The Hidden World of Food

The inside secrets of food products will be revealed when the Royal Microscopical Society hosts a 'Focus on Food' meeting at the University of Reading, sponsored by local contract research laboratory, RSSL.

Delegates from the food industry will be treated to technical presentations to learn more about how microscopy can be used in developing innovative food products. The meeting will take place on May 21st and is open to anyone who wishes to attend by registering beforehand via the RMS website.

As sponsor of the event, RSSL will present its own perspective of undertaking research and development projects for clients in the food industry. RSSL recently opened a fabulously equipped, refurbished microscopy laboratory at its Reading base, and has worked with many food industry customers to understand how microstructure affects the performance and properties of food products.

Many product characteristics such as texture, mouthfeel, crunchiness, smoothness, and even flavour can be altered and explained by microstructure. By employing a wide range of techniques to look at the fine detail inside and on the surface of products, RSSL provides hugely useful information to help food manufacturers during the product development stage, and in troubleshooting problems with existing products. Particularly when a process is changed, or production moves to another line or factory, microstructural studies can help explain why the new process/line isn't producing a product with the desired characteristics, and crucially, can point to what needs changing to get the production back on track.

Helping improve the shelf-life or storage properties of food products is another area of research that RSSL is involved in. It has a wide range of storage cabinets available, and a unique X-ray tomography instrument (a bit like the CT scanner used in medical imaging) that can look inside a product without causing any damage. This non-destructive technique is perfect for looking at how a product's internal structure changes over time, and it is even possible to examine the food product inside its packaging.

"Microscopy is still under-utilised by the food industry," notes Tom Ray, manager of RSSL's microscopy laboratory. "Many customers appreciate its value in investigating foreign bodies, but don't appreciate how valuable the same techniques can be in understanding how microstructure can be manipulated to develop innovative food products. Also how an understanding of microstructure can explain why, for example, one process produces a crisp, light snack whereas a similar but different process, using all the same ingredients, produces a heavy, unappealing dough. We hope the RMS meeting will shed some light on these issues and benefit food production and food innovation in the UK."

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