NC136: Improvement of Thermal and Alternative Processes for Foods

(Multistate Research Project)

Status: Inactive/Terminating


Today, the U.S. and world food industry is undergoing major changes driven by several economic, competitive and environmental necessities. The internal demand for ever-increasing growth, and consumer demand for greater value have resulted in several new products and processes. The product arena has witnessed the rapid growth of nutraceuticals, blurring the lines between food and medicine. The need to improve quality and retain nutritional value and bioactivity has resulted in study of a number of new thermal and nonthermal preservation technologies. Technologies such as high-pressure processing, pulsed electric fields (PEF), pulsed light processing, irradiation, ozonation, hurdle technology and ohmic heating, thermosonication, and manothermosonication are being investigated with the aim of producing high-value end products. While these developments are exciting, their advent comes in an era clouded by disease outbreaks due to newly discovered resistant pathogenic bacteria.

These drivers are changing the way foods are processed in ways that were not originally anticipated when this project began many years ago. However, the objectives of NC-136 take on special relevance in light of these new products and technologies. In the past, it was sufficient for a process authority or specialist to merely understand microbial death kinetics under thermal treatments. Specialists will have to confront processes and their combinations that can be of bewildering complexity, and indeed, a whole new body of knowledge is required. The Food and Drug Administration has acknowledged the crying need for such information by awarding recently a contract to the Institute of Food Technologists to collect and summarize information related to microbial death kinetics for alternative process technologies.

The NC-136 Committee, which has historically focused on thermal processes through multistation collaboration of engineers, food scientists, biochemists, microbiologists and other scientists, is in a prime position to adapt and expand its focus by inclusion of nonthermal technologies. In many ways, our original objectives are as relevant as ever; for example the need for physical property and kinetics information gain additional dimensions under alternative processes. The need for process models is as great as ever. Thus, we propose an expanded scope for the project.

The record of productivity for NC-136 during the current 5-year cycle (Table 1) demonstrates the Committee's ability to achieve its objectives. The level of funding through the USDA National Research Initiative (NRI) and other competitive grants (see also Appendix A) shows a considerable leveraging effect, and is indicative of the relevance and quality of the science. Many of these grants are from industry; NC-136 plays an important role in keeping US processors at the forefront of a global industry. Agricultural producers and consumers benefit in turn from a competitive, innovative domestic food processing industry. Rapid, substantive progress will be best achieved through the continued sharing of resources and unique capabilities that can be brought to bear through NC-136 (Appendix B).

Table 1. Productivity of NC-136 during 1995-99. Listings of specific accomplishments can be found under a Attachment C orb Appendix A.

Number (multistation)

Journal articles, peer-revieweda

520 (17)

Books and book chaptersa

102 (7)


320 (8)

Theses and dissertationsa




USDA NRI grantsb

$1.75 million

Other competitive grants b

Over $16 million

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