Food Science Projects
22. Improving food sovereignty via advanced drying technologies: preparation of healthy crispy vegetable snacks
There has been an increasing effort to support tribal nations and communities and to improve the indigenous food sovereignty, the right of people to healthy and culturally appropriate foods that are produced through ecologically sustainable methods. Vegetables provide necessary energy and nutrients to the human body and have been culturally important in traditional native diets. However, modern diets are characterized by a large percentage of processed foods and unhealthy snacks, which has resulted in nutritional imbalance, and a series of compounding health issues, such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. These health issues are now prevalent within the Indigenous communities, and other groups.
Addressing this requires creative ideas. One way to produce healthier snacks that are crispy, palatable, nutritious, and shelf-stable is through advanced drying technologies, such as microwave vacuum drying (MVD). This technology takes advantage of improved heat and mass transfer and operates at lower temperatures without the need to add oil or calorie-dense ingredients. It better preserves the nutrients with quality comparable to freeze drying in many cases. However, such products are not readily available to consumers.
This project aims to develop new drying protocols and vegetable snacks by combination processes. The summer scholar will prepare snacks from different vegetables that are locally important, such as table beets, carrots, and green beans. Different pretreatment methods to the raw vegetables will be evaluated, which may include hot water blanching, steam blanching, partial water removal and freezing. The conditions to produce crispy dried snacks using MVD will be explored, and quality measurements will include moisture content, water activity, texture properties, and nutritional content. The student will learn basic food processing and analytical skills and have access to other drying and food processing technologies in the Cornell Food Venture Center Pilot Plant and the food processing labs.
Laboratory – 100%
23. A peek into the 'silver chamber': non-destructive monitoring of drying status in a microwave vacuum dryer
Monitoring drying status is critical to determine optimal drying conditions and times for improved processing efficiency and food product quality. Non-destructive sensing techniques (such as infrared spectroscopy, thermal imaging, and machine vision) have been increasingly used to evaluate food processes.
Microwave vacuum drying (MVD) is a new promising drying technology for producing crispy fruit and vegetable snacks. However, monitoring of the drying status inside a MVD dryer using regular sensors has been challenging, as most sensors that contain metal components would interfere and create dangerous conditions within the microwave chamber. Therefore, the main research question that needs to be answered is how to accurately measure the defining variables of the MVD process and food products, such as temperature, moisture, shape change, and quality attributes, while protecting the sensors and ensuring operational safety.
This project aims to develop a non-destructive sensing technique based on thermal imaging and machine vision tools for the pilot scale MVD dryer system to better monitor the drying process. The summer scholar will determine the suitable hardware and software components, design and develop the tool, and test the non-destructive sensing technique in the MVD drying process for selected foods, such as fruit and vegetable chips. The student will work with current Cornell Ph.D. students to learn basic engineering design, imaging analysis, coding, machine learning, chemometric techniques and process optimization. The student will gain hands-on experience in food process engineering, non-destructive sensing, tool design and development, and will have access to other drying and food processing technologies in the Cornell Food Venture Center Pilot Plant and the food processing labs.
24. Production of Bioplastics from food waste using fermentation
Fermentation has been used in food production for millennia but cutting-edge developments in biotechnology can revolutionize agriculture, potentially converting the sector into the biggest asset in the fight to mitigate the environmental impact of human activities.
Fermentation Farming technologies allow to produce agricultural commodities with significantly reduced or even a negative environmental footprint, but economic viability can only be achieved by tapping into the efficiency and scale of the existing food system.
The creation of biomaterials from agricultural waste using fermentation is a promising alternative to petroleum-derived plastics and other traditional materials. Production of bioplastics (such as polyhydroxyalkanoates – PHA) has been extensively studied and shown to be among the most promising alternatives to plastics. In this program, the scholar will be introduced to a variety of cultivation and separation techniques used for PHA-producing microorganisms and effectively apply these techniques to produce PHA from agricultural wastes, focusing primarily on hemp fibers, and promote the creation of biomaterials via direct extrusion. Further collaboration with The Center of Excellence for Food and Agriculture at Cornell AgriTech (CoE) and on-site visits will allow the scholar to witness the operations of food and agricultural companies firsthand, providing exposure to the complete food system ecosystem and allowing for a broad understanding and critical evaluation of the feasibility and impact of the technology.
Faculty: Dr. Bruno Xavier, Director of the Fermentation Farming Laboratory
The Fermentation Farming Laboratory
Cornell AgriTech’s Fermentation Farming Lab (FFL) provides cost-effective support and extension services to help companies use fermentation techniques to develop food products. The FFL is outfitted with a variety of equipment, analytical tools and technical expertise to help bring ideas from the lab bench to pilot scale, working towards a full proof of concept. Companies can explore possibilities and make business decisions quicker at a lower cost with Cornell’s globally recognized expertise in food science, microbiology and bioprocess engineering.
The FFL is a collaboration between the New York State Center of Excellence for Food and Agriculture (CoE) and the Cornell Food Venture Center (CFVC).
- Only United States citizens or permanent residents are eligible for USDA NIFA funds in this program. Non-US citizens, especially Cornell CALS students, may be eligible for funding from other sources.
- Must be 18 years of age by June 2024.
- Must have completed two, and preferably three, years of college-level study in business, food science, agriculture, global development or communications.
Must also be enrolled in an undergraduate program in business, food science, agriculture, global development or communications.