Food science as a profession has evolved significantly since the thermal processing contributions of Nicholas Appert. Given the changes in the food industry and other institutions associated with the profession, it is apparent that more change is in our future. The intimate relationship between the Institute of Food Technologists and the food science profession is very evident in the history of IFT. We need to continue to emphasize the successes attributed to food science that are beneficial to IFT.
As I read again after 17 years Neil Mermelstein’s excellent review of IFT history, "History of the Institute of Food Technologists: The First 50 Years" (Food Technology, September 1989), I am impressed with the traditional relationship of food science and IFT. Exactly 67 years ago, in 1939, the founders established IFT "to facilitate interchange of ideas among its members; to stimulate scientific investigations into technical problems dealing with the manufacture and distribution of foods; to promulgate the results of research in food technology; to offer a medium for the discussion of these results; and to plan, organize, and administer such projects for the advancement of science insofar as it is fundamental to wider knowledge of foods."
This statement clearly articulates a part of our mission that IFT continues to pursue: the focus on creation of research results and the translation of those results into useful and meaningful applications. IFT’s Annual Meeting, exhibits, and publications are among the vehicles designed to maintain a clear focus on the purpose of the organization.
IFT leadership in the education of future food scientists began in 1941 with the exploration of a uniform curriculum in food technology. By 1948, 22 institutions were offering curricula in food technology and educational standards were being explored. In 1966, IFT established minimum standards for undergraduate curricula in food science and technology.
Our Committee on Higher Education has continued to provide leadership in promoting minimum standards for education of food scientists. This activity has led to the following definition: Food Science is the discipline in which the engineering, biological, and physical sciences are used to study the nature of foods, the causes of deterioration, the principles underlying food processing, and the improvement of foods for the consuming public.
The definition of food science clearly indicates that food science integrates several basic sciences which together focus on the unique challenges associated with foods and the systems needed to deliver food products to the consumer. Innovative changes within the basic sciences exemplify a natural and ongoing evolution of food science and our profession, as molecular biology has recently illustrated.
To complement this ongoing evolution, the IFT Committee on Higher Education has defined the primary objective of educational programs within IFT as professional development of food scientists. Over the past 50 years, IFT has developed and approved the education standards to provide assistance to colleges and universities in evaluating the effectiveness of academic selection, guidance, and preparation of undergraduate students.
As recently as 2001, the IFT Executive Committee adopted Education Standards as the core competencies required of all undergraduate food science students. These education standards emphasize outcomes-based evaluations rather than specific course requirements (see "IFT’s Education Standards: A Report Card" by Richard Hartel elsewhere in this issue for additional information).
In the near future, food scientists will be using microsensors and biosensors to detect harmful agents in foods and ensure the safety of foods. Food packaging is likely to contain antimicrobials and similar agents to extend the shelf life of the product. We are beginning to observe applications from nanotechnology, including the creation of new microcapsules to protect and manage flavors and bioactive compounds during handling, processing, storage, distribution, and preparation of food.
As new science evolves, IFT’s Committee on Higher Education will adapt with recommended changes in the definition of food science, the applications through food technology, and the scope of the food science profession. As trends toward globalization continue, these changes are likely to address an important international dimension. Through these efforts, IFT will continue to provide leadership to the food science profession for another 67 years and beyond.
by Dennis R. Heldman,
IFT President, 2006–07
President, Heldman Associates, Weston, Fla.