Food Science and Technology

African scientist working at UGA to improve food safety at home

Posted on
Monday, May 15, 2017

Daniel Mwalwayo has spent most of his professional career working to ensure a safe food supply in his home country of Malawi.

This spring, he’s spending three months focused on that goal while training at the University of Georgia through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Norman E. Borlaug International Agricultural Science and Technology Fellowship Program. The program, which is administered at UGA by the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences Office of Global Programs, promotes food security and economic growth by providing training and collaborative research opportunities to researchers and policymakers from developing or middle-income countries.

After nearly a decade working for the national food inspection program in Malawi, Mwalwayo wanted to study how to minimize aflatoxin in processed peanuts, a problem he sees firsthand at home. The Borlaug program matched him with Koushik Adhikari, a UGA food science professor who is an expert in sensory analysis and is working with Mwalwayo on how to survey consumers on peanut consumption and aflatoxin-related issues. Mwalwayo also spent time in the lab of Jia-Sheng Wang, the head of the Environmental Health Science Department at UGA, to learn more about aflatoxin testing techniques.

High school students complete one-year mentorship program at UGA-Griffin

Posted on
Friday, April 28, 2017

Last summer, seven seniors from Pike County High School (PCHS) in Zebulon, Georgia, with an aptitude for science made a commitment to work alongside University of Georgia Griffin campus scientists three days a week for the entire school year. This month, they will complete their yearlong partnership.

The students, Courtney Bagwell, Dylan Blohm, Abigail Chasteen, Nikki Dodson, Megan Pitts, Taylor Thomas and Talisa Watts, are the first group to take part in the off-campus internship. 

"The beauty and the flexibility of the (Pike County STEM) Academy is that we have a lot of standards, but we can pick and choose the ones that fit with science and math, and then add in the technology and the engineering through agriculture," said Greg Waits, the program's coordinator and the agriculture education teacher at the high school. 

Students are selected for the program based on their test scores in math and science. Then they take advanced classes in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) areas during their freshman, sophomore and junior years before participating in the off-campus experience at UGA-Griffin. 

Formally, the students earn Advanced Placement science credits for participating. They also gain a wealth of information and personal experience. 

UGA food science student looks to composting to help protect peanut from aflatoxin contamination

Posted on
Thursday, October 27, 2016

For millennia, farmers used compost to return nutrients to depleted soil. Now researchers are searching for a way composting can help battle aflatoxin.

Ghana native Esther Yeboah Akoto, who is currently pursuing her master’s degree in food science and technology at the University of Georgia, is working to help farmers diminish aflatoxin contamination in their soil by composting field waste.

“We know that composting has been around for a very long time. It’s a technique that growers have used for thousands of years,” said Akoto, who is conducting her research in conjunction with U.S. Feed the Future's Peanut Mycotoxin and Innovation Lab at the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

“More recently, we know about aflatoxin and its effect on health. Could composting provide a way to remove aflatoxin-contaminated produce from the food supply?”

Researchers around the world are working to minimize naturally occurring molds that can grow on peanuts, maize and other crops. Those molds diminish the quality of peanut crops and generate mycotoxins such as aflatoxin, a dangerous compound that can cause physical and mental stunting in children, cause cancer and, in high doses, even kill. Obviously, the most effective intervention is to minimize mold growth in the field and in storage, but farmers may never completely get rid of something as ubiquitous as mold.

Kitchen utensils can spread bacteria between foods, UGA study finds

Posted on
Friday, November 6, 2015

In a recent study funded by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, University of Georgia researchers found that produce containing bacteria are likely to contaminate other produce items through the continued use of knives or graters — the bacteria latches onto the utensils commonly found in consumers’ homes and spreads to the next item. Unfortunately, many consumers are unaware that utensils and other surfaces at home can contribute to the spread of bacteria, said the study’s lead author Marilyn Erickson, an associate professor in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences’ department of food science and technology.

“Just knowing that utensils may lead to cross-contamination is important,” Erickson said. “With that knowledge, consumers are then more likely to make sure they wash them in between uses.”

Erickson has been researching produce for the past 10 years. Her past work has mainly focused on the fate of bacteria on produce when it’s introduced to plants in the field during farming.

In 2013, she was co-author on a study looking at the transfer of norovirus and hepatitis A between produce and common kitchen utensils — finding that cutting and grating increased the number of contaminated produce items when that utensil had first been used to process a contaminated item.

Consumer Preferences Guide UGA Sensory Scientist’s Research

Posted on
Friday, September 11, 2015

A University of Georgia food scientist is turning to a logical source for input on which foods consumers like and which they don’t like. His research involves recruiting people from all walks of life to come into his laboratory in Griffin, Georgia, and taste food. Since joining the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences a year ago, sensory scientist Koushik Adhikari has led consumer panels on roasted peanuts, Vidalia onions, steak and dog food. (No, the recruits didn’t actually taste the dog food. Based on the dog food’s appearance, they rated the likelihood they would buy it for their pets.)

“Generally, people are fearful of what they didn’t grow up eating,” said Adhikari. “They may dislike a food for a specific reason. I don’t like ice cream because I worked for an ice cream company for several years.”

The field of sensory science is all about data, he said. After asking 100 consumers to taste six samples, Adhikari and his team generate a lot of data that, after analyzed, gives food companies a plethora of information on how consumers will accept, or reject, their product.

“Most of the companies we work with just want the data because they have their own statisticians,” he said. “Then other companies want us to analyze the data for them. It can go both ways.”