Research

Researcher in labWithin the Department of Food Technology, Food safety and Health research and services to externals are performed taking into account and integrating diverse aspects of food sciences and nutrition in order to answer questions and challenges from the food industry (and related sectors) e.g. innovation, product development, product technology, packaging, shelf life, avoiding food losses, quality assurance, food safety policy, relation food and health, sustainable entrepreneurship, etc…

Developing knowledge through research:

  • exploratory basic research that leads to insight into a given problem and / or understanding of mechanisms
  • the development of technologies and product or process concepts,
  • modeling of systems, etc.

Typical for the department is the explicit attention given to testing promising research results in practical studies within a given context with a view to implementation. A spearhead of the research is to strive for problem-solving capacity, excellence and the prevention of research waste.

 


Food Technology


The research within the domain of food technology focuses on food processing from raw material to end products and the development of innovative food structures in order to fulfill the demand of the consumer for tasty, safe and sustainable foods.

The food technologist tries to get insight in the relation between technology, processing and the quality of foods and uses this insight as a starting point to create new foods that are healthier, more stable or more functional.


Oils and fats are crucial ingredients for creating tasty foods with unique textures. Research in this unit aims at generating insight on lipid structuring from nanoscale up to macroscale and how they interact with other ingredients in foods. Since 2012, the research in this domain has been strengthened by the creation of the Vandemoortele Centre ‘Lipid Science and Technology’


Faculty


This is a unique domain with an increasing share of research. In 2012 this domain resulted in the spin-off Cacaolab.


Faculty


This domain is historically present on both Coupure and Schoonmeersen campus. At the moment there is a specific dairy technology laboratory on the Schoonmeersen campus. Given the history and expertise, this is retained as a spearhead.


Faculty


Cereals are a main staple food around the globe. This unit focusses on the processing of cereals, especially wheat but also other cereals and pseudocereals, from grain to food. Research is performed on cereal quality, processing from grain to flour and food (bakery) applications.


Faculty


The production of animal feed through a series of unit process including milling and mixing of cereals, seeds and side streams from food industry, steam conditioning, pelleting and extrusion, cooling and vacuum coating is a unique area of research. A fully equipped laboratory @Schoonmeersen gives research opportunities and provides services for both animal feed producers and feed additive providers, in search of potential feed materials, temperature stabile bio-active components.


Faculty


The aim of the research line ‘Food Fermentation’ is to have a deep understanding of the (traditional) food fermentations processes: the impact of the microbial flora steering the fermentation in relation to (bio)chemical changes in nutritional value, shelf-life and safety. This allows us to further optimize and/or standardize these fermentation processes.

Within the research line ‘Valorisation of food by-products’, major attention is going to valorization of by-products generated during food processing (from harvest stage till end-product), by extracting bio-active compounds from these by-products, such as proteins, sugars, lipids, phenolic compounds, coloring agents among others. To obtain a high extraction yield, emphasis is paid on the use of microbial and enzymatic treatments in combination with chemical and physical unit operations to obtain higher extraction efficiencies.


Faculty


The aim is to investigate, optimise or demonstrate specific aspects of the processing of the fresh/frozen/fried vegetables or potatoes from harvested product to packed product at laboratory and at pilot scale. For the latter, an entire processing line at pilot scale is available. Therefore, not only the microbial impact on the product is considered, but also the quality of the process water and technical aspects of the equipment will be looked at.

The investigated processes can be either:

  • technological (e.g. heat treatment such as blanching),
  • chemical (e.g. chlorine-containing)
  • or natural (e.g. components from essential oils).

Faculty


Food Microbiology


This research group, present on the 3 campuses of the faculty, tries to formulate answers on civil challenges related to providing safe food world wide and to reducing food losses through studying the behavior of micro-organisms during transformation and storage of food stuffs.


Our group starts from unravelling microbial spoilage mechanisms (in both moulds and bacteria) resposible for food spoilage.

Depiction of these mechanisms and their control by different preservation factors allows development of accurate and targeted food preservation strategies. This knowledge is used, among others, to develop intelligent packaging as well as accurate modified atmosphere packaging systems.

A typical approach for food microbiology and food preservation (FMFP) is a quantitative one, where microbial behavior is translated into various predictive models.


Faculty


The research area focuses on method evaluation and identification of pros and cons of both classical culture methods, rapid detection methods and molecular techniques for microbial analysis of foods. Using appropriate methods, knowledge is gathered on the prevalence and behavior of (emerging) food borne pathogens from farm to fork.

Information gathered is used to support evidence-based decision making in food safety risk management and setting of microbiological guidelines.


Faculty


Foodborne pathogens can cause foodborne diseases that can be globally grouped into infections, intoxications and toxico-infections.

For each of the diseases expression of special sets of virulence factors is needed.

In our research team we work on detection of microbial virulence factors and especially of microbial toxins or genomic, transcriptomic, proteomic and toxicological level.

In parallel we aim to decipherer the impact of food and food processing on the expression of virulence factors and production of microbial toxins and reveal the role of virulence factors and toxins in host-pathogen interactions. For this purpose different OMCIS approaches and technologies are used.

Current work is in large extent focused on Bacillus cereus, Bacillus thuringiensis, Clostridum perfringens, Fusarium spp. and Aspergillus spp., and impact of microbial toxins on mitochondrial dysfunction is one of our current hot topics.


Faculty


The aim is to investigate, optimise or demonstrate specific aspects of the processing of the fresh/frozen/fried vegetables or potatoes from harvested product to packed product at laboratory and at pilot scale. For the latter, an entire processing line at pilot scale is available.

Therefore, not only the microbial impact on the product is considered, but also the quality of the process water and technical aspects of the equipment will be looked at.

The investigated processes can be either technological (e.g. heat treatment such as blanching), chemical (e.g. chlorine-containing) or natural (e.g. components from essential oils).


Faculty


The aim of the research line ‘Food Fermentation’ is to have a deep understanding of the (traditional) food fermentations processes: the impact of the microbial flora steering the fermentation in relation to (bio)chemical changes in nutritional value, shelf-life and safety. This allows us to further optimize and/or standardize these fermentation processes.

Within the research line ‘Valorisation of food by-products’, major attention is going to valorization of by-products generated during food processing (from harvest stage till end-product), by extracting bio-active compounds from these by-products, such as proteins, sugars, lipids, phenolic compounds, coloring agents among others. To obtain a high extraction yield, emphasis is on the use of microbial and enzymatic treatments in combination with chemical and physical unit operations to obtain higher extraction efficiencies.


Faculty


Nutrition & Health


The research within the unit “nutrition and health” is divided into two complementary pillars.

In the pillar “biochemical, cellular and molecular nutrition” mechanisms of nutritional and bioactive components are investigated by means of in vitro digestion and cell culture technology.

While in the pillar “food and nutrition epidemiology” the effects of nutrition on humans are investigated through controlled and randomized intervention research and through observational studies. .


Contact & Information:


This unit studies the metabolism and bioactivity of nutrients and bioactive components under real-life conditions using in vitro digestion models combined with cell culture systems. Biochemical and molecular assays are used to understand digestion, absorption, metabolism and bioactivity of nutrients and bioactives in human nutrition.


Faculty


This unit investigates the food intake of humans in the broad context of nutrition and health, including food safety. Randomized controlled trials (RCT’s) as well as observational studies are applied in combination with a diverse set of methodologies ranging from questionnaires to advanced data-analysis to understand the role of nutrition in human health.


Faculty


Food Chemistry


By better understanding the chemistry of foods we can better monitor and control their quality in the agro-food chain. As such safe, tasty and nutritious foods can be brought on the market while reducing food losses. The chemical composition and chemical transitions in food stuffs are mainly studied through chromatographic methods. It is evident that this type of research is also related to research on packaging and chemical risk analysis within the department


Packaging


Within the packaging technology research domain, the relationship between the desired shelf life of food and the required composition of packaging is central.

With a strong link to circular packaging and reducing food losses through innovative packaging.

The research is largely driven by the needs in the food packaging industry through the strong connection with Pack4Food, a consortium of more than 60 companies and research institutes that work on innovative packaging and that originated in this department.


The study of less complex, more recyclable packaging materials as well as bioplastics packaging, produced from renewable raw materials, and their effect on the quality and safety of food.


Faculty


Increasing the functionality of packaging materials by adding active components.

The focus is on antimicrobial packaging, with the antimicrobial components present as a coating or as an additive in the packaging material.


Faculty


The development of intelligent packaging with a focus on sensors that monitor the shelf life of food.

In close cooperation with the lab for Food Microbiology and Food Preservation (LFMFP) and the nutriFOODchem lab for identification of components. Also in collaboration with diverse research groups active in the development of sensors.


Faculty


Research into the factors that influence the migration of components from packaging to food.


Faculty


Food Safety Management & Risk Assessment


Food safety management and risk assessment are 2 distinct but closely related research lines.

Food safety management is situated at the operational level of an agri-food chain (individual companies or sectors) and aims to achieve a certain hygiene or (microbiological and/or chemical) safety level of the delivered food products.

Risk assessment studies are the mathematical calculations of exposure and further interpretation during risk characterization to estimate the impact on population level. In this perspective, both microbiological and chemical food safety risks towards human health have been included in my research addressing various food chains and products.

The research in risk assessment goes hand in hand with research in food safety management, as the outcomes of risk assessment are applied as an input for the food safety management at an operational level. Risk assessment and risk analysis studies are never a ‘stand-alone’ work and cooperation with multiple research groups and/or stakeholders of the agri-food chain is necessary.


Within the governance of food safety and controlling microbiological and chemical food safety hazards, decades of scientific research have been conducted related to detection of hazards (e.g. molecular techniques for micro-organisms or high throughput analysis for chemicals), technological solutions to eliminate or reduce hazards (e.g. preservatives, high pressure) and introduction of food safety management systems along the agri-food chain.

Upto now, my research focused on performance measurements of designed and implemented food safety management systems by application of diagnostic self-assessment tools and sampling schemes through a production process. Despite those efforts, foodborne outbreaks are still occurring and food companies are reaching their ‘techno-managerial’ borders.

Therefore, the focus is shifted from a formal and technical oriented food safety management system to a more human dimension of food safety, which is reflected by the introduction of concepts such as food safety culture and food safety climate. The trend towards increased interest for the human dimension in food safety parallels the accumulating empirical evidence of the key impact of the organizational culture and climate on employees’ decision making and behavior (e.g. the actual adequate execution of procedures), and safety outcomes in several other industrial settings such as nuclear and health care sector. Those concepts introduce an interesting multidisciplinary or even interdisciplinary collaboration between Bioscience Engineering and Work Organization and Psychology.

Currently, we are working on the food safety management of food fraud, by setting up a food fraud vulnerability assessment tool and working out potential food fraud mitigation strategies for controlling food fraud.

The problem of food fraud/food authenticity is emerging and high on the agenda from a legal perspective, in food safety management and for scheme owners of certification standards for food/feed businesses.Several crises and incidents occurred the past years, which led to high media attention, considerable distrust of consumers and risk managers (e.g. melamine in infant milk formula, fipronil crisis).

The methodology applied nowadays is based on the HACCP-principles taking into account previous food fraud occurrences related to a particular raw material or ingredient, the region where the product has been sourced from, the complexity of the supply chain involved and the adequacy of traceability etc. As such, it is already possible to perform a risk ranking and to identify raw materials/suppliers which are most susceptible to fraud. Furthermore, food companies should be able to put in place a food fraud mitigation plan which should include, among others, monitoring and testing strategies.


Faculty


Conventional risk assessment strategies are currently based on the detection and identification of a limited number of hazards by analytical and molecular methods, followed by an estimation of (human) exposure, which is a function of concentrations and time. The impact on human health of the individual hazards is estimated using specific software tools, or based on human outbreak data.

Our research is focusing both on microbiological and chemical hazards present on food products and is mainly driven by a probabilistic methodology. Several studies have been performed related to enteric pathogens on leafy greens and the impact of agricultural practices and human Norovirus in raspberries. Regarding chemical hazards exposure studies are conducted for a range of mycotoxins in various foods (e.g. alternaria toxins in plant based foods, aflatoxins on dried spices, exposure to aflatoxins for young children via consumption of complementary foods and breast feeding). But also other contaminants such as metals in fish and fishery products, biogenic amines in various food commodities, toxic aldehydes, benzene, Nickel, etc. So, until now a whole range of probabilistic exposure studies and total diet studies have been conducted in our research.

In risk assessment 2.0 a shift can be made towards cumulative or aggregated exposure (multiple hazards and/or multiple sources). In aggregated exposure, which means mixtures of hazards in foods and exposure to the same hazards via other routes and media are relevant, new mathematical approaches need to be developed and total diet studies need to be incorporated. An (aggregated) exposure assessment can be calculated for those selected hazardous combinations. Introduction of dose-response modelling or toxicological information will lead to further risk characterisation.

In a next step, impact towards human health can by evaluated by risk ranking and priority setting based on concepts such as Disability-Adjusted Life Years, expressing the burden of disease on population level.


Faculty