Office of Research

Food Processing Research

Food Processing

Food Scientist M. Susan Brewer is interested in color and flavor stability and shelf-life promotion of fresh and frozen meat products. Her recent efforts to produce baby food from salmon have been adopted by Beechnut, the second largest baby-food producer in the United States. Her research in using technology to increase the tenderness and juiciness of meat is now used by all major meat processors, including Tyson, Cargill Meat Solutions, and Hormel. Her findings regarding the use of natural antioxidants to prevent oxidation of cooked meat products have also been adopted by all the major meat processors.

For a long time, manufacturers have used hydrogenated soybean oil to convert polyunsaturated fatty acids to more saturated fatty acids to improve frying oil stability. The hydrogenation process increases oleic acids, which are much more shelf-stable. Oleic acids are less likely to produce "off" flavors in fried foods.  U of I researcher William Artz believes that genetically manipulated soybeans in oil production may provide healthier, more stable oils for pan frying at home. His is one of the first research projects to examine how commercial soybean oils that were modified in different ways compare with other products when used in the home setting to cook fried foods.

Hao Feng developed a research program on the application of high intensity ultrasound in food processing and preservation and novel chemical and physical treatments for improving the quality and safety of fresh and fresh-cut produce.  His lab developed a mano-thermo-sonication (pressure-temperature-ultrasound) liquid food processing system that is the only one in North America to process juice products.  The orange juice processed with this system maintained juice quality for over 91 days. 

In research aimed at improving microbial safety of fresh and fresh-cut produce, Feng’s lab was the first to study the microbial removal from produce surface during washing with a continuously flow washing system and correlated microbial reduction rate to flow hydrodynamic conditions. His group used atomic force microscopy to examine the effect of sanitizers on the morphological changes of pathogens, which is one of the very first endeavors in produce safety studies.  His current work on acoustically treated fresh produce has achieved a 90 percent reduction in microbial load compared to the current level of microbial reduction for fresh-cut leafy produce. 

Food quality depends largely on the sensory properties of a food, including flavor (taste and aroma), color, texture, and overall appearance.  Among these, flavor is often the most important determinant of food acceptance by the consumer.  Aroma is an important element of flavor and is attributed to the perception of volatiles (aroma compounds) present in the dynamic headspace (mouth and nasal cavities) of the food during consumption. 

The research of food chemist Keith Cadwallader revolves around the study of food flavor as it relates to overall food quality.  His fundamental research includes the development of improved methods for the chemical/sensory characterization of food flavor systems.  These studies have led to the identification of the character-impact aroma compounds of various foods, including seafood, meat, dairy, vegetable, and beverage products, as well as food ingredients such as herbs and spices.