50 Years of Food Science Research

Linda Benedict, Prinyawiwatkul, Witoon, Finley, John W.  |  6/5/2012 2:03:32 AM

Witoon Prinyawiwatkul, John W. Finley and Damir D. Torrico

In addition to celebrating 125 years of agricultural research since the Hatch Act of 1887, the LSU AgCenter is celebrating 50 years of the Department of Food Science, the only such department of its kind in higher education in Louisiana. In 1962, under the administration of LSU President Troy Middleton and College of Agriculture Dean Norman Efferson, the Department of Food Science and Technology was approved by the LSU Board of Supervisors, and Arthur Novak was named the first department head.

Research Emphasis in 1970s

During this period, an ample volume of research was concentrated on Louisiana seafood and aquaculture – blue crab, oyster, shrimp and crawfish. Robert Grodner led his research team to conduct prevalence surveys of some pathogens and developed rapid methods for the bacteriological analysis of Louisiana shrimp, oysters and crawfish. Joseph Liuzzo and Samuel Meyers investigated several valuable functional compounds recovered from seafood byproducts or processing wastes. Various processing techniques that affected nutritional, chemical and sensory characteristics of seafood, rice, soybeans, peanuts, corn and sugar were also investigated.

Research Emphasis in 1980s

Auttis Mullins became department head in 1980. The research highlights during this decade were food safety and value-added from seafood and aquaculture processing wastes. Grodner continued his research on seafood safety, focusing on destroying some pathogenic bacteria such as Vibrio cholera, Vibrio parahaemolyticus, Vibrio vulnificus and Listeria monocytogenes in seafood using gamma irradiation. Meyers invented a novel process to efficiently extract red pigment “astaxanthin” from chitinous shells and proteinaceous tissues of shellfish. This pigment can be used as an enriched dietary food supplement and in aquatic feeds to enhance reddish orange color in salmon flesh. Other significant research areas included modification of rice flour, bioavailability of iron in beef and beef-soybean mixtures, further processing of frozen peeled crawfish meat, and quality of beef as affected by different processing conditions.

The 1990s and the AmeriPure Process

During this decade, Douglas Park became department head in 1994, and a couple of research breakthroughs took place. First, J. Sam Godber and Zhimin Xu studied various antioxidant compounds in rice bran. They were the first group of scientists to successfully purify and identify components of ?-oryzanol in crude rice bran oil. Some of the components they discovered had not been previously reported in rice bran oil.

Second, Grodner and Park 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. It was not until the late 1990s that the sensory science research program was initiated by Witoon Prinyawiwatkul. He developed a consumer-oriented product optimization technique and has used it to help food industries create value-added products acceptable to consumers.

Research in the 2000s

Michael W. Moody became the fourth department dead in 2001. When he retired in 2007, John W. Finley took over and is the current head. During this decade, food science research increased and became more focused in three areas: Food Safety and Microbiology; Food Processing Technology and Product Development; Food Chemistry and Sensory Sciences.

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. An international company is interested in licensing this technology. 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 was filed recently on using LAMP to detect Shiga toxin-producing E. coli strains in food.

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 with ozonation. She has four patents – two on resistant starch, one on lutein extraction with ozone and one with Jack Losso on a method to destroy aflatoxin. She has a license agreement on the starch patents.

Jack Losso’s research has been focused on functional foods. His research accomplishments can be summarized as follows:

(1) A patent was issued in 2006 on collagen isolation from calcified tissue for cosmetic and food applications. A local investor will be using the technology to develop collagen from alligator carcasses.

(2) A patent was issued on lutein extraction from aflatoxin-free and aflatoxin-contaminated plants and plant products.

(3) Bread enriched with a plant called fenugreek has been developed, and clinical trials at Pennington Biomedical Research Center have shown that consuming two slices of the bread increased insulin sensitivity in individuals with diabetes. A nonprovisional patent was filed in 2010. An agreement with a Louisiana company is in progress for commercial production of fenugreek-enriched bread and food products for the general population.

In addition, Losso edited a book on anti-angiogenic functional foods. The impact of this publication is worldwide rather than only local.

Witoon Prinyawiwatkul is developing salt substitute mixtures that will help reduce the daily sodium intake of the U.S. population. Prinyawiwatkul’s work has shown that more than 35 percent of salt could be replaced with other 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. As many foods and beverages are specifically developed for children, they should be tested by children. This is particularly important, since it has been recognized that children and adults differ in their acceptance and preference of various food products. The need for sound methodology for sensory testing with children has increased.

Finley and his 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 improve flavor of sport rehydration drinks, 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.

Subramaniam Sathivel developed a novel, cost-effective process to produce purified fish oils enriched with healthy fatty acids. His technology is under license negotiations, and a provisional patent application was filed. He holds a patent on methods for producing protein-enriched powder. Another significant work of Sathivel’s involves biodegradable material developed from catfish skin that contains a fish attractant for sport fishing, which has also been licensed.

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.

The food industry represents one of the most important areas for economic enhancement of Louisiana. A strong food science program assists not only existing food processing facilities to remain competitive, but it also encourages other industries to locate in the state.

Witoon Prinyawiwatkul, Professor; John W. Finley, Professor and Head; and Damir D. Torrico, Graduate Student, Department of Food Science, LSU AgCenter, Baton Rouge, La.

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