Considering food through the lens of materials science might initially seem strange, but if you imagine food items as collections of gels, emulsions and foams, you can begin to see how the concepts of materials science could change how we prepare, store and improve our foods.1 Moreover, there are numerous structuring processes that go into the creation of foods and most companies desire that these processes will result in food that is standardized, safe and appealing for consumers.2 But food can be so much more than standard and appealing.
Food Materials Science and Product Innovation
Indeed, in considering two ways food materials science could revolutionize how and what we eat—in terms of food security and release delivery systems—it is also important to focus on the technology, such as electronic laboratory notebooks, that will make such revolution possible.
- Food security: The US Department of Agriculture defines food insecurity as “limited or uncertain nutritionally adequate and safe foods or limited or uncertain ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways.”3 Considering the first definition, food materials science could go a long way toward ensuring the safety of foods through the generation of biofilms. Though biofilms are often thought of as pathogenic elements,4 using materials to assemble biodegradable biofilms that protect the surface of food items (and incorporate antimicrobial elements on the film) could prevent the growth of bacteria or protect food from chemical contamination.In order to determine the best types of materials to assemble such a biofilm, researchers will need to engineer various prototypes that take into consideration compliance risks, safety, biodegradability and other factors. To facilitate this complex engineering process, technology such as electronic laboratory notebooks could significantly assist in the discovery process. Electronic laboratory notebooks can help companies collect their data within a central platform and this could then be used to glean inspiration for new directions.
- Drug and Nutrient Delivery Systems: Food materials science could also revolutionize food quality. Many food products are supposed to be nutritious; however, “nearly every food preparation process reduces the amount of nutrients in food,”5 and these losses can be significant. Cooking and draining certain foods can result in up to 75% loss of Vitamin C. Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) companies and others interested parties should explore nutrient delivery systems that could be used to encapsulate nutrients during food processing cycles to prevent loss.6 Beyond nutrients, finding a way to deliver capsules within food items would enable food companies to apply the same principles toward packaging dietary supplements, flavors, probiotics, sweeteners, antimicrobials and even medications.7 Determining the types of nontoxic, degradable polymers that can be used to make these “nanocapsules,” as well as how such capsules will affect the texture, taste and appearance of food, requires a significant amount of research.
Electronic laboratory notebooks (ELNs) provide an excellent means for organizing complex data generated by large, multidisciplinary teams of scientists who are likely working in different locations. Given the variety of researchers involved, the flexibility of electronic laboratory notebooks is also paramount because these diverse groups would be able to upload and present their data in a format familiar to them without disrupting the overall structure of the platform. For example, chemists could upload analytical test results in a familiar format, whereas a biologist could just as easily upload an image of his molecular cloning experiments.
A final essential feature of electronic laboratory notebooks for food companies is in the protection of intellectual property (IP). A company could do everything by the book in terms of discovering a novel material that serves as biofilm over fruit or devising the perfect drug delivery system. But these efforts are futile if the information is stolen or a company cannot demonstrate that it was the first to invent a product or method.8 With secure logins and individually dated pages, electronic laboratory notebooks decrease the likelihood that proprietary information is removed and could be the deciding factor in a patent war.
The application of materials science as described above will usher in an era of safer, higher quality food items. But to stay ahead of competition, food companies should consider investing in the appropriate technology to advance their scientific efforts, while protecting IP. BIOVIA Notebook is an Electronic Laboratory Notebook that enables CPG companies to protect their IP and enhance collaboration across their organization. To learn more, click here.
1 “Food Materials Functionality,” http://www.ift.org/~/media/Knowledge%20Center/Science%20Reports/Conference%20Papers/14JohnDutcher.pdf
2 “Food Materials Science,” http://www.springer.com/us/book/9780387719467
3 “Food Security in the U.S.” September 8, 2015, http://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/food-nutrition-assistance/food-security-in-the-us/measurement.aspx
4 “Programmable biofilm-based materials from engineered curli nanofibers,” August 8, 2014, http://www.nature.com/ncomms/2014/140917/ncomms5945/full/ncomms5945.html
5 “Nutritional Effects of Food Processing,” 2014, http://nutritiondata.self.com/topics/processing
6 “Nanotechnology in the Food Industry,” 2014, http://www.understandingnano.com/column-food.html
7 “Food grade nano-capsules show formulation potential,” October 25, 2010, http://www.foodnavigator.com/Science/Food-grade-nano-capsules-show-formulation-potential
8 “New Debates over Intellectual Property Protection and ELNs,” January 7, 2011, http://www.scientificcomputing.com/articles/2011/01/new-debates-over-intellectual-property-protection-and-eln