This blog post will mark the end of my summer internship at Excelar Technologies. So, what better topic than to combine my passion for the food industry with the innovative technology I’ve been exposed to while working at a tech start-up.
Technology has revolutionized agriculture from the way we grow and harvest food, to its manufacturing and packaging processes. Every item in our grocery stores has been in contact with technology. Technology has made it possible for food production, innovation and engineering.
Here are 4 technologies that have majorly impacted the food we know and consume today:
1. Genetically Modified Foods:
It’s almost impossible to talk about food technology without pointing out the elephant in the room – genetically modified organisms (GMOs). A GMO is an organism whose genome has been engineered in a laboratory to favour the expression of desired physiological traits. GMOs are produced using scientific methods that include recombinant DNA technology and reproductive cloning.
Genetically modified foods were first approved for human consumption in the United States in 1994. And it didn’t take long to catch on. By 2015 approximately 90% of all the corn, cotton, and soybeans planted in the US were genetically modified.
You may ask, what are the advantages of GMO compared to conventionally grown foods? Well, there are advantages to both the grower and the consumer.
- Firstly, GMO foods are easier and less costly for farmers to grow, which makes them cheaper for the consumer. GMO techniques may also enhance foods’ nutrients, flavour, and appearance.
- In addition, GMOs are modified to express a gene that protects them against pests and insects. As a result, they don’t need to be exposed to harmful pesticides as often (ie. Bt gene which gives the GMO plants a natural resistance.)
- Also, GMOs are modified to help them survive harsh conditions, such as droughts. Thereby, resulting in a higher yield for farmers
- And for the consumer, GMOs can increase the nutritional value of foods. For example, rice high in beta carotene is known as golden rice. Golden rice was developed to help prevent blindness in regions where local diets are chronically deficient in vitamin A.
2. 3D Food Printing:
Why grow your food when you can just print it? Most of us have heard of 3D printer by now. But, did you know we have the technology will work for food products too?! It’s essentially the same process, offering endless possibilities for the shape, texture, composition and taste of food products.
3D printing will let you customize the final dish to your specific demands and tastes. Just like cooking for yourself, but without all the work. Plus, 3D printing will greatly reduce the waste produced from ‘conventional’ cooking.
3. Canning & Pasteurization Technology:
A major concern for every food producer is the shelf life of the product. How can they extend the shelf life without compromising the quality or taste of the food?
Hundreds of years ago, before refrigerators and freezers, this was accomplished by smoking, salt curing and fermentation techniques. Then came along the reliable alternative of pasteurization, discovered by Louis Pasteur and Lloyd Hall.
The newest addition to the canning and pasteurization techniques of food processing is called High-Pressure Processing (HPP). This is a conservation technique that could extend the shelf life of food products 10x.
HPP is a cold pasteurization process that introduces foods sealed in packaging into a high pressure environment. This technique effectively inactivates micro-organisms to guarantee food safety. This combination of high pressure and low-temperature environment safely maintains the taste, food, appearance, texture and nutritional value of food.
4. Lab-Grown Meat:
The hype about plant-based meat alternatives is a hot topic right now. But perhaps an even more controversial product soon to hit supermarket shelves is lab-grown meat. Now, I know what you’re thinking… meat that is grown in a lab, from a few cells, that’s disgusting!
This ‘meat’ is grown from stem cells harvested from donor livestock and then cultured in a lab for a few weeks.
When the first lab-grown burger was unveiled in 2013, it cost $280,000 to produce. But don’t worry, the burgers would retail to consumers for $10/each. Globally, the demand for meat is expected to increase, and mass production of lab-grown meat could fill this gap in the supply chain. AT Kearney predicts that by 2040, 60% of all meat consumed globally will come from lab-grown substitutes or plant-based alternatives.
Let’s look at the environmental advantages to this food technology: The meat industry is a huge contributor to global warming.
- By moving away from traditional animal farming, we could reduce greenhouse emissions by up to 96%.
- In addition, this would free up to 99 percent of the land used in animal farming worldwide.