IFT 75TH ANNIVERSARY
Seventy-five years ago on January 16, 1939, the founding members of what would eventually be called the Institute of Food Technologists gathered in New York City to discuss the new organization, its constitution and name, a definition of food technology, and a list of possible committees. The group met later again that summer and IFT was founded on July 1, 1939.
One of the founding members of IFT was Samuel Cate Prescott, the first and only two-term President of the professional society. In 1895, Prescott, a 23-year-old assistant in the biology dept. of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who graduated from MIT a year earlier, met William Lyman Underwood. Underwood visited MIT to seek help for his bloated canned clams, according to a 2009 Food Technology article “Two Happy Clams: The Friendship that Forged Food Science.”
Working together, Prescott and Underwood found the problem to be bacteria in the cans. The bacteria were not destroyed by the heating process and resulted in spoiled clams. After several trials, the two men discovered that the use of pressurized steam at 120°C killed the bacteria in 10 minutes. Following this resolution, the two men turned their attention to canned corn, which often soured. Bacterial blooms were found to be the cause, and a 60-minute scalding at 120°C solved the problem.
From there, Prescott and Underwood applied their skills to several canned foods, including peas, tomatoes, spinach, sardines, and lobster meat. Since they never patented their thermal canning processes, neither men realized much financial gain from their work. But their investigations and passion did lead to discoveries that helped to establish the field of food science and technology.
For more details on Prescott and Underwood, please visit http://www.ift.org/food-technology/past-issues/2009/november/columns/perspective.aspx?page=viewall.
Evolution of food science
Recently, Bob Gravani, Cornell Univ. and Past President of IFT, sat down with Richard Hall, a Past President and Fellow of IFT, to talk about the past, present, and future of food science and glean some insight and advice from this paragon of food science. Hall spent more than 50 years in the industry, ending his career as Vice-President—Science & Technology at McCormick. Things have changed a lot since he entered the field, but the biggest change in his opinion is “the increasing depth of knowledge in virtually every aspect of food science.”
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Hall certainly helped feed that well of knowledge, having published, as he deems it, “the first really broad attempt at toxicological prediction of safety—safety evaluation by structure-activity relationships.” His paper on predictive toxicology has been cited at least 125 times and is still in use 30-plus years after it was published.
Hall believes much of his success lies in his foundational science background; he is an organic chemist by training. In fact, when Gravani asked what the food science profession can do to solve the problems the industry faces, Hall said, “We need to encourage our profession members—particularly our students—to require a good grounding in a basic science—some science that is basic to the profession because technology is changing rapidly and basic science is necessary to help us adapt to those changes.”
This foundational knowledge will become necessary to face challenges such as increasing water scarcity, climate change, and population expansion. “The thing that our profession can contribute,” said Hall, “is to make sure that safe, nutritious food is available at the lowest possible cost.” As much as technology and communication have advanced, this was the goal when Hall entered the profession and continues to be the impetus for current and future food scientists.
2014 marks IFT’s 75th anniversary and many activities are planned to celebrate the achievements of food science and technology and its promise going forward.