Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition

Two University of Illinois food scientists receive USDA food safety grants

Published April 9, 2015

URBANA, Ill. – Two University of Illinois professors have received $861,714 in grant money from USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) to fund research that will improve the nation’s food quality.

A four-year grant for nearly $500,000 was awarded to Pawan Takhar, a U of I associate professor of food engineering, to study damage to foods caused by ice recrystallization during freeze-thaw cycles. Shyam S. Sablani, associate professor of biological systems engineering at Washington State University, is a co–principal investigator on the project.

“Millions of dollars’ worth of food products are damaged during shipping and storing due to moisture migration and ice crystal growth caused by freeze-thaw cycles. Data generated from our physics-based mathematical modeling and experimentation will help the food industry improve the operation and design of its freezing units,” Takhar said.

Youngsoo Lee, a U of I assistant professor of food science, was awarded a USDA NIFA grant for over $360,000 for research that will enable food manufacturers to design solid food systems that will enhance saltiness and achieve sodium reduction in a broad range of products.

“Six in 10 American adults either have high blood pressure or are on the borderline of this diagnosis largely because they eat too much salt,” he explained.

Because 70 percent of the salt Americans consume comes from processed foods, Lee studies the relationship between the microstructural properties of these foods and the way salt is released when it is chewed.

“Much of the salt that is added to processed foods is not released in our mouths where we can taste it, and that means the rest of the salt is wasted,” he said. “We want to alter porosity in these foods to see if we can get more of the salt to be released during chewing. Then food manufacturers won’t have to add as much salt as before, but the consumer will taste almost the same amount of saltiness.”

Soo-Yeun Lee, a U of I associate professor of food science, and Jan Ilavsky, a physicist at Argonne National Laboratory, are co–principal investigators on Lee’s grant-funded research.

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