In 2012, the Department of Food Science celebrates its 50th birthday. It was established in 1962 under the administration of LSU President Troy Middleton and College of Agriculture Dean Norman Efferson. Since then, this department has contributed immeasurably to the development and economic viability of Louisiana’s world-renowned food industry.
The first research in this department targeted Louisiana seafood and aquaculture – blue crab, oyster, shrimp and crawfish. Various processing techniques that affected nutritional, chemical and sensory characteristics of seafood, rice, soybeans, peanuts, corn and sugar were also investigated. Research soon turned to food safety and finding uses for seafood and aquaculture processing wastes. This research has continued and has helped contribute to Louisiana’s economy.
“Food scientists deal with food from the farm gate to the dinner plate,” said John Finley, department head since 2007. “No food gets to you that hasn’t been through a food scientist.”
Professor Douglas Park, who became department head in 1994, and Professor Robert Grodner developed a heat and cold shock treatment to significantly reduce Vibrio vulnificus and Vibrio parahaemolyticus in Gulf Coast oysters to a nondetectable level safe for raw consumption. This treatment also reduced naturally occurring Vibrio in shellstock oysters to a nondetectable level. Oysters treated with this process have comparable flavor, aroma and texture to untreated samples, but need to be refrigerated to ensure continued safety and quality. This treatment is known as the AmeriPure Process. In 1997, Louisiana dropped its mandatory retail warning sign requirement for raw oysters that underwent this treatment.
Marlene Janes leads the food safety and microbiology area. She and her team have developed rapid antibody-based methods for enumeration and detection of Vibrio parahaemolyticus and Vibrio vulnificus in seafood products. Another significant piece of Janes’ work is the safety of cooked seafood consumption. Her research revealed that boiling shrimp and crab until they float will significantly reduce foodborne pathogens, and color change must not be used as an indicator to ensure the elimination of foodborne pathogens.
Beilei Ge, who moved to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2011, oversaw a research program focused on molecular approaches to food safety, including rapid detection methods, food safety surveys, and antibiotic resistance mechanisms. Her group published the first U.S. study examining the prevalence of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus in retail meats. They are a recognized leader in using loop-mediated isothermal amplification (LAMP), a novel and rapid molecular method, to detect foodborne pathogens. Their research also contributed greatly to better ensure oyster safety from the Gulf Coast. A patent is pending on using LAMP to detect Shiga toxin-producing E. coli strains in food.
An emphasis has been development of healthier foods with reduced sodium, fat and cholesterol and increased fiber.
“We try to put healthful components into the foods that people already enjoy eating,” Finley said.
The scientists have tried to take advantage of waste byproducts from food processing and find new value for Louisiana commodities. For example, Subramaniam Sathivel, associate professor, has taken biodegradable material from catfish skin that contains a fish attractant for sport fishing, which has also been licensed. He has also developed a cost-effective process to produce purified fish oils enriched with healthy fatty acids.
Professor Joan King developed a process to increase resistant starch in rice and sweet potato starch and showed how functionality of sweet potato and rice starch can be altered with addition of amino acids. She also discovered that lutein could be extracted more easily from corn.
Professor Jack Losso has developed bread enriched with fenugreek, a plant believed to have medicinal value. Clinical trials at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center have shown that consuming two slices of the bread increased insulin sensitivity in individuals with diabetes. Losso has taken the collagen from alligator carcasses and found uses for the cosmetic and food industry. He has a patent for collagen isolation from calcified tissue.
Professor Witoon Prinyawiwatkul is developing salt substitute mixtures that will help reduce people’s daily sodium intake. His work has shown that more than 35 percent of salt in the diet could be replaced with no-sodium salts in various food formulations without compromising sensory acceptability.
Prinyawiwatkul and his international collaborators in Thailand, Mexico and Honduras are developing sensory methods appropriate for children. This is important because children and adults differ in their acceptance and preference of various food products.
Finley and a team have identified a bitterness blocking compound that can be used in a number of food applications without creating off flavor. For instance, it can be used to remove the “beany” flavor of soy beverages without having to add a high level of sugar and to spray on vegetables such as broccoli, Swiss chard and collard greens to mask the bitterness, thus making these products more appealing.
The technology has been licensed to H&B Beverages in Louisiana in their development of a low-calorie sports drink called EX5.
Zhimin Xu’s research is focused on discovering, evaluating and using health promoting compounds in Louisiana agricultural products and byproducts. His work helps increase economic benefits from Louisiana commodities and their byproducts. Xu is an associate professor in the Department of Food Science.
The food industry represents one of the most important areas for economic enhancement of Louisiana. A strong food science research program assists not only existing food processing facilities to remain competitive, but it encourages other industries to locate in the state.
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