Food Engineering

The largest business activity in the world is the supplying of food to an ever-increasing population. This business includes growing and harvesting, transportation and handling, storing, processing and preservation, packing, distribution, and marketing. During the past 50 to 75 years, the various phases of the food business have grown from small family-type enterprises to gigantic, increasingly sophisticated and integrated food supply systems. The need for this change has been dictated by increasing concentrations of people in large urban areas, where the livelihood of large segments of the population depend on huge quantities of foodstuffs being readily available. Because large-volume production of foods and food materials is often remote from dense concentrations of consumers, efficient mass production and transportation of food supplies are absolutely necessary.

The vertically integrated food industry that has grown from these demands, probably more than any other human activity, requires the support of diversified, well-rounded teams of scientists, engineers, economists, and marketing specialists. Food engineering is a relatively new professional and scientific field defined in the 1950s when several engineering-educated food scientists and technologists employed by educational institutions and various segments of the food industry recognized that few engineers were educated and trained for the increasingly complex world food industry.

Foods are composed of a large variety of physically and chemically complex materials. A powerful analysis and design concept, called unit operations, originated and was extensively developed by those in the field of chemical engineering. This concept has been immensely useful in food engineering operations ranging from raw material assessment to finished product evaluation. Unit operations permits a myriad of processing steps to be seen as relatively few basic physical and chemical transformations. For example, crushing, mixing, and filtering are physical unit operations; reduction and polymerization are chemical unit operations.

Engineers in other industries are almost exclusively physical-science oriented. Functional engineers in the food industry must be knowledgeable in the biological sciences as applied to the food industry, including sanitation, spoilage, public health, environmental control, and biological process engineering, in which microorganisms are used to drive or mediate processes to produce food materials or food products.

The food requirements of the modern world can no longer be met by small, isolated, and nonintegrated food production systems, each involved in a single phase of the food industry. The logistic requirements and the complexity of feeding a world in which many countries are unable to produce sufficient food for their own populations have created a demand for a more science- and engineering-based approach. Today, and increasingly in the future, the food engineer must have the ability to play an important role in the integration of all phases of food production, preservation, and distribution into a smoothly functioning industry.

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