Food technology is the science and technology related to techniques and principles for preserving food and food substances. The application of food science is intended to help in manufacturing safe and nutritious food products. This includes the development of new methods for keeping food products safe and resistant from natural harm, such as bacteria and other potentially harmful microorganisms. As well, food technology works to develop better preservation of food products and the flavor of food products for better distributional efficiencies and longer shelf lives of those food products.
As consumers have become more concerned about the composition of their food, especially when they are consuming convenient food, the ingredients and composition of the food, including the production and sourcing of food products, have become under greater scrutiny while the field of food technology works to develop products that can ease consumer concerns while offering convenient, nutritious foods. Part of the increase in consumer concern includes an increase in the sustainability of food and related packaging.
Food technology developments have previously changed the way the food supply works and have increased the accessibility of food for people. More recent developments in food technology have been aimed towards sustainability in the consumer products and in the agricultural cycle as food demand is expected to continue to rise, arable land is expected to continue to disappear, and agricultural land use has been suggested to be in danger of reduced yields.
An early food technology, instantized milk powder was first developed by D.D. Peebles with the purpose of improving the ability to reconstitute dried milk and improve the quality of the dried milk product. This was not a successful process until the 1970s. Dried milk technology has, in turn, become the basis for other rehydratable foods.
Instant or soluble coffee is coffee made from coffee beans that are ground and extracted with hot water (the same process for making coffee at home) before it is dried. This occurs in one of two ways:
- Spray-drying: This is the process of spraying the coffee extract into a stream of hot air at the top of a tall cylindrical tower; as the droplets fall, they become a fine powder and are texturized into granules to facilitate dosage and dissolution. This is the most commonly used drying process.
- Freeze-drying: In this process, the coffee extract is frozen to about -40 degrees Celsius, cut into granules, and dried at a low temperature under vacuum. The process works to preserve the aroma and flavor of the coffee through very low temperature and gentle drying conditions.
Aseptic packaging is a technique developed for the preservation of liquid and particulate foods. This works to develop sterile food packaging materials and food contact surfaces in order to keep the food packaged as sterile as possible. The common methods of aseptic sterilization include chemical methods, thermal methods, and radiation methods, with hydrogen peroxide sterilization followed by hot air being the most common method used. Hydrogen peroxide followed by ultraviolet irradiation and heat has been accepted for industrial application. Aseptic packaging works to keep the food supply safe and secure from infection of harmful bacteria and other microorganisms.
Based in part on the concern over the sustainability in the food supply chain, biodegradable packaging has drawn more interest as consumers search for plastic-free packaging solutions, with many retailers and restaurants using packaging intended to be biodegradable. However, in some cases, those packaging solutions have proven to be non-degradable and possibly carcinogenic. But the continued interest in biodegradable or sustainable packaging have seen companies continuing to develop alternatives to traditional packaging materials, including turning the waste chitin from shellfish into chitosan, a biodegradable plastic wrap used in food packaging.
Vertical farming and the related technologies are expected to reinvent agriculture and also help increase the food supply to continue to meet demand. The term is an umbrella term for crops grown indoors in urban areas, often in warehouses, and present an attractive solution to places with little arable land or in countries or regions dependent on imported food. Vertical farms have been shown to use less land and water while producing 200 to 400 percent higher yields than traditional agriculture. Part of the increase is based on the capability for close monitoring of plants' nutrition intake. As well, vertical farming does not need pesticides because the environment the plants are grown in is controlled. Vertical farming is more energy intense than traditional agriculture, but with the rise of renewable energy sources, vertical farming could present a more sustainable option.
A different solution to the increase in demand for food, super crops are intended to be more resilient to extreme weather while also providing greater nutrition than traditional crops. This has been achieved through selective breeding and fortification, where micronutrients are added to foods by crossbreeding standard plant varieties with wild relatives. Another option is genetic engineering, which has previously been done to make crops more drought-resistant. Other examples include scuba rice, which can survive submerged underwater for two weeks. And iron-rich beans, which withstand temperature change of as much as four degrees. Some modifications are being done to help grow crops in non-arable areas, such as Dubai or sub-Saharan Africa, which could help the malnutrition and deficiency in vital nutrients in the areas.
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