Food Safety and Nutrition

Current Research

Researchers are developing nanotechnology applications for food safety and quality, optimizing antimicrobial and antioxidant packaging films for foods, and developing biopolymer film applications for foods. They also are seeking new antimicrobials that can be used to control harmful microbes in foods.
Carnosine is a natural antioxidant produced in animal tissue. It has wide medicinal and therapeutic applications as well as antioxidant properties in the body and in food systems. It is used commercially as an anti-aging compound in skin lotions, and the dried extract can be applied in the pet food industry. Researchers are looking for ways to recover carnosine from poultry by-products with the potential to generate $3 million annually.
Because ready-to-eat foods carry pathogenic bacteria that originate from pre- and post- packaging contamination, research is ongoing to develop strategies and processes that can reduce the presence, and the risk, of pathogenic bacteria on foods such as meat, poultry, seafood, fruits, vegetables and nutmeats. Researchers also are developing protocols for animal waste-based composting to ensure the safety of the nation’s food supply.
Researchers are looking for effective antibiotic displacing agents for the treatment of pathogenic infections, and bacteriocins are considered a likely source. Bacteriocins are antimicrobial peptides produced by some bacteria, which inhibit the growth of a closely related species of bacteria. Bacteriocins offer an alternative to antibiotics with higher specificity, which is less likely to induce drug resistance in non-targeted pathogens. They also can act as probiotics to improve the health and growth rate of livestock.
Research continues on preventing food deterioration and enhancing the composition of food during storage through “enhancer coatings.” Natural antimicrobials and antioxidants are used to extend the shelf life of meat products, focusing on bio-based films and coatings. A second approach is using the coatings with natural phenolic compounds to extend the shelf life of fruits and vegetables and to enhance the presence of natural phenolic antioxidants produced by the stored produce.
The presence of red discoloration in fully cooked turkey gives the impression that the product is undercooked and unsafe for human consumption. This results in millions of pounds of returned products, lost sales and lost customers. Researchers are developing a model to analyze various methods to eliminate or reduce the discoloration in fully cooked turkey and prevent losses. In addition, approximately 4.3 million turkeys are deemed not for human consumption and removed from the processing chain each year. In 5% of the birds, this is caused by bruising and tissue discoloration. Research is also underway to identify methods to minimize bruising injuries and prevent losses.
Work is underway to develop sensing and analytical devices to detect pathogens that affect agriculture and food safety and security. This requires developing innovative technologies that can probe biological phenomena at the nano scale to investigate pathogenicity and pathogen inactivation.
Scientists are developing new shelf stable food packaging systems utilizing retort pouch processing. This approach could offer consumers improved product quality and extended shelf life. There is also a potential for lower energy consumption versus freezing or refrigeration to produce shelf stable low acid food. Finally, flexible packaging could reduce packaging waste compared to traditional rigid packaging.

Outputs/Outcomes       

Researchers seeking sustainable packaging materials for celery and pretzels determined that there are sustainable, bio-based materials that could replace existing, non-sustainable materials without adverse effects on the shelf life of the products.
Related to specific interests of packaging manufacturers, it was determined that compost temperature had a greater effect on compostable materials than did moisture content. For example, polyactic acid required a much higher temperature than expected for degradation.