Fiscal Year 2007 Annual Report for National Program 306,
Quality and Utilization of Agricultural Products
This National Program is focused on post-harvest quality and utilization of agricultural commodities and products. It addresses Strategic Goal 2, Objective 1, Performance Measure 2.1.2 (Develop cost effective, functional industrial and consumer products, including higher quality, healthy foods, that satisfy consumer demand in the United States and abroad) of the ARS FY 2006-2011 Strategic Plan. The National Program Team held three workshops in 1999, inviting stakeholders to provide input on relevant problems and research needs. From those workshops and subsequent internal planning meetings, a National Program Action Plan was developed and put in place in 2000. A workshop was conducted for scientists and administrators involved in the Program in 2003 to enhance research planning and coordination. Research project plans were prepared by lead scientists and underwent review by peer panels in 2004. Upon revision of the project plans to satisfy reviewer concerns, the projects were certified by the ARS Office of Scientific Quality Review for a 5-year period. An external panel will conduct a retrospective assessment in 2008 of the accomplishments and impact of the Program based on a comprehensive accomplishments report provided to them by the National Program management team. That will be followed in 2008 by a workshop seeking input from stakeholders of the National Program and development of a new Action Plan. The development of new project plans, their peer review and implementation in 2009 will launch the second cycle for this program. Selected accomplishments in this national program for fiscal year 2007 are shown below under the two program components.
1. Quality Characterization, Preservation, and Enhancement
Postharvest treatment strategy for fresh-cut apple slices. Commercial processing formulations for fresh-cut produce maintain the instrumental and sensory quality, but not the microbial quality and food safety of the fresh-cuts. Researchers at Beltsville, Maryland, developed a postharvest strategy that includes a brief (2-3 minute) preprocessing heat treatment to control fungal pathogens and spoilage yeasts, and a processing treatment formulation that inhibits or eliminates, depending on concentration and microbe, spoilage bacteria and five bacterial human pathogens (exogenously applied to freshly processed slices) on packaged apple slices during storage. A Confidentiality Agreement has been signed between ARS and a company to discuss patenting and licensing options and what additional research needs to be done to gain FDA approval for use of the new technology on lightly processed fruits and vegetables.
Assessing internal quality of apples by spectral scattering technique. Modern packinghouses can sort and grade fruit for color and size; some of them are now even capable of sorting fruit for soluble solids (sugar). However, it is still challenging to sort apples for firmness, not to mention both firmness and soluble solids. A new method/technique was developed by engineers at East Lansing, Michigan, for assessing fruit firmness and soluble solids content, based on the measurement of light scattering in apples at selected wavelengths or for a spectral region. Mathematical models were proposed and compared for prediction of fruit firmness and soluble solids content. An improved sensing configuration was tested on the prototype developed earlier for real time measurement of light scattering over the visible and near-infrared region, which showed promising results in measuring both firmness and soluble solids content. The spectral scattering technology will provide the industry a new capability for delivering better quality fruit to the marketplace. The method has been used by other researchers for assessing quality of other horticultural and food products.
Detection of wheat kernels with hidden insect infestations. Grain kernels infested by insects may show no indication on their exterior, but often contain hidden larvae. Although grain is always inspected for insect infestations upon shipping and receiving, many infested samples go undetected. Many methods for detecting infested wheat have been developed but none has seen widespread use due to expense or inadequate accuracy, or both. Engineers at Manhattan, Kansas, modified a simple laboratory roller mill system to measure and analyze the electrical conductance of wheat as it was crushed. This facilitated detection of wheat kernels with live insects hidden inside of them. Furthermore, the apparatus is low cost (~$1500 for parts) and can inspect a one kg sample in less than two minutes. This technology should help grain handlers and millers detect grain that is infested and take action before the insect population increase and damage more grain. The technology is currently being transferred to a major cereal manufacturer.
Basis for potato storage disorder elucidated. Potato growers and processors sustain tens of millions of dollars in total losses each year from a disorder of unknown origin loosely referred to as pink eye. Researchers at Fargo, North Dakota, in collaboration with university colleagues, determined that pink eye is a result of aberrant periderm (skin) development resulting from incomplete cell wall formation thereby rendering tubers more susceptible to rot and other storage defects. Having determined the physiological basis for pink eye syndrome, this research has laid the foundation to identify methods to mitigate the deleterious and costly effects of this disorder.
Release of a new flavorful tomato variety. A new tomato variety, ‘FloraLee’, has been released by the University of Florida due to collaborative efforts to develop a high lycopene, flavorful tomato by ARS researchers at Winter Haven, Florida, and a University of Florida tomato breeder. Tomato lines were evaluated for flavor, color and horticultural characteristics, including sensory and chemical analyses resulting in the development of a flavorful, high lycopene tomato.
Effects of fiber properties on electrical properties of cotton lint. Currently all cotton is marketed in the U.S. on a wet basis. The reason for this has been the historic inability of sensors to provide an accurate indication of cotton bale moisture that is stable for all cottons throughout the U.S. To address this need, basic research was conducted by the researchers at Lubbock, Texas, in cooperation with Cotton Incorporated, to determine the effects of cotton fiber maturity and fineness on the electrical properties of cotton lint. Specific accomplishments saw the identification and design of the required instrumentation to perform both low frequency conductivity and microwave permittivity measurements. Additional work on moisture conditioning saw the development of new protocols for adding moisture to the lint fiber to within 0.1%.
Development of an automatic fabric rating (AutoRate) system. In cooperation with a private sector partner, researchers at New Orleans, Louisiana, built a materials handling system for evaluating sample fabrics for levels of white specks. The system incorporates the automated version of Autorate and an image analysis system for measuring white specks that is unbiased for different operators. A fully automated version of this system performed superbly in evaluating white specks. The system also has potential to measure dark specks, which can be used to evaluate seed coat fragments in greige (unfinished) fabrics.
Effect of bale aging on yarn quality. The U.S. cotton crop has in the past been utilized primarily by the domestic textile production market. In recent years, however, the crop has shifted to primarily foreign textile production markets, primarily in China. As a result, the U.S. cotton crop may be subjected to extended periods of storage, either in warehouses or within shipping containers, without benefit of temperature control. Scientists at Clemson, South Carolina, found that storage of cotton bales for at least 2 years leads to a significant reduction in yarn strength as well as an increase in yellowness, with both of these factors associated with inferior quality. The potential impact of this deterioration in quality is that U.S. cotton may come to be perceived as being inferior in quality to cottons which have not been subjected to extended storage unless action is taken to mitigate the effects of storage, such as by temperature control of cotton bales.
Pterostilbene found to be a colon cancer preventive natural product. Colon cancer is the second most prevalent cause of cancer mortality. Dietary (especially fruits and vegetables) intervention is recommended to reduce colon cancer risk. Pterostilbene, found in Vaccinium species (e.g., blueberries) and grapes, was shown by researchers at Oxford, Mississippi, to prevent colon cancer in rat model of colon cancer. Pterostilbene was shown in earlier studies to have lipid-lowering property. Discovery of its colon-cancer preventive activity provides further basis for the development of Vaccinium species and/or of grapes as sources of this nutraceutical.
Accurate detection of aflatoxin in almonds, hazelnuts, and pistachios. Because of the large variability associated with the test procedure, lots may be misclassified when handlers, exporters, importers, and regulatory agencies test treenuts for aflatoxin, which may cause an economic loss to the industry and increase the health dangers to the consumer. The sampling, sample preparation, and analytical variances were determined for all three treenuts by ARS researchers at Raleigh, North Carolina. The variances were compared for all three treenuts and it was determined that a single model based upon the almond data can be developed to evaluate the performance of sampling plan designs. USDA/ARS, as part of the U.S. delegation to the Codex Committee on Contaminants in Foods (CCCF), has asked to use the data to recommend a harmonized sampling plan to detect aflatoxin in treenuts traded in international markets for CCCF approval. The U.S. almond industry, which provides 70% of the world’s demands for almonds, has used the model to develop an industry wide aflatoxin-testing program for almonds marketed in the export trade that would reduce lots rejected upon retesting in the EU.
Mid-oleic/ultra low linolenic soybean frying oil quality. Food manufacturers and restaurants are seeking alternatives to hydrogenated oil for frying because of problems with trans fatty acids. To determine if a new oil, mid-oleic/ultra low linolenic soybean oil, has the fatty acid and tocopherol composition for enhanced frying stability, scientists in Peoria, Illinois, compared the fry life and fried food stability of this oil compared to hydrogenated oil. The foods fried in mid-oleic/low linolenic soybean oil had better flavor, longer shelf life and more tocopherol retention than did the hydrogenated soybean oil. This new oil has the potential to replace hydrogenated oil for commercial frying because of enhanced stability from its fatty acid and tocopherol profiles.
2. New Processes, New Uses and Value-Added Foods and Biobased Products
High protein whey snack product. Texturized whey protein is a new patented whey protein ingredient developed by scientists at Wyndmoor, Pennsylvania, using shear or extrusion processing. The process alters the functionality of whey protein isolate and whey protein concentrates allowing them to be used to fortify a wide variety of food products without changing, and in many cases, improving the functional properties of the food. Whey protein can improve the amino acid balance and complements starches and grain-derived flours. A CRADA partner and licensee opened a processing plant to manufacture the protein-enriched snack products that are currently being marketed nationwide. This research will provide a healthy new snack product for consumers and increase market opportunities for dairy products.
Whole grain barley and oat bread development. Whole grain intake has been associated with improved health. Barley and oat foods have FDA-approved heart health claims. However, oat and barley do not have the wheat protein, gluten, necessary for bread formation. Scientists in Albany, California, developed whole grain all barley or oat breads using soluble modified cellulose as a gluten substitute. In addition to replacing gluten, the soluble cellulose also reduces plasma cholesterol. Whole grain oat and barley breads have the potential of significantly improving the health status of the U.S. population.
Corn wet milling process model. Researchers working on advanced corn wet-milling research had no validated publicly available wet milling process and cost model. Such a model is necessary to better understand the operation of current wet mills and to understand how proposed changes in technology might affect the existing process. To solve this problem, engineers at Wyndmoor, Pennsylvania, developed a process model and made it publically available in several different software programs. It has been requested by many industry engineers and scientists, academic researchers and other Federal agencies.
Modification of natural polymers by novel processes. ARS scientists at Peoria, Illinois, in collaboration with an industrial partner, developed a novel method for the preparation of cellulose acetate that is simple, rapid, efficient, and solvent-less, thus helping cellulose acetate manufacturers to prepare cellulose acetate in an environment friendly way.
Use of FanteskTM products as lubricants. In cooperation with a licensee and CRADA partner, researchers at Peoria, Illinois, prepared high-oil FanteskTM formulations (starch:oil weight ratio of 50:200) by jet cooking aqueous dispersions of starch, oleic acid and soybean oil. The aqueous dispersions obtained were evaluated as spray-on lubricants for food-related applications (e.g., non-stick lubricant/release agents for waffle irons), representing yet another application for this novel ARS technology. Efforts are currently being made to market these products.
Biobased metalworking lubricant commercialized. Following successful trials at several of the collaborating company’s plants of biobased aluminum hot-rolling lubricant formulations developed by researchers at Peoria, Illinois, the company implemented biobased formulations on four hot mills in four different plants in the USA. A fifth implementation is scheduled for late 2007 in a plant in Australia. The company has also implemented biobased lubricants for other metalworking operations such as lathing and sawing in three different plants. The company found the biobased lubricants have superior performance relative to current commercial lubricants while at the same time being cost competitive if not cheaper.
Commercialization of a new line of organic fruit bars. To meet the need for new processing technologies to increase utilization and consumption of fruits by American consumers, researchers at Albany, California, developed and licensed a technology for forming 100% fruit health bars from fruit to add value and create new markets for pears and other fruits. During the past year, a new bar formulation was developed in collaboration with a small company that enabled production of a new line of 100% fruit bars that are organic, called Bear Bars. This research increased grower profits while assisting consumers around the globe in meeting their daily requirements for fruits through the development of healthy, convenient organic 100% fruit bars.
Renewable packaging, plates and bowls. Development of biodegradable food packaging from renewable plant materials is needed to promote new uses for surplus farm commodities, and help American farmers as well as agro-industry. Researchers at Albany, California, in cooperation with a CRADA partner, commercialized single-use items, such as plates, bowls and cups, derived from cereal starches and fiber composites. Technical transfer to third party licensees facilitated start-up of commercial processes, including a commercial production facility located in Springfield, Missouri. This facility is providing an expanding market for renewable, biodegradable single-use items from cereal starches.
‘Green’ cleaning agents. Researchers at Albany, California, cooperating with a CRADA partner, developed biobased cleaning products, charcoal briquettes, odor-removing non-woven substrates, and biodegradable cleaning substrates that are “flushable” and still effective at scrubbing. The use of eco-compatible plant polymers in cleaning products and charcoal creates “greener”, more economical products and aids the American farmer by opening new markets for surplus crops, reduces our dependence on petroleum, and minimizes the carbon footprint of single-use products.
Oriented amylose/starch films. There has been considerable interest recently in developing starch-based fibers and films for use as biodegradable packaging and hygiene products. Such biobased products are desirable since they are made from a renewable, agricultural commodity produced in the U.S. (corn) rather than imported oil. However, starch-based materials are typically brittle and rather water sensitive. Scientists in Peoria, Illinois, demonstrated that stretching amylose films (the linear polymeric component of starch), so that the molecules are pointed in one direction (oriented) gives films that are much stronger and more flexible. An easy optical method to assess the degree of orientation was also developed. In addition, it was found that treating the starch films under hot, humid conditions gives much improved water resistance. These results should help companies and university scientists develop new starch-based materials for disposable consumer products.