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• IFT Student Association Members Andrea Hale, Carrie Frandsen, Seung-Hee Nam, Brad Taylor, and Rex Todd and their faculty advisor Marie Walsh from Utah State University made the news July 20 in The Salt Lake Tribune for their third place finish in the IFT Student Product Development Competition. Whey Krunchers are a low-fat snack packed with protein, vitamins and minerals that look a bit like a cheese puff, Hale said. The product, marketed to athletes and bodybuilders, would fill a unique niche in the snack-food market, according to Frandsen and Todd. Although students experiment with a new product each year, not since 1992 has a product been deemed marketable enough to risk entering the annual competition, Walsh said. “Success depends on the commitment of the students,” she added. Hale, who has an undergraduate degree in chemistry and is pursuing graduate studies in food science, described food science as “very applied chemistry. You get to make things with the stuff you find in your kitchen.”
• Arun Bhunia, Purdue University, and A. Garth Rand, University of Rhode Island, shared information in a July 7 Reuters Health story about research into sensors that quickly and cheaply detect foodborne pathogens. Bhunia described his group’s device as a special protein applied to a silicon chip. When passed over a product, the presence of Listeria monocytogenes is indicated when bacteria bind to the protein and change the current flow. Current techniques to detect the pathogen require 2 to 5 days, but manufacturers cannot wait that long to send the product to market, Bhunia explained. The device, which will not be marketed for another 2 or 3 years, may be as cheap as $10, he predicted. Rand described separate research into sensors that use magnetic beads coated with Salmonella antibodies, which bind to the bacteria and are then labeled with a fluorescent dye. When the beads are magnetically focused in front of optical fibers, a laser signal reports how much of the pathogen is present. The process takes only about an hour, he said. Rand and his colleagues are currently working on a prototype of the device, which they believe also could detect other foodborne pathogens.
• Food Science Communicator Karen Penner, Kansas State University, discussed food irradiation in the July 15 CNNfn, a financial web site. “The process of irradiation . . . is currently approved by at least 38 countries for products that include poultry, pork, fruits, vegetables and spices,” she said. Penner compared the process of irradiation to pasteurization of milk—it kills potentially harmful bacteria, but does not alter the food value, taste, texture or color in a significant way. However, she predicted we would not see full-scale irradiation anytime soon, saying, “it’s unlikely that all products will be pasteurized by irradiation. . . . The process has been approved for use, but it isn’t required. Enforced regulations, steam pasteurization and now, irradiation will add up to a safer product but it will take time for public demand to determine how widespread the use of irradiation will be.”
• Communicator Paul Lachance, Rutgers University, said in the July 19 Chicago Tribune that anyone with a family history of kidney troubles should be wary of a high-protein diet and should rely more on protein from grains combined with legumes, nuts, or seeds instead of animal protein. “The protein in meat and other animal sources is highly concentrated. You get about 5.5 calories in every protein gram, but the body only uses 4 [calories]. The kidneys have to dump the other 1.5 calories. That can put a tremendous burden on the kidneys if you consume extreme amounts of protein,” he said. Whole grains also are an inexpensive alternative to protein from animal sources or supplement powders, he added. A grain-heavy diet “was good enough for loggers at the turn of last century who needed 4,000 to 5,000 calories per day for their jobs. It seems reasonable to think it’s good enough for athletes and other active people in our push-button society,” he concluded.
• Communicator F. Jack Francis, University of Massachusetts, Nicki Engeseth, University of Illinois, and John Folse of Chef John Folse & Co., enlightened readers of the July 14 Chicago Tribune about the effect of color on people’s perception of food. Engeseth explained that “people are strongly influenced by perception based on sight. . . . If you put yellow food coloring in vanilla pudding, before they even taste it, they will tell you that it will be lemon or banana. They will tell you it is lemon or banana even after tasting it because they are so strongly perceiving it as lemon or banana.” Folse agreed, saying, “The public expects the norm when it’s eating.” Francis said that although flavor, texture and color are considered the major quality factors of food, “If you don’t have the color right, I think you can forget about the other two.” In fact, “if it isn’t the color you expect it to be, you don’t like it,” he said.
“You can do candy in any color and people will eat it because it is fun,” said Engeseth. “But put that color on somebody’s plate and people don’t typically associate blue with an edible product. You very rarely see anything blue on a plate,” she said. Francis explained that “if you do consumer surveys, yellow-orange comes out best followed by reds, then by pure yellows, then greens.” Folse said, “If it’s full of the rainbow, it belongs in bubble gum or dessert. If it’s earth-tone colors, it’s in the savory or entree section.”
Speaking of the announcement that Heinz plans to offer consumers green ketchup, Francis said, “Man, that’s a gimmick if I’ve ever heard of one.” Noting that cultural expectations for the color of certain foods can be very strong, Francis said, “Whoever dreamed [green ketchup] up did a good job and my congratulations to them—if it lasts.”
by MARY HELEN ARTHUR