The food industry is the largest industry in the US in terms of the total value of shipments, value added, and total employment. In particular, California’s food and agricultural industry is a leader in the production and processing of a variety of food commodities for both national and international markets. This industry, however, changes continuously in response to consumer demands for a greater variety of products that offer higher quality at economically competitive prices. Traditional methods of food preservation, such as canning, freezing, and drying, need continual improvements to keep abreast of advances in technology. In addition to food preservation the modern food industry is engaged in processing a large variety of food products to meet consumer needs. Engineering of processes that achieve desired processing efficiencies while maintaining high product quality offers numerous challenges.
The design and operation of manufacturing systems used in the industry must rely on sound engineering principles along with an understanding of the biological aspects of foods. This large agro-industrial base offers numerous research opportunities in the field of food engineering. Our food engineering faculty and graduate students have contributed to the solution of a wide variety of research problems important to the industry. In addition, fundamental research in food engineering has led to a better understanding of the properties and processes that influence the quality of foods delivered to the consumer.
Several current research projects are aimed at generating new knowledge vital to the food industry. Fundamental studies are underway on examining heat and mass transfer in foods during processing. Computer-aided simulations are being used to investigate processes including drying, freezing, frying, extrusion, and thermal processing to destroy harmful bacteria. Magnetic resonance imaging of fluid flow and other food manufacturing operations is providing new insights into both desirable and undesirable changes in foods when they are processed. A number of projects are focused on obtaining new information on basic food properties. Developments of robotics, vision systems, and controls are actively being pursued for applications in food processing. Several of these projects extend into postharvest and sensor/control engineering and are described further in those sections of this brochure
Transparent whey protein edible films formed as coatings on nuts, chocolate, dry foods and fresh fruits can improve food quality and shelf life by regulating oxygen, aroma, oil and moisture transfer. Also shown are the dry whey protein, water and glycerol plasticizer which are combined in film and coating formulations.
This texture analyzer is used in studies associated with measuring force and deformation of biological materials, including gels, extrudates, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and processed foods.
Dynamic mechanical analyzers provide information on the physical properties of foods, such as the crust characteristics of oil fried vegetables.
Deep fat frying of foods is employed by our multi-billion dollar snack food industry to manufacture a variety of foods including French fries, doughnuts, and potato chips. One of our projects focuses on processes that minimize oil uptake by potatoes during the frying process
Our Food Engineering Laboratory is well equipped with processing equipment and analytical hardware. On this student project, heat transfer data on hamburger patties during cooking are collected. This information is later used for developing mathematical models that are needed in optimizing the frying process and ensuring food safety.
Recent field studies have been conducted for determining the effects of various operating conditions of pistachio dryers on nut quality. Since the dollar value of the nuts reflects their quality, proper postharvest procedures are critical to growers.