by Philip E. Nelson, 2007 World Food Prize Laureate; Professor Emeritus, Food Science Dept., Purdue Univ.

Just as society has evolved over time, our food system has also evolved over centuries into a global system of immense size and complexity. The commitment of food science and technology professionals to advancing the science of food, ensuring a safe and abundant food supply, and contributing to healthier people everywhere is integral to that evolution. Food scientists and technologists are versatile, interdisciplinary, and collaborative practitioners in a profession at the crossroads of scientific and technological developments. As the food system has drastically changed, from one centered around family food production on individual farms and home food preservation to the modern system of today, most people are not connected to their food nor are they familiar with agricultural production and food manufacturing designed for better food safety and quality.

The Institute of Food Technologists—a nonprofit scientific society of individual members engaged in food science, food technology, and related professions in industry, academia, and government—has the mission to advance the science of food and the long-range vision to ensure a safe and abundant food supply contributing to healthier people everywhere. IFT convened a task force and called on contributing authors to develop this scientific review to inform the general public about the importance and benefits of food science and technology in IFT's efforts to feed a growing world.

The main objective of this review is to serve as a foundational resource for public outreach and education and to address misperceptions and misinformation about processed foods. The intended audience includes those who desire to know more about the application of science and technology to meet society's food needs and those involved in public education and outreach. It is IFT's hope that the reader will gain a better understanding of the goals or purposes for various applications of science and technology in the food system, and an appreciation for the complexity of the modern food supply.

Abstract:  This Institute of Food Technologists scientific review describes the scientific and technological achievements that made possible the modern production-to-consumption food system capable of feeding nearly 7 billion people, and it also discusses the promising potential of ongoing technological advancements to enhance the food supply even further and to increase the health and wellness of the growing global population. This review begins with a historical perspective that summarizes the parallel developments of agriculture and food technology, from the beginnings of modern society to the present. A section on food manufacturing explains why food is processed and details various food processing methods that ensure food safety and preserve the quality of products. A section about potential solutions to future challenges briefly discusses ways in which scientists, the food industry, and policy makers are striving to improve the food supply for a healthier population and feed the future. Applications of science and technology within the food system have allowed production of foods in adequate quantities to meet the needs of society, as it has evolved. Today, our production-to-consumption food system is complex, and our food is largely safe, tasty, nutritious, abundant, diverse, convenient, and less costly and more readily accessible than ever before. Scientific and technological advancements must be accelerated and applied in developed and developing nations alike, if we are to feed a growing world population.