Food is where our nutrition comes from and what keeps our biological mechanism functioning. As we rely on food for survival, a huge food industry has been developed and is consistently growing. Chemistry is closely related to this industry. From food production, its processing and preservation, to its quality inspection, chemistry plays a crucial role in almost every sector along the food supply chain and contributes much to the modern food system. As the technology develops, the food production is more efficient, the preservation period longer and the products are of better quality.
More and more food is needed to feed the ever-expanding population. Nevertheless, traditional farming requires a massive amount of resources including water, time, and land. On top of that, it contributes largely to carbon emissions. Therefore, instead of agricultural expansion, alternative methods to produce food are needed. Ongoing research focuses on the synthetic production of food. In the future, food might be produced from the labs and chemical plants, instead of from farms and lands.
Recent research directions
Protein synthesis with carbon dioxide, electricity, and water link
A company claimed that they can synthesize a new protein called Solein using just carbon dioxide, electricity, water, and other nutrients in a bioreactor. Solein is a tasteless white powder and can be flavored and added to food.
Synthetic starch from carbon dioxide link The first-ever successful synthesis of starch from carbon dioxide without involving a cell is reported. Statistics showed that the synthetic production of starch is much more efficient than the conventional one.
Instead of purely synthetic food, it is also possible to start with cells or tissues taken from the animals. By providing nutrients, a piece of meat can be grown in the lab. To grow delicious meat at a reasonable rate, the cell culture media needs to be optimized to mimic the natural environment for the cell to replicate. This article discusses the parameters that play a role in cell growth.
Notwithstanding that the analytical techniques are sophisticated enough to detect most of the chemical and biological contaminants in food with state-of-the-art spectrometers in testing laboratories, such an analysis costs a lot of money and time to be done and is often destructive. To carry out the inspection in a more efficient and affordable way, chemists are looking for improvements in spectroscopic techniques. Apart from that, chemists also contribute to this area by designing chemical probes and establishing analytical chemistry protocols for detections of new contaminants, such as new antibiotics, never-before-seen viruses and their variants, etc., present in complex matrices.
Recent research directions
Detection of chemical and bacterial contaminations in foods by Raman spectroscopy link1link2
Raman spectroscopy provides a non-destructive method for quick analysis through the food package. From Raman spectroscopy to surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy, researchers are looking to improve the sensitivity, as well as how to identify various kinds of chemical and bacterial contaminations in foods.
Assessing the freshness of beef link By combining reflectance spectroscopy with deep learning, researchers can assess the freshness of beef samples. Data from diffuse reflectance spectroscopy will be translated into proportions of different forms of myoglobin which is an important indicator of freshness.
Detecting trace amounts of multiple classes of antibiotics in food link The detection of antibiotics in food is mostly limited to the same class of antibiotics at a time. To address this issue, researchers developed a method for the detection of multiple classes of spiked antibiotics that is applicable in analyses of various types of food.
Metal-organic framework based fluorescence sensor for detection of antibiotics link Various kinds of metal-organic framework based fluorescence sensors have been fabricated to detect the antibiotics residue that remained in food.
Food packaging and processing
In markets nowadays, food package is widely applied to essentially all kinds of food, from fresh vegetables to processed food, in order to increase the shelf life by keeping the food away from oxygen, moisture, bacteria, and other contaminants present in the environment during transport. The most abundant material used in food packaging is believed to be plastic wrap made from low-density polyethylene and polyvinyl chloride. However, there are potential health and environmental concerns behind the abuse of plastic wrap. In light of this, chemists are inventing more environment-friendly and safer materials to be used in food packaging.
In addition, chemists are seeking methods to process the food such that the quality can be enhanced.
Recent research directions
Degradable coatings for compostable paper food packaging block grease and oil link Researchers presented a polymeric coating that can effectively block grease and oil without the use of fluorocarbons or polyolefins which are believed to last for years in the environment. The polymer has ester linkages in the backbone to make it soluble in water slowly.
Bioplastic made of nano-cellulose and mango leaf that is antimicrobial and antioxidant link A bioplastic film is fabricated from nano-cellulose and mango leaf extracts. Mango leaf extracts, which were added intentionally for their antimicrobial and antioxidant ability, serve as UV light filters at the same time. It is reported that food wrapped by this bioplastic can be preserved for a longer time.
Transparent patch that signals contamination link A signal will be triggered when a pathogen is present inside the food or drink wrapped by the material called “Sentinel Wrap”. The signal which arises from the chemosensor printed on the wrap can be read with a handy electronic device including smartphone.
Improving the safety and overall quality of fish by UV-C light link Various studies reported that UV-C light has an antimicrobial effect and can be utilized to increase the shelf life of fish. It is believed that UV-C light can interrupt DNA replication by the formation of cross-linkage and reactive oxygen species.