Robot assists research efforts
Georgia Tech Research Institute’s (GTRI) Food Processing Technology Division recently received a robot to assist with and enhance food processing technology research.

KUKA Roboter GmbH, a German robotics company, donated the food-grade, stainless-steel robot to GTRI. The KUKA SS Robot, which is designed to work in the food processing environment, will help GTRI researchers to design integrated automation systems faster than they have been able to in the past and will eliminate the need to design individual test robots to support research.

"The donation of the KUKA SS Robot provides us with a state-of-the-art platform for developing our technology," said Gary McMurray, GTRI’s Senior Research Engineer and Robotics Group Leader. "Before the donation, we were tasked with building a robot for each particular food processing application; now that we have a commercial product to build on, this frees up a tremendous amount of resources that can be dedicated to developing other system components."

KUKA Roboter’s robots are used in pork and lamb processing plants in New Zealand and parts of Australia and Europe. The donation is part of a larger $1.5 million grant presented to Georgia Tech’s College of Computing to endow a KUKA Chair of Robotics. GTRI’s Food Processing Technology Division works closely with faculty members in the College.

Obesity rates rise in Europe
Europeans are on average eating worse now than 45 years ago, and the right agricultural policies can promote healthy diets and eating habits, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization.

At a recently held joint meeting of FAO and the World Health Organization, FAO economist Josef Schmidhuber said that Europeans are consuming too much fat, especially saturated fats, sugar, and cholesterol. One positive note is that Europeans have been eating more fruits and vegetables, he said.

The meeting brought together officials in the agriculture and public health sectors to discuss and identify policy options, such as production, fiscal policies, and marketing, to help improve people’s diets, find solutions to rising obesity rates, and discuss ways to prevent diet-related diseases.

"It is a sad fact that overweight and obesity affect the poorest parts of society most, and also have long-term consequences for one of its most vulnerable groups—children," said Marc Danzon, WHO Regional Director for Europe. He added that government policies must support the availability of and access to healthy food for everyone.

FAO reports that obesity has risen threefold throughout much of Europe since the 1980s, and that obesity is responsible for 2–8% of health care costs and 10–13% of deaths in different parts of Europe.

Link between diet and hormone
Researchers at Iowa State University are examining the interactions between diet and a hormone that stimulates appetite and food intake and how these interactions might affect overweight and obesity in humans.

Tests have shown that the hormone ghrelin stimulates food intake, and the ISU researchers want to learn how the composition of different diets affects plasma ghrelin concentration and how ghrelin affects body composition. They are comparing the differences in ghrelin concentration in lean and overweight humans and how two diets—Atkins and American Heart Association—affect ghrelin concentration and other hormones that are associated with food intake and body composition.

The researchers are reviewing the data related to the participants. Michelle Bohan, a graduate student in biochemistry and one of the researchers, said that based on preliminary analysis of the female participants, the dietary composition did not significantly alter the concentrations of ghrelin in either the normal-weight or overweight women. She added that this supports the hypothesis that caloric content and not the amount of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats in the diet controls the concentrations of ghrelin.

A U.S. Dept. of Agriculture Special Research Grant to Iowa State University’s Center for Designing Foods to Improve Nutrition funded this research.

Law spurs labeling changes
Many food companies changed their package labeling in response to the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act, according to a recent online survey by Food Technology magazine and IFT.

The one-question survey, published in the February issue, asked readers and members, "What changes has your company made in response to the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act?" Nearly 50% of respondents noted labeling changes to declare allergens. Eight percent of the participants performed formulation changes to remove or avoid allergens, while 16% made processing changes to remove or prevent allergens. About 16% of respondents used a combination of strategies, including labeling changes, formulation and processing changes, and employee training.

FDA finalizes rule on barley
The Food and Drug Administration has finalized a rule that allows foods containing barley to claim that they reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. The rule states that whole-grain barley and dry-milled barley products such as flakes, grits, flour, and pearled barley, which provide at least 0.75 g of soluble fiber/serving, may bear the claim, "Soluble fiber from foods such as [name of food], as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease. A serving of [name of food] supplies [x] g of soluble fiber necessary per day to have this effect."

Nutritionists, doctors, and government health agencies encourage people to take steps to keep total cholesterol levels and levels of low-density-lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol low. Research has shown that high levels of these are known to increase a person’s risk for heart disease, and that including barley in a healthy diet can help reduce the risk.

FDA began allowing the claim in December 2005 under an interim final rule while it accepted public comments on the rule for 75 days. During this time, no comments were received that would have caused changes to the final rule. Visit to access the final rule.

Heinz donates to PSU
Penn State University’s College of Agricultural Sciences recently received a $250,000 donation from the H.J. Heinz Co. Foundation for a sensory analysis center in the university’s new Food Science Building.

The center, which will be named H.J. Heinz Laboratory for Sensory Evaluation, will include expanded space and upgraded equipment for food preparation, testing, and analysis. University researchers and food industry experts will have access to the center where they can conduct experiments on how different product development and processing conditions affect finished products. Scientists use this information when developing new or improved products to meet various consumer demands about a product’s taste, texture, smell, and appearance.

"It will complement our current research efforts by helping us design better-tasting, nutritious foods for a healthier population," said John Floros, Professor of Food Science, Department Head, and IFT President-Elect (2006–07). "And who knows, it may even help us make a better Creamery ice cream, if that were possible."

The new Food Science Building will replace the Borland Laboratory as the home of the Dept. of Food Science and the Creamery. The building will include classroom space, teaching and research laboratories, processing pilot plants, and the new Berkey Creamery.

FSU leads calcium study
A research team from Florida State University will soon begin what is said to be the largest and longest study to date on the efficacy of calcium from dairy products, supplements, or both for weight reduction and bone preservation in overweight or obese postmenopausal white women.

Jasminka Ilich, a professor in the university’s Dept. of Nutrition, Food, and Exercise Sciences, will lead the team that will also coordinate nutritional outreach efforts to individuals in disadvantaged communities and examine assumptions about lactose intolerance in blacks. She expects that the research will provide more information about calcium’s cell-level role in the functioning of bone and fat tissue.

"While my previous studies show that calcium could be something of a magic bullet, seemingly supporting bone strength, weight maintenance, and better body composition, this research will take a closer, longer look at a larger sampling of a specific group," said Ilich.

She will use the iDXA, a whole-body scanner with dual energy X-ray absorptiometry, to measure body fat, muscle, and bone mineral density. The machine, the first of its kind at a Florida university, has a scanning area that can be used on larger people and produces very precise measurements.

The study, which is being funded with a grant from the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, will begin later this year.

Share your ideas
Kraft Foods Inc., Northfield, Ill., is inviting consumers to submit their ideas for new food and food-related products, packaging, and business processes to the company. The company said that it is most interested in ideas for new products that can be brought to market quickly. The program, "Innovate with Kraft," encourages people to protect their ideas by obtaining patent or copyright protection. Visit for complete information on how to submit ideas.

by Karen Banasiak,
Assistant Editor 
[email protected]