Food engineering is an important discipline within the science of food, one that Professor Jose Miguel Aguilera, PhD, has dedicated his career to. An emeritus professor of chemical and food engineering at P. Universidad Católica de Chile, IFT Fellow, and the 2020 Nicolas Appert award recipient, Aguilera says food engineering has a significant impact on health and nutrition and the global food value chain.
According to Aguilera, food engineering is a multidisciplinary area related to the rational conversion and preservation of edible structures produced in nature into safe foods that convey nutrition and enjoyment. In other words, it encompasses the design and development of systems for processing, storing, packaging, and handling food safely. Integrity is inherent throughout.
“For better or worse, processed foods are essential elements of our lives,” Aguilera said. “People must be assured and confident that what they eat has been produced according to the best available scientific knowledge, following ethical and environmental considerations. This is where food engineering comes into play.”
Food engineering has been vital in doing just that— providing the scientific and technical knowledge to help supply the world with varied, safe, and available foods. This critical aspect of the food production process allows us to continue addressing the ominous predictions that an increasing population will lead to world hunger.
In addition, consumers increasingly demand foods that provide health and wellness benefits, which has led to a shift from an emphasis on the food itself to a holistic view of how we procure, process, consume, and share our foods with others. Because of this, Aguilera says food engineers are called upon to incorporate the knowledge generated in other areas such as human physiology, psychology, and nutrition, as well as people’s beliefs, health, and aging considerations, and ethical concerns into the development of safe, nutritious, and tasty foods that are environmentally friendly and efficient in the use of resources.
Aguilera has made outstanding and breakthrough contributions to food research, development, consultation and education worldwide throughout his 38-year career at P. Universidad Católica de Chile. In particular, his groundbreaking work to establish food materials science as a foundation of food processing and product development has resulted in a superior understanding of the science and engineering behind the technology of processed foods. He is recognized as a pioneer in introducing the concept of food microstructure and its relation to many important macroscopic properties of foods (e.g., texture, flavor release, shelf-life stability, digestibility in the gut, nutrient bioavailability, etc.). For these accomplishments, he has received awards from the J. S. Guggenheim Foundation, the A. von Humboldt Foundation, IFT (including the Marcel Loncin Prize) and recently the 2019 GCHERA World Agricultural Prize. He is also a member of the U.S. National Academy of Engineering and the Academie d’Agriculture de France.
An IFT member since 1973, Aguilera’s credits his success and impact in food technology and engineering in part to developing and nurturing an extended international network of scientific collaboration. He says IFT has enabled him and his students to connect with some of the best food science and technology experts in the world, who have generously supported his work.
As part of its commitment to cultivate the knowledge of its network to pursue food and nutrition solutions for those in need, Feeding Tomorrow partnered with global non-profit Engineering for Change (E4C) and the University of Missouri in Columbia, Mo., to support research regarding the mango value chain in Kenya.
The impact of climate change is being felt around the world, creating a very real need for the global food and agriculture communities to shift in order to mitigate its lasting effects.
Innovations in the science of food, including indoor agriculture, regenerative farming, and an increasing emphasis on sustainability, play an integral role in helping farmers shift their practices in response to climate change.