (down-loadable for free) were then published last year. There were plenty of opinions on how to promote food literacy, from childhood education to training physicians.  Perhaps one of the main challenges was stated by one author as “how to deliver knowledge to people whose lives are too busy for them to take on any more chores”. Credible food-in-the-news stories are published every day on-line and in print newspapers and magazines.  Yet the number of people who actually read those articles is probably a small percent of those that read or “hear …

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Food science goes molecular

In Featured Posts by Prof7 Comments

The topic discussed today “Molecular Gastronomy”, was probably new to many of you.  Although you might not be at all familiar with this, it has been spreading across the cyber-globe.  There are cookbooks, websites, and restaurants that feature this cuisine.  Who knows, maybe it will even get to Nebraska before the end of the decade.  Until then, you will have to learn about in 280 class.  

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When you need results yesterday

In Featured Posts, Front page by Prof8 Comments

In just about every manufacturing industry, whether the products are cars, phones, or foods, it is absolutely essential that finished products meet quality expectations and safety requirements.  However, for food, there is another critical requirement – namely, the methods used to validate safety must also be rapid.  This is because most foods are perishable and have limited shelf-life.  If a microbiological analysis takes five days for an answer before the product can be shipped to retailers, that’s five days of lost shelf-life.  Thus, rapid tests that can deliver an answer in a day or less are now widely used. Note that accuracy and sensitivity cannot be sacrificed for speed.  A false negative result (e.g., when the product tests negative for the presence of a pathogen, but the pathogen is actually present) can be disastrous.  Likewise, a false positive (e.g., the product tests positive, but it’s really negative) can also be costly. Most rapid methods, as some of you will learn in the Food Microbiology course, are based on molecular or immunological principles.  However, the actual tests are not very complicated, …

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Recalls

In Featured Posts, Front page by Prof5 Comments

For reasons we will discuss in class, food recalls are now a very common occurrence.  As mentioned earlier during the allergens unit, most food recalls are for undeclared allergens (e.g., when soy or milk or wheat or other allergenic ingredients) gets inadvertently added to a food.  While these can be serious, the recalls that get the most attention are for pathogens in foods.  Even then, unless the recall is particularly widespread and causes lots of illnesses or deaths, it seems like the public hardly pays attention. Although the FDA and USDA websites post recalls, one of the best sites for a daily check on the most current recalls is the Food Safety News website, maintained by the Bill Marler law firm (Marler Clark).  There you can see that since November 1, there were 13 recalls due to pathogenic organisms.  Included were Listeria in cheese, green beans and seafood, Salmonella in papayas, E. coli in salad, and Staphylococcus in chicken strips. For some of these, the contamination was detected before anyone got sick, but in other cases, the recall was prompted …

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Thankful for food safety

In Featured Posts by Prof8 Comments

This is the time of years when the food sections of nearly every newspaper will contain articles on food safety and tips to make sure your holidays are disease-free. No matter, the odds are there will be plenty of day-after stories of people eating undercooked turkey, raw oysters, or some other ill-prepared or contaminated food. One of the questions we will address is who exactly is responsible for foodborne disease outbreaks. Is it the consumer who may not have followed the instructions? Or is it the manufacturer, processor, restaurant, or retailer who sold contaminated foods? What about the government who is supposed to keep us safe? Another issue we will discuss concerns the issues of safety and the level of risk we are willing to assume. Can foods ever be 100% safe? What level of exposure is reasonable? If the government said no food (raw or otherwise) could contain any Salmonella or Campylobacter, none of us will be eating turkey next week.  

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The $99 gut microbiome

In Featured Posts by Prof10 Comments

We’ve been talking in class about the bacteria that live in your intestinal tract – how they get there, their role in various diseases, and how to shift the microbial population to promote better health.  Of course, before trying to change your gut bacteria, it might help to know what’s actually there.  Doing so is not as difficult as you might think.  In fact, if you have $99, you can have your gut analyzed and get a profile of your very own microbiota. So far, more than 6,000 people have joined the “American Gut Project”.  It’s very easy to participate – they send you a sample kit, you collect the sample, mail it back, and wait for the results.  One has to be careful, however, about interpreting the data.  For example, how would you react if you learned you were harboring bacteria associated with particular diseases?  Bioethicists are also concerned about privacy issues.  Nonetheless, collecting data from thousands of people is great for scientists who are studying the gut.  

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For real

In Featured Posts by Prof4 Comments

As noted at the end of Monday’s lecture, there is now a rather unconventional medical practice being used to treat antibiotic-resistant Clostridium difficile infections.  This organism, called “C. diff” in the popular press, causes a truly miserable disease.  Patients that have this organism in their gut can be chronically ill, with a terrible quality of life.  In severe cases, the infection can be so bad that removal of the colon is sometimes the only remedy. A few years ago, a handful of medical researchers developed a novel idea – why not replace the gut microbiota of these C. difficile patients with gut contents from healthy donors.  When I say “gut contents” you should realize that I am referring to poop.  Guess what?  It works.  As a matter of fact, these so-called Fecal Microbiota Transplants (FMT) work great, with success rates of 90% or higher. Scientists are now creating fecal banks – collections of gut bacteria from donors that can be stored away and used to treat patients without having to round up fresh material.  They are like blood banks.  There …

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Now showing

In Featured Posts by Prof11 Comments

Films about foods and beverages have long been popular, in part because of how familiar the subjects are to film-goers.  Of course, there are documentary and non-documentary films, with many of the latter actually about something other than food.  Some of my favorites include: Sideways, a buddy movie, a road movie, and a love story, all told while the protagonists make their way through the California wineries and restaurants. Julie and Julia, a past and present film about the famous TV chef, Julia Child. Waitress, a movie about love, marriage, and pies. Chocolat (needs no further description!) Chef, Big Night, and The Hundred-Foot Journey are great movies about restaurants and chefs. There are also plenty of provocative documentary films about food.  Many have an obvious political viewpoint (like Fed Up, Food Inc., and Supersize Me).  It’s important to watch these films with a critical eye, as there are many counter-arguments that can be made contrary to the views of the film-maker. In any event, I imagine you have your own list of favorite movies about food.  Yes?  

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GMOs on campus

In Featured Posts by Prof7 Comments

Think of all of the contemporary issues in food science, and GMOs are probably at the top of the list.  Here in America’s farm belt, genetically modified (GM) agricultural crops like corn and soybeans are as common as, well, as common as a Nebraska cornfield.  Of course, when corn and soybeans are GM, the hundreds or thousands of food products and food ingredients made from those commodities are also GM. Needless to say, there are a considerable number of consumers opposed to GM technology.  While most consumers have gone happily on their way eating these products, others have sought out GMO-free products. This has led to an entire market devoted to non-GMO foods.  New labeling laws for identifying GM and non-GM foods will eventually go into effect. As we discuss the GMO issue, it is important  to take the emotion out of the discussion and focus on the science.  In the meantime, I encourage you to attend the Evolution of Food  film on Tuesday evening at 6:30 in the Ross Theater.  

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Bad and getting worse

In Featured Posts, Obesity by Prof10 Comments

I know we have already covered the obesity topic, but the CDC just released their obesity report for 2016 and the news is bad, really bad.  Instead of reducing the adult obesity rate, its actually increased – up to nearly 40%.  For middle-aged adults, its above 40%.  Time to go back to the drawing board and come up with some fresh ideas, because whatever we’ve tried to slow down this trend is clearly not working.

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The western food industry in the developing world

In Featured Posts by Prof7 Comments

We discussed how the food industry can play an important role in addressing the world hunger problem.  Food scientist certainly know how to preserve foods and reduce spoilage and waste.  Food scientists know how to develop pasteurization and other technologies to make sure foods and beverages are safe. One concern of some nutritionists, however, is that some food companies may also view the developing world as just another market.  As noted in this recent article (October, 2016), they suggest that globalization, urbanization, and technological progress may lead to many of the same Western diseases that afflict the developed world. In other words, they ask, does the introduction of salty snack foods or sugary beverages really improve the lives of the intended populations?  They contend that sales of highly processed foods in Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East grew at rates 25 – 30 times that of North America.  Soon they predict, obesity will be a problem, even while malnutrition remains a serious problem. It will certainly be a challenge for people in developing countries to avoid western diet temptations.  …

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Global warming and Prof’s nightmare

In Featured Posts by Prof9 Comments

As noted in class, climate change is already affecting important agricultural products.  Whether its drought or warming or sunlight hours, these changes can have profound effects on crops as well as in animal agriculture.  Unfortunately, several of these products are very dear to me, personally. Among the products perhaps most sensitive to a change of just a degree or two are wine grapes.  Interestingly, as noted in a series of  recent papers from 2016, there will be winners and losers.  The reason why Cabernet Sauvignon grapes do well in Bordeaux, for example, is because the temperature, moisture, and sunlight hours are perfect for that particular grape cultivar in that specific region of France.  If the climatic conditions are altered, then those grapes will not have the proper level of sweetness, acidity, or color necessary to make a good Bordeaux wine.  The same considerations exist for other grapes grown throughout the rest of the world.  Of course, as the temperature rises, colder regions (Nebraska?) may become the “new” Napa Valley. Then there are my two other “cannot-get-through-the-day-without” foods – coffee and …

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The Food Allergen Generation

In Featured Posts by Prof12 Comments

Throughout the semester we’ve discussed how food science has changed in the past century, the past 50 years, and even since you guys entered the scene 20 years ago. To this point, the food allergen issue is one you’ve been hearing about probably since you were in 1st grade.  But for your parents’ generation (and certainly mine), we never heard of food allergies and never knew someone who could get sick (or die) from eating peanuts.  Before your generation, there was no labeling and the food industry paid little attention to this issue. This situation, as you know, is completely different.  Next week, Dr. Steve Taylor will explain how we got to this point.  He will also lead you through case studies so you have a sense of the sometimes difficult decisions a food company could have to make when faced with the prospect of multi-million dollar recalls.  

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Biofuels of the future

In Featured Posts by Prof1 Comment

Next week, we will discuss the so-called “food versus fuel” issue.  Briefly, the issue addresses the practical, economic, and environmental questions related to the use of corn, soybeans, and other food crops for biofuels.  Of course, perhaps the most importantly issue is the moral question of whether food crops should be used at all for biofuels, given the  world hunger problem. Many plant, energy, and other scientists have long argued that other crops be used for biofuels.  Specifically, these so-called “energy crops” are defined as cellulosic plants that can be grown at low-cost, with few inputs and little maintenance for the expressed purpose to be used as biofuels.  They contain enough potential energy (i.e., carbohydrates that can be fermented to ethanol) to make economic sense.  Examples include woody or herbaceous plants and grasses (like switchgrass that grows so well in Nebraska). The challenge is that these crops must still be processed to convert the cellulose into fermentable sugars.  One possible way to address these concerns is via biotechnology.  I suppose that would make the biofuel GM, but would that really …

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Not your father’s food choice

In Featured Posts by Prof2 Comments

The food business operates on tight margins, meaning that the difference between the cost of the goods and what it receives from the sale of those goods is small.  Still, if a company can sell a lot of product, they can be profitable. As noted in this report, many of the great American food companies that sold iconic food products are now faced with sluggish sales and sagging profits.  This includes Cheerios and other breakfast cereals we grew up eating, Coca Cola, the taste that refreshes, and Kraft Mac and Cheese.  You might remember that the manufacturer of Twinkies even went bankrupt a few years ago. Now comes news of declining sales of another iconic American food product – Campbell’s Soup.  According to this report, even their organic line has been hurting. Business experts have suggested that Millennials simply do not share the same brand loyalty as their parents and grandparents, at least for food.  iPhones are another story. Nonetheless, this may explain why small food brands, especially those for natural, organic or healthy products are so popular among Millennials.  …

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Food icons go organic

In Featured Posts by Prof6 Comments

The list is long, so hold on to your peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  As we will discuss in class, the organic category has become so large that almost every major food company has introduced their own organic product line.  Below are some of the most recognizable food products, each with their own organic version. Hunts Tomatoes Healthy Choice frozen meals Orville Redenbachers popcorn Pam cooking spray Gatorade Heinz catsup Heinz beans Triscuit Ritz Fig Newton Chips Ahoy Dole bananas Welch’s grape juice Rice Krispies Raisin Bran Lay’s Potato Chips Tostitos Cheetos Gerber’s baby food Dannon yogurt Campbell’s Soup Lean Cuisine frozen meals Pepperidge Farm Goldfish Smucker’s jelly Smucker’s peanut butter Tropicana orange juice  

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Organic everything – way beyond chocolate cake

In Featured Posts by Prof9 Comments

As we begin our discussion on organic foods, we will address the reasons why so many consumers are willing to pay a premium for these foods.  One of the main reasons is that organic foods are thought by consumers to be healthier than conventional foods.  We will review the actual data on this question, but regardless, this perception certainly exists. It’s interesting that by attaching an “organic” label to a food, it suddenly becomes healthy.  Cookies, cake, ice cream, candy bars, potato chips – you name it, there is bound to be an organic version. From the “you can’t make this up” file, there is even organic cigarettes.  Indeed, according to this article published last September, in the tobacco-growing state of Virginia, tobacco has become the main organic commodity produced in that state.  There are now more farms and more sales in Virginia for tobacco than poultry or milk. Now I know organic versions of wine and beer are available, but as I was writing this I thought what could possibly be next.  Organic marijuana, perhaps?  Sure enough, it’s available in …

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More bad news for the soda industry

In Featured Posts, Obesity by Prof7 Comments

One third of Americans are now obese and another third are overweight.  Diabetes rates are not far behind.  Childhood obesity and diabetes, almost unheard of 50 years ago, have reached alarming levels. There is a lot of blame to go around – from fast food restaurants to school lunch and other government programs that encourage unhealthy diets.  Of course, the packaged foods industry has also received a lot of the blame. Soda pop producers have been especially singled out by many nutritionists and public health professionals for their role in promoting obesogenic diets.  I will be discussing this more on Wednesday, but most of you already know how pervasive pop consumption is in the U.S. and how many calories we consume as  sports drinks, soda pop, and other sugary beverages.  Even with consumers cutting back on their pop consumption, each one of us still drinks, on average, more than 35 gallons per year. Last year, a major controversy on this very topic occurred after the prestigious journal JAMA Internal Medicine published an study critical of the sugar industry.  Specifically, that …

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Pay now or pay later

In Featured Posts by Prof5 Comments

Obesity is not the only so-called life-style disease, but it certainly is the poster child for such diseases.  That’s because nearly every other life-style disease, from type 2 diabetes to heart disease, hypertension, and cancer, are all related to an obesogenic life-style. To remind you, life-style diseases are those caused by daily habits and our regular routine. The main contributing factors are poor diet, lack of exercise, and general physical inactivity.  Even posture (i.e., sitting at your desk at work and your couch at home) and poor sleep habits are part of the syndrome. This means that successful solutions to the obesity problem will not likely be based only on dietary changes.  Rather, we (meaning future food scientists as well as public health experts) will need to be broad-thinking and creative in order to change entire life-styles. It may be naïve to suggest that building more sidewalks, bike trails, and public swimming pools and playgrounds have a role in the obesity issue, but that is exactly the discussion we need to have.  Likewise, incentives for grocery stores to open locations …

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Our sorry state of obesity

In Featured Posts by Prof2 Comments

Every year, obesity data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control are presented as a report called the “State of Obesity”.  The 2017 report was released last week.  The news is mostly bad. For example, more than one-third (nearly 38%) of U.S. adults are now considered obese.  For women it’s even worse (40%). The rates also vary considerably state-to-state, with Colorado the lowest (22%) and West Virginia the highest (38%).  Indeed, of the top ten heaviest states, 8 are in the South. Nebraska, if you are interested, ranks in the middle. As we will discuss in class, obesity is correlated with other health conditions, including diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.  Childhood obesity is especially alarming.   That’s why this is the most serious public health problem in the U.S. We can argue all day about whether or not food scientists have contributed to this problem.  However, we can also consider ways that food scientists might contribute solutions to this problem.  This is also why we will devote several lectures to this topic.