Food Science turns 50

Linda Benedict, Prinyawiwatkul, Witoon  |  5/18/2012 8:09:32 PM

In 1997, Louisiana dropped its mandatory retail warning sign requirement for raw oysters that under went the AmeriPure Process.

Marlene Janes, associate professor, heads up the area of food safety in the department. She and her team have developed rapid antibody based methods for enumeration and detection of Vibrio parahaemolyticus and Vibrio vulnificusin seafood products. Another significant piece of Janes’ work is the safety of cooked seafood. 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.

Jack Losso, professor, has taken the collagen from alligator carcasses and found uses for the cosmetic and food industries. He has a patent for collagen isolation from calcified tissue.

Douglas Park became department head in 1994. He and 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. 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, known as the AmeriPure Process, has been the crowning achievement of research in the department.

Linda Foster Benedict and Witoon Prinyawiwatkul

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, a Department of Food Science and Technology was approved by the LSU Board of Supervisors.

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.

The department has continued to conduct research with a business application to help grow 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.”

An emphasis has been development of healthier foods with reduced sodium, fat and cholesterol and increased fiber.

“We try to put healthful components in 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 been licensed. He has also developed a cost-effective process to produce purified fish oils enriched with healthy fatty acids.

Joan King, professor, developed a process to increase resistant starch in rice and sweet potatoes and showed how functionality of sweet potato and rice starch can be altered with the addition of amino acids. She also discovered that lutein could be extracted more easily from corn.

Jack Losso, professor, has developed a 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.

Witoon Prinyawiwatkul, professor, 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 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.

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. 

Read a longer version of the food science story.

Linda Foster Benedict, Associate Director & Professor, Communications, LSU AgCenter, Baton Rouge, La. and Witoon Prinyawiwatkul, Professor, Food Science Department, LSU AgCenter, Baton Rouge La

(This article was published in the spring 2012 issue of Louisiana Agriculture.)

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