Food is, intrinsically speaking, any substance an organism consumes to sustain and prolong its existence. But the amount and the quality of food is sometimes too large or too poor to accomplish its simple natural purpose.
Food science should be a field of interest and concern to all of us. Our knowledge and choices then would direct this science in the right direction for the benefit of present and future generations. So we as consumers have enormous power to influence ultimate decisions in a world where food production and trade are expanding more and more.
The World Bank reported that the European Union was the top food importer in 2005, followed at a distance by the USA and Japan. Food is now traded and marketed on a global basis. The variety and availability of food is no longer restricted by the diversity of locally grown food or the limitations of the local growing season. Between 1961 and 1999, there was a 400% increase in worldwide food exports. Some countries are now economically dependent on food exports, which in some cases account for over 80% of all exports.
Historically, people secured food through two methods: hunting and gathering, and agriculture. Today, most of the food energy consumed by the world population is supplied by the food industry, which is operated by multinational corporations that use intensive farming and industrial agriculture to maximize system output.
In popular culture, the mass production of food, specifically meats such as chicken and beef, has come under fire from various documentaries, most recently Food, Inc, documenting the mass slaughter and poor treatment of animals, often for easier revenues from large corporations. Along with a current trend towards environmentalism, people in Western culture have had an increasing trend towards the use of herbal supplements, foods for a specific group of person (such as dieters, women, or athletes), functional foods (fortified foods, such as omega-3 eggs), and a more ethnically diverse diet.
Food science is a study concerned with all technical aspects of food, beginning with harvesting or slaughtering, and ending with its cooking and consumption, an ideology commonly referred to as "from field to fork". It is considered one of the life sciences and is usually considered distinct from the field of nutrition.
Food scientists and food technologists study the physical, microbiological, and chemical makeup of food. Depending on their area of specialization, food scientists may develop ways to process, preserve, package, or store food, according to industry and government specifications and regulations.
This discipline also encompasses how products change under certain food processing techniques and ways either to enhance or to prevent them from happening. An example of enhancing a process would be to encourage fermentation of dairy products with microorganisms that convert lactose to lactic acid; an example of preventing a process would be stopping the browning on the surface of freshly cut Red Delicious apples using lemon juice or other acidulated water.
A 2003 World Health Organization (WHO) report concluded that about 40% of reported food poisoning outbreaks in the WHO European Region occur in private homes. According to the WHO and CDC, in the USA alone, annually, there are 76 million cases of foodborne illness leading to 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths.
Other articles in this series:
- Acid/Alkaline foods
- Organic foods
- Hungry for change; FOOD.INC
- Prevention of foodborne disease: Five keys to safer food; WHO
- Microstructural Principles of Food Processing and Engineering; Aguilera, Jose Miguel and David W. Stanley.
- Foodborne Pathogens: Microbiology and Molecular Biology; Fratamico PM and Bayles DO
- Lactobacillus Molecular Biology: From Genomics to Probiotics; Ljungh A, Wadstrom
- The Economic Research Service of the USDA
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