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Mathematical Modeling and Testing of Foods and Food Systems

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Principal Investigator/Project Leader: 
Department of Project: 
Department of Food Science
Project Description: 

The quantitative aspects of microbial inactivation and growth, and of chemical and biochemical changes in foods, play an important role in food safety, quality, stability and nutritional value. These aspects have become even more important now, as new preservation technologies are being developed and concern about the safety of foods in the United States is growing. Safety, nutrition and quality issues also strongly affect the economics of food production, processing and handling. Maintaining the safety of foods without sacrificing their quality and nutritional value requires accurate quantitative methods to assess what constitutes microbial safety, how it changes with time, how to accomplishing it and how the process and post process history affect the food's quality, and in some cases its chemical safety.

In many systems, the biological, biochemical and chemical processes, which are involved in the food's preservation and storage, follow non-linear kinetics. Addressing the non-linear kinetic aspects of foods processing and handling requires the development and application of novel models and non-traditional mathematical calculation methods. Also, modern mathematical software and the increasing power of computers, open new possibilities in the development and expansion of the use of discrete probabilistic models for addressing safety and quality issues that until now have been mainly addressed using continuous deterministic models. Two notable examples of the need for the new kinds of models are food poisoning episodes caused by a small numbers of virulent pathogens and the irregular spoilage patterns of preserved foods. The main goal is to develop new mathematical methods to describe and predict changes and deteriorative processes in foods and to improve existing ones, exploiting the power of modern mathematical software and the speed of computers. Secondary objectives are to develop user-friendly interactive software for implementing the new methods of calculation and to improve existing methods to calculate quantities and processes in food science, technology and engineering.

The project will produce new mathematical models for quantitative microbiology and food kinetics, improved versions of existing models, new methods of calculation, and a number of new interactive programs, many in the form of Wolfram Demonstrations. These are freely downloadable user-friendly programs where the user can vary the model parameters by moving sliders on the screen and the result appears almost instantaneously. A Wolfram Demonstration allows the user to create many hypothetical scenarios in a very short time and examine their consequences. The new models implementation and the new methods application will help to improve food preservation and help to establish safe conditions for foods processing, handling and storage with minimal loss of quality and nutritional value.