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Food Science, Technology Contribute to Feeding A Growing Population: Audio Interview Part 2

Part 2 of the audio interview between Kelly Hensel, Digital Media Editor at IFT, and John Floros, Head of the Department of Food Science at Pennsylvania State. In this segment John explains the challenges we face to feed a population which is expected to reach 9 billion people by 2050. In addition, he addresses consumers’ negative perceptions of processed foods, and finally, he shares some tools that he believes are currently being underutilized that may help improve our efforts to feed a growing population. John has worked in the food processing industry, was on the faculty at Purdue University, and since 2000 he has been leading the . He is widely published, is currently a Member of the Science Board for the Food & Drug Administration, and a Fellow and Past President of IFT.

John FlorosJohn Floros
Professor of Food Process Engineering and Packaging
Head of the Department of Food Science
The Pennsylvania State University

*Update: As of Aug. 1, 2012, Floros is Dean of College of Agriculture and director of K-State Research and Extension at Kansas State University

Listen to Part one



Kelly: Hi. I’m Kelly Hensel with the Institute of Food Technologists. We recently spoke with John Floros, Head of the Department of Food Science at Penn State University about the importance of food science and technology in feeding a growing population. Today, we continue our discussion with John to learn more about the challenges we face and some of the promising developments on the horizon.
It has been stated that by 2050, food production must increase by about 70% to feed the anticipated 9 billion people. In addition to the food losses, what are some other challenges we face in being able to sustainably feed the future population in industrialized and developing nations alike?
John: We need to realize there’s a need to really increase the amount of food we produce. During the last 50 years, for example, we doubled in terms of population and, as a result, we had to double the amount of food we produce. This happened through what’s widely known as the Green Revolution. From here on out and over the next 40 or 50 years, we’re going to go from about 7 billion to about 9, 9.5, and maybe even 10 billion people. We’re going to have to increase the amount of food we produce again.
So the question is with limited resources in terms of land, in terms of water, in terms of energy, how can we produce more food? So we have to come up with an effort to really not only produce more food at the farm level, which may or may not work, but also to preserve more food and find ways to process that food in a way that reaches the consumer. And that’s where, I think, food science and technology comes in.
So a reduction of losses through proper food science and technology, proper processing, proper distribution channels, I would say, is our best chance.
Kelly: In industrialized nations, how should food scientists and IFT address consumers’ negative perceptions of “processed” food?
John: I have talked about processing and processed foods in many other venues and I have written extensively about that. One thing that I would like people to understand is that processing is not a bad word. Processed foods are not the villain here. Processed foods have a lot to offer. Without processing, we wouldn’t have the society we have today. We wouldn’t exist as a 7 billion people today unless we had processed foods. Processed foods have helped feed the world up to today. They keep the prices of food low, the safety of the food high, the quality, the availability, the nutrition, and the convenience.
So processing is not necessarily what it’s made out to be. And if people have misconceptions, I think we as food scientists and good technologists need to really convey a different message and really help the public understand that without processing, there is really no way that we can feed the 7 billion people that we have on the Earth today.
Kelly: Yeah, I agree definitely. Looking toward the future, obviously there are developments going on at all times. What, in your opinion, are some of the most promising developments and tools out there on the cusp? Or even existing technologies that are being underutilized that may significantly improve our efforts to feed a growing population?
John: Well, I would say that we have several already developed existing technologies that we could utilize, but we also have a lot of new things and new technologies that are out there that we could put a little more effort into. For example, food irradiation has been around for a long time and we haven’t really utilized it to its full extent. We could make food a lot safer if we utilized food and irradiation a little better, but because of public concerns and public misconceptions a lot of times we can’t do that.
Another example is molecular biology and biotechnology. I think these are scientific tools that we could utilize to improve the safety, the quality, the availability of foods and in some ways we actually do that and in some ways we don’t. We also have a whole slew of sophisticated processing as well as packaging technologies that we could utilize more of. Although in some cases we utilize those in developed countries, we actually are not utilizing the same technologies, processing and packing technologies, in developing countries simply because of infrastructure and other issues.
There’s a long way to go in terms of existing technologies in developing countries. On the other hand, we have a lot of new technologies that are probably worth looking into. They may offer solutions to some of our problems, they may not, but at least we need to look into it.
Kelly: Well, I wanted to thank you, John, for taking the time to talk to us and offering your insight today. We’ve been talking to John Floros, Head of the Department of Food Science at Penn State University.
Please feel free to share your thoughts on today’s topic by commenting on IFT’s ePerspective blog. For more information on the World Food Day, you can visit IFT.org/worldfoodday. For IFT, I’m Kelly Hensel.

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