By Madeleine Neisler
World Food Day is annually held on October 16th to commemorate the founding of the United Nations’ (UN) Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Why? As supply and demand for fresh food including livestock, fish, produce and other harvests continues to increase, FAO aims to raise levels of nutrition across the globe. Working to improve agricultural productivity, assisting in agricultural policy changes, and aiding regions in famine situations. One way in which they achieve these goals is through agricultural engineers whom to continue developing new methods for sustainability.
One aspect of sustainability is food engineering. What is food engineering you may ask? Food engineering is defined as a multidisciplinary industry of applied physical sciences that incorporate science, microbiology, and engineering edification for the food industry. By applying agricultural, mechanical, and chemical engineering to food, food engineers are able to create cost-effective production and commercialization of food products. Everything from swapping crops to ensure the soil maintains balanced nutrients, to a cheese-dusted bag of chips, and yes even that genetically modified corn the media raves about – all involve food engineers.
Some of the fields in which food engineers are employed in include: food processing, machinery, packaging, ingredient manufacturing, instrumentation, and control. Some of the types of companies that employ food engineers include but are not limited to food processing plants, government agencies, and pharmaceutical companies. More specifically, this refers to: drug and food products, design and execution of food, biological and pharmaceutical production standards, design and running of environmentally dependable waste treatment systems, and the marketing and technical assistance for manufacturing plants.
A few ways in which food engineers are developing new products and processes include working to find more advanced ways to manufacture, transport and store foods, methods for dehydrating, thermal and non-thermal processing, and better packaging methods. The engineers who focus on these topics are called food scientists. Food scientists develop new food products, design and implement processes in order to produce said foods, make decisions when choosing packaging materials, study shelf life of various products, evaluate products using potential consumers, and utilize microbiological and chemical testing.
In this continuously growing field, universities are ensuring the latest and greatest application of food sustainability is taught through programs throughout the nation. For example, at the University of California, Davis they have a Food Engineering program as part of their Biological and Agricultural Engineering department. At Ohio State University College of Engineering they have a Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering department. They have subdivided it into two categories: agricultural engineering and food, and biological and ecological engineering. These students also have the option to continue on to medical or veterinary school, and can even intern at companies like NASA and the Environmental Protection Agency. Of course a shout-out to CIDEON’s home state, Penn State University also offers a great program in their Agricultural and Biological Engineering department.
One of the places responsible for advancements in food science and technology is the Institute of Food Technologists, or IFT. This forward thinking, non-profit scientific organization includes more than 17,000 members from over 95 different countries. The IFT was formed because as food technology was making advancements for farm to factory, a need for specially trained personnel to be involved with the food industry was more than necessary. They offer the Certified Food Scientist certification, or CFS. The CFS is the only internationally recognized certification for food scientists. In order to pass the exam, these are the following requirements: product development, quality assurance and control, food chemistry and analysis, regulatory, food microbiology, food safety, food engineering and sensory evaluation and consumer testing. The IFT matters because without them food sustainability would be very difficult. By creating a specialist position (Certified Food Scientist), they ensure not only food sustainability, but consistent quality and control.
Our growing global population has an increasing demand for fresh, sustainable food. This talented group of individuals is what makes globally sustainable food sources possible. So the next time you are at the grocery store, stop to consider these talented engineers who make it all possible. Whether it’s a piece of fresh fruit, a steak, or a frozen or canned product – it’s likely a food engineer had something to do with its availability to you.