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Great Accomplishments in Food Science

If one reflects upon last century, one will probably conclude that numerous achievements have been made in food science and technology that have greatly enhanced the safety and/or quality of foods. Among the many innovations, the following stand out as some of the best things prior to and since sliced bread.

1900s

Vacuum packaging, which removes the air from food packages, was invented to prolong the shelf life of foods.

The hydrogenation process was also invented to keep unsaturated fats from turning rancid.

American and British patents was later issued for proposed use of killing bacteria in food with ionizing radiation (1905).

Fruit was first commercially frozen in the United States during this decade, also. Fish freezing was widely practiced. Freezing (turning all water in foods to ice) resulted in a greatly extended shelf life and negligible nutrient losses.

1910s

During the 1910s, the first large-scale commercial pasta production in the United States.

1920s

During this decade, Clarence Birdseye developed quick-freezing processes for foods and first commercialized blanched frozen vegetables. Blanching vegetables prior to freezing shuts off enzymes that cause off-colors and flavors to develop, enhancing the quality of frozen vegetables when they are thawed.

Food fortification also began in 1924, when table salt was fortified with iodine (1924).

1930s

During the ‘30s, a freeze-drying process (quick-freezing followed by drying under high vacuum conditions at a low temperature) was invented to preserve food.

Vitamin D was also added to milk through ultraviolet radiation for the first time in 1933.

1940s

In the ‘40s, mass production of food using automation took off and concentrated, frozen, and dehydrated foods—such as frozen concentrated citrus juices, produced in mass quantities for shipping overseas to the military—were created.

Flour was fortified with vitamins and iron in 1940; aseptic processing and packaging (high-temperature, short-time sterilization of a food and its container independently, then the filling of the container with the product in a sterile atmosphere) was developed: increasing food quality, safety, and retention of nutrients.

1950s

Controlled-atmosphere packaging (CAP) developed to increase the shelf life of fresh foods first occurred in the 1950s.

CAP controls oxygen and carbon dioxide in the packaging environment to limit produce respiration and ethylene production, delaying ripening and spoilage.

In 1953, the U.S. Army began a food irradiation program, during which James Watson, Francis Crick, and Maurice Wilkins discovered the double-helix structure of DNA, laying the foundation for understanding genetics and developing recombinant DNA technology.

1960s

In 1960, the first commercial plant for freeze-drying food opened; freeze-dried coffee enters the marketplace during this decade, too.

The freeze-drying involves rapid deep-freezing, followed by sublimation of water by heating the frozen product in a vacuum chamber. Freeze-drying preserves food very efficiently, retaining its original flavor, aroma, size, shape, and texture when rehydrated.

Computer control in processing plants first occurred during this decade, improving product quality and efficiency.

The FDA additionally approved irradiation to disinfest wheat and wheat flour in 1963, inhibit sprouting in potatoes in 19641964, and extend the shelf life of potatoes in 1965. Aseptic canning was adopted by food manufacturers.

1970s

In the ‘70s, the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) system was jointly developed by the National Aeronautics Space Administration, Pillsbury Co., and U.S. Army Natick Laboratories to enhance the safety and quality of processed foods for astronauts. In 1973, recombinant DNA technology was developed.

1980s

In the ‘80s, modified-atmosphere packaging (modifies the internal package atmosphere by flushing it with nitrogen gas) was introduced to increase shelf life of foods and protect them from spoilage, oxidation, dehydration, weight loss, and freezer burn.

Aseptic processing and packaging was widely adopted in the United States during this decade. The FDA approved irradiation to control Trichinella spiralis in pork (1985), disinfest and/or delay the ripening in some fresh fruits and vegetables (1986), and to control microorganisms in spices and herbs (1986).

1990s

In the ‘90s, the HACCP became widely adopted by food manufacturers—in part because it is mandated by the FDA for fish and fishery products (1995) and by the USDA for meat and poultry products (1996).

The FDA approved irradiation to control harmful bacteria in fresh and frozen poultry (1990) and red meats (1997), too.

A pasteurization process for shell eggs, ohmic heating (passes an electrical current through food to heat it rapidly to a sterilizing temperature), and the flash pasteurization (rapid heating and cooling) of fresh juices was commercially applied to enhance safety and quality of foods.

High pressure processing (uses hydrostatic pressure of 50,000 to 100,000 psi) was commercially applied to fresh packaged foods (1998) to kill spoilage microorganisms without altering flavor, appearance or nutritional value.

Steam pasteurization and vacuuming of beef carcasses was additionally introduced to reduce microbial hazards. The rDNA-engineered enzyme, chymosin, replaced rennet in most cheese production, because it could be produced in mass quantities with more consistent quality and purity.

The first rDNA-engineered plant food—a tomato with delayed ripening—was also commercially introduced in 1994.

Active packaging systems that interact with package contents or the package's internal atmosphere were also developed to enhance product freshness. Not-from-concentrate citrus juices were commercialized. Grain products were fortified with folic acid for the first time in 1998, as was and orange juice with calcium.

Achievements That Have Spanned Decades

Some significant achievements of the 20th century spanned several decades: enrichment (nutrients lost in processing added back to food) and fortification (addition of nutrients not originally present in foods), and safe canning practices.

Although Nicholas Appert developed the canning process between 1775 and 1810, food scientists have determined the thermal processes needed for the safe canning of specific vegetables within the last 60 years. Safe canning results in commercially sterile products with a long shelf life.

And yet, there have been so many changes this century, too. What will we discover can be done in the next couple of decades? Only people like you will come up with the answers! Let us know if we can help you on your journey through our services because we would really love to.

Statements of Excellence in Food Science

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