KAREN BANASIAK

pH indicates quality of pork
After years of researching methods to make pork extremely lean, scientists are now looking at other attributes of the meat. By studying these qualities of the product, researchers hope to find points of differentiation that can add value to the meat, says Ken Prusa, Professor of Food Science and Human Nutrition at Iowa State University. He has identified a characteristic of pork that he hopes could be as significant to the industry as leanness.

After observing that Japanese export buyers at a meat packing plant always chose darker pork, Prusa conducted various sensory and analytical tests on the meat. He discovered that the Japanese were selecting not by color but by what the color indicated: pH. Darker pork has a slightly higher pH than lighter pork. Pork with a higher pH contains less acid, which damages muscle proteins and causes the meat to be pale and watery. His research showed that pH was a strong contributor to the quality of pork, and that the products with higher pH values are more tender, juicy, and flavorful. This discovery, he says, has led to an opportunity to add value to pork products in the marketplace.

"We hope that through our work with packers and processors, we’ll see higher-pH products on the market soon," Prusa says. "We’re looking at ways of marketing products on the basis of the deeper, richer color and flavor. People can see the difference. Once they taste it, the better quality is obvious."

Processing methods and reducing the stress in animals affect the pH levels. "Chilling is critical to lower the temperature of the carcass fairly rapidly," he explains. "Otherwise, the pH may drop too low before chilling can stabilize it. Stress [in the animals] causes a high metabolism rate, which creates a lot of adrenaline. When that happens right before slaughter, it causes a really rapid pH decline."

Some processors and packers are buying pigs based on pH levels, and many packers are planning to measure pH levels of the pigs on the production line.

Almond Innovations student contest
The Almond Board of California invites students studying food science or culinary arts to participate in its 5th annual Almond Innovations Challenge. Students will vie for cash prizes and chance to showcase their winning product at the IFT Annual Meeting + Food Expo® in Chicago, July 28–August 1, 2007. The contest pits student teams of budding product developers against one another to create an indulgent almond treat that contains a maximum of 200 calories.

For more information, visit www.almondsarein.com/studentcontest.

Penn State opens new facility
Officials from Penn State University and state and industry representatives helped to dedicate the university’s new $47.7 million food science building in September.

The 130,000-sq-ft, four-story facility, which replaces outdated facilities as home to the university’s food science department and Berkey Creamery, combines teaching and research laboratories, classrooms, and offices with expanded production space and pilot plants. Companies that partner with the university will be able to use the production and pilot-plant facilties.

"Pennsylvania is at the heart of the food processing and manufacturing industry in the Northeast, and ranks as number one among the 50 states in a number of food industry areas," says Graham Spanier, President of Penn State University.

John Floros, head of the Dept. of Food Science and IFT President-Elect, noted that food scientists at the university will work closely with molecular biologists, biotechnologists, toxicologists, material scientists, engineers, and others to use information from the fields of biophysics, informatics, nanotechnology, nutrigenomics, and medicine to improve the food industry. He said that the new building will help the department "to be recognized nationally for its preeminent undergraduate program and internationally for its innovative research in the context of graduate education."

The building’s new Berkey Creamery, named in honor of Jeanne and Earl Berkey, whose $3 million gift helped make the new building possible, has a larger, more customer-friendly salesroom in addition to production facilities, space for support services, and an office suite. Viewing windows into the processing areas will allow visitors to watch the production of ice cream, cheese, yogurt, and other items.

KFC switches oil
KFC Corp., Louisville, Ky., announced that it will replace partially hydrogenated soybean oil with a low-linolenic soybean oil with 0 g of trans fatty acid in all of its 5,500 restaurants in the United States. The conversion follows more than two years of testing of various oils to identify the same "finger lickin’ good" taste profile in KFC products. Many of its restaurants already use the new oil, and the conversion is expected to be complete by April 2007.

Several low-linolenic soybean oil options are available to the food industry. The one used by KFC is approved by Qualisoy, a collaborative effort among the soybean industry to set research priorities and evaluate existing and emerging technologies. Other companies have already begun to reformulate their products to eliminate trans fatty acids, and some of these companies are using low-linolenic soybean oil.

IFF reorganizes
International Flavors & Fragrances Inc., New York, N.Y., in October announced that, effective January 1, 2007, the company will reorganize into two business units—Flavors and Fragrances. IFF says that this structure will help to sharpen its focus and accountability across the organization and accelerate its growth. Each business unit will maintain a regional structure for sales, marketing, and creative development.

Three receive World Food Prize
For the first time in its 20-year history, the World Food Prize was awarded in October 2006 to three individuals for their achievements that have increased the quantity, quality, and availability of food for people. The winners are H.E. Alysson Paolinelli, former Minister of Agriculture in Brazil, Edson Lobato, former Technical Director of the Brazilian Corporation of Agricultural Research, and A. Colin McClung, Washington Representative of IRI Research Institute. Paolinelli and Lobato are the first World Food Prize Laureates from Brazil, and McClung is the eleventh Laureate from the United States.

The recipients each played a vital role in transforming Cerrado, a region of vast, once infertile tropical high plains stretching across Brazil, into highly productive cropland. Even though they work independently of one another, their collective efforts over the past 50 years have unlocked Brazil’s tremendous potential for food production.

"This increased agricultural production has helped improve economic and social conditions in Brazil, while their research continues to promote agricultural development and poverty alleviation in other tropical and sub-tropical countries throughout the world," said World Food Prize Foundation President Ambassador Kenneth M. Quinn. He added that from 1970 to 2000 Brazil’s agricultural production more than tripled while its area of cultivated land grew less than 1.5 times.

Norman E. Borlaug, 1970 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, World Food Prize founder, and founder of the Green Revolution, called the development of Cerrado "one of the great achievements of agricultural science in the 20th century, which has transformed a wasteland into one of the most productive agricultural areas in the world."

The deadline for submission of nominations for the 2007 World Food Prize is March 1, 2007. For more information, visit www.worldfoodprize.org/nominate/nomform.asp.

Pathogens’ genomes probed
Scientists from the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service and Institute for Genomic Research are studying the genomes of two foodborne pathogens that lead to illness: Listeria monocytogenes and Campylobacter lari. Their findings may help to develop management strategies for these bacteria and make informed decisions about control strategies and safety standards.

The researchers have sequenced the genomes of four L. monocytogenes strains. They discovered that the Listeria strains, in addition to sharing serotype-specific and strain-specific genome sequences, have largely similar genetic content and organization. Another discovery confirms that the Listeria strains have 15 genes in the Crp/Fnr regulatory protein family, which is much greater than most bacteria. The scientists will continue to study whether these sequences influence the bacterium’s virulence or persistence.

C. lari is related to Campylobacter jejuni, which is a frequent culprit in many food poisoning cases. It has caused food poisoning outbreaks in some other countries and has therefore attracted attention of U.S. food safety researchers and public health professionals.

PepsiCo acquires Izze
PepsiCo Inc., Purchase, N.Y., recently acquired Izze Beverage Co., Boulder, Colo. Izze will remain in Boulder and continue to operate as a separate unit, reporting through Pepsi-Cola North America. Izze is an up-and-coming brand in the rapidly expanding market for better-for-you beverages. Founded in 2002, the company has built its base of consumers mainly through grassroots marketing and sales efforts.

by Karen Banasiak,
Assistant Editor
[email protected]