University of Florida’sInstitute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) faculty work on myriad of food-related topics. As 2014 approaches, here are just a few of their food-related predictions — everything from better fruit packaging to a new focus on reducing food waste — that may soon be on the public’s radar:
- Good taste, less waste: Food researchers like Doug Archer say roughly one-third of food produced for humans around the globe is lost or wasted each year – 1.3 billion tons of it. Discussion of this problem is expected to make its way from food industry and academic circles and into American homes, with home food preparers becoming more sensitive to reducing food waste.
- Fresher fruit: Jeff Brecht works on ways to improve fruit flavor and consumer experience. To that end, he’s worked with UF and University of California, Davis researchers on “modified atmosphere packaging” for a range of fruits, including berries and tomatoes. In that packaging, special polymers interact with fruit respiration so that oxygen is decreased while carbon dioxide is increased. The result? Handlers can wait longer to pick fruit; it takes longer to go bad. And tropical and subtropical fruits can be held at higher temperatures to avoid flavor-robbing chilling injury.
- Better-tasting home-grown tomatoes: Harry Klee, UF’s tomato-taste tinkerer, has worked for years to target the most universally consumer-pleasing tomato flavors. He and colleagues are poised this year to release two hybrid tomatoes, suitable for non-commercial growers, and both are said to knock it out of the park in taste tests.
- Garlic: Sue Percival, chairman of IFAS’ Food Science and Human Nutrition department, and colleagues found modest changes in the immune responses of human subjects who consumed an aged garlic extract every day, as part of a six-month research study. A control group took placebos. Both groups kept health diaries and gave blood samples. The garlic didn’t prevent colds or flu, she said, but researchers did find that cold and flu symptoms were reduced between 30% and 50%.
- Eat your broccoli: According to Archer, consumers will begin to focus more on vegetable consumption, both for better health and to lessen their environmental footprint. Demand may outpace supply, and while Food Safety Modernization Act requirements will help ensure safer produce, it will undoubtedly boost costs for growers, packers and grocers — and consumers.
- And your mushrooms: In a more recent study, Percival’s team tested shiitake mushrooms’ effect on human health outcomes. One group ate a daily serving of chopped, dried mushrooms; a second group ate two servings. Blood was taken from both groups at the start and end of the study. Both groups’ test results revealed “remarkable” beneficial changes in their immune-system regulating cytokines and immune function, she said.