How Chemistry Is Making Our Food Safer, Better, and More Abundant

Although food scientists often explore new technologies to reduce the percentage of hungry people in the world today, many also have future-oriented mindsets and look at possibilities that could solve food challenges for future generations.

Recently, there have been fascinating advances in the chemistry sector that could make progress toward that goal.

Paper-based test for food-borne pathogens

Even if you’ve never had food poisoning, you’re probably well aware of how miserable people feel when suffering from it. Some cases can be managed at home, but others are so severe they require hospitalization and may even be fatal.

Until recently, the only way to check food for bacteria that could make people sick was to use complex machinery operated by highly trained personnel. However, according to a study published in Analytical Chemistry, experts have developed a specific type of dipstick test that displays lines on a special variety of paper if food-borne pathogens are present.

When the dipstick comes in contact with E. coli strain O157:H7, Salmonella typhimurium or both of those, it offers an easy-to-read indication that doesn’t require specialized knowledge to understand. Also, a person only has to dip the paper into the substance once to generate results.

Because the bacteria types associated with this test are very common, people in the scientific community are hopeful it could cut down on instances of food poisoning, especially before consumables reach grocery store shelves.

Keeping us safe from contaminated food

The paper test mentioned above is not the only way scientists are depending on principles of chemistry to reduce instances of food poisoning. Some of the other technologies include intelligent packaging that changes color if a pathogen is detected. Eventually, a food container might contain instructions that tell consumers how to determine something is wrong with food — similar to the way jars have buttons on the lid that pop up if they’ve been opened prior to purchase.

Additionally, researchers have made huge strides in our ability to understand unique foods’ “fingerprints” — DNA identifiers which scientists can use to determine authentic food products from “fraudulent” look-a-likes. These genetic markers are so accurate, researchers can accurately determine the authenticity of single cacao beans.

Understanding the source of our food is undoubtedly important, but so is storing it properly. If people don’t keep the things they eat at the proper temperatures, bacteria growth can become rampant, even in food that was not contaminated when it was sold.

There have been improvements in refrigeration techniques that could also make our foods safer through temperature-related measures. For example, an improvement in traditional blast freezing pulls chilled air through pallets at a rate of 200 feet per minute, or nearly 15 times faster than previous methods.

An enzyme solution to boost egg production

Besides protecting our food supply, it’s also essential to think seriously about how to ensure there’s enough food to feed future inhabitants of Earth—or wherever the human race ends up. Scientists have taken that necessity into account, too, in equally innovative ways.

In India, DuPont Industrial Biosciences has introduced an enzyme solution for chickens that reduces or eliminates phytate and enhances the release of nutrients. Phytate hinders efficiency of egg-laying hens and causes their eggs to have less nutritional value. Because analysts see India as one of the world’s emerging egg markets, this product could give larger segments of the world more access to eggs.

Bioplastics and better crop yields

Ongoing efforts are also being made to maximize crop yields. Researchers specializing in the fields of agriculture, food engineering and inorganic chemistry have teamed up, hoping to come up with an eco-friendly version of a padding material to provide better produce outcomes that can be used around the world.

Characteristically, that material comes from petroleum. It’s effective for crop growth, plus it helps control weeds, cut down on water evaporation and keep the crops from coming in direct contact with soil. Due to contaminants in the material, though, it can’t be recycled.

A European commission against climate change is funding the scientists’ project, and the initiative is still in the early stages. Last month, the people involved met to discuss things like the risks, opportunities and prospects involved in such an undertaking. If this project goes well, it might produce more food for the planet’s hungry inhabitants without harming the environment since it involves a sustainable product.

Chemistry alone won’t get rid of the world’s food challenges and feed its billions of occupants, but as these examples demonstrate, it’ll play an important role.

Image Credit: Shutterstock

Kayla Matthews
Kayla Matthews
Kayla Matthews is a writer and technology blogger. You can find her work on VentureBeat, MakeUseOf, BioMed Central and Motherboard. To read more posts from Kayla, check out her blog, ProductivityBytes.
Don't miss a trend
Get Hub delivered to your inbox