Making Food More Available and Convenient

From the farmer’s field to the dinner table, chemical engineers contribute to the abundance of food choices available to modern consumers. Chemical engineers are responsible for putting packaged foods — cake mixes, low-fat snacks, beverages — into their most familiar and convenient forms, and they bring modern consumers increased variety, accessibility, and safety in foods.

1922 — Peanut butter is commercialized after methods are developed to prevent oil separation. John Kellogg first created peanut butter for toothless patients (1890). (Procter & Gamble)

1942 — Dehydrated, but slushy, orange juice concentrate is developed using the same WWII technology used to freeze-dry blood plasma and then penicillin for battlefront use. It was successfully marketed after the war as Minute Maid Orange Juice. (National Research Council (NRC)

1950s — Lumping of cake mix is eliminated by using large milling drums designed to polish aluminum foil; cake mix becomes a best-seller. (Procter & Gamble)

1959 — Asphalt-water emulsion soil barriers are developed to increase crop yields, foster early crop emergence, minimize weed propagation and stablize arid soil. (Esso Research and Engineering Co.)

1966 — Fried bacon analog is produced from spun soy protein fiber. This meat flavoring was originally developed as a car fabric (Henry Ford was a soybean-use pioneer, and developed many industrial uses for the crop). Similar spun soy fiber products would be developed for ground beef, as well as beef and poultry chunks. (Procter & Gamble)

1969 — Large-scale ham-, beef-, and chicken- flavored protein enters food market, e.g., Beeflike (beef), Prosage (sausage), Stripples (bacon), White Chik (chicken), and other products. (Worthington Foods)

1975 — Soda bottles are produced from biaxially oriented terephthalate (polyethylene terephthalate; PET); a major success for the carbonated beverage industry due to PET’s toughness, clarity and ability to be oriented. (E. I. DuPont)

1984 — First non-toxic oil-based plant and insect spray is developed, initially for apple and pear tree pests (ORCHEX 796). (ExxonMobil)

1996 — U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves use of synthetic cooking oil (Olestra) for production of fat-free snacks. Olestra was later used in french fries and baked goods (1998). While normal fats consist of a glycerol molecule with three fatty acids attached, Olestra is synthesized using a sucrose molecule with up to eight fatty acid chains, making it too large to move through the intestinal wall. Since it does not contain glycerol, and the fatty acids cannot be removed from the sucrose molecule for digestion, it passes through the digestive system without being absorbed. (Procter & Gamble)

2004 — Self-rehydrating pouches that use reverse-osmosis are developed, allowing 99.9999% bacterial removal from any fresh water source. This permitted a 90% weight reduction in soldiers’ daily 3.5-kg food supply. (U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center)