Chapman’s Food Science Program director Anuradha Prakash.NICK AGRO, STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Why does an avocado turn brown?

An avocado is full of enzymes, which are housed in cells. When the avocado is sliced, the cells are split open and the enzymes spill out. When the enzymes interact with oxygen and the rest of the properties in the avocado, the fruit turns brown. While it looks unappealing and the flavor may change, the brown part is still safe to eat.

To prolong the life of an avocado, add lemon juice or wrap it in cling wrap to delay the interaction with oxygen.

More on the program

Degree: Master of Science in Food Science

Faculty: There are four full-time faculty members and four adjunct professors

Students: There are currently 50 students in the program

Have you ever wondered why an avocado turns brown after just a few hours after it’s sliced open? Or if coffee can be good for more than just giving you a morning jolt?

The faculty of Chapman University’s graduate Food Science program have the answers to these questions and many more food-related conundrums.

The program was established over 30 years ago at the request of executives in the local food industry who needed qualified people to work for them. There are close to 2,000 food companies in the region, said program Director Anuradha Prakash.

The program focuses on chemistry, microbiology and processing to teach students how to make and process high-quality food that is safe and affordable for the public, Prakash said.

Prakash has been part of Chapman’s program for 20 years after stumbling into the field through the marriage of her two loves: food and science. Currently, she is studying irradiation as a means to eliminate insects from fruit crops as an organic alternative to other methods, including fumigation, which sends fruit through a gas chamber of methyl bromide.

The biggest obstacle in her research is consumer receptiveness. Not many people like the initial thought of eating irradiated food — they fear the end result might be looking like something from the black lagoon. Prakash explains that this is not the case, and the process is organic, clean and does not harm the food.

“It’s like using x-rays on our food,” she said.

She also describes it as high-intensity sunlight, which alters the DNA of the insects so that they don’t reproduce, while not altering the DNA of the fruit.

Alternative uses for coffee have been the focus of associate professor Lilian Were for the past two years.

Because it’s consumed so much, coffee is one of the primary ways that the adult population receives antioxidants. Those same health properties can have similar benefits when added to food. With the help of students, Were is looking at using coffee grounds as an alternative preservative to extend the shelf-life of food.

Fresh and used ground coffee is being tested to see which has a greater affect on the test samples, though the recycling aspect is what interests Were the most. With coffee being such a highly traded commodity, there is also a lot of waste, Were said.

Because of the complexity of meat’s makeup, that’s the only product that Were’s team is testing on so far. The testing process is fairly straight forward — grind the grounds to be very fine and either marinate the meat in grinds or sprinkle them on directly.

During these experiments, Were isn’t forgetting the most important outcome: taste. Sensory evaluations are done to test what affect coffee has on the taste of the meat.

“You want to preserve the food, but what’s the point if no one’s going to eat it?” she said.

In the research process, one thing always leads to another, Were said, meaning this research will continue for the foreseeable future.

Ever look at the meat in the supermarket with a suspicious eye? There may be a good reason for the narrowed glances.

Assistant professor Rosalee Hellberg and a couple of her thesis students conducted research last year on meat products from the local supermarket and online retailers, finding some products included additional species or some were mislabeled as something else entirely.

The first study, which focused on ground meat, collected 48 samples and discovered that 10 were mislabeled, nine included other species and one was labeled as something completely different. The majority of the mislabeling instances came from online retailers and local butchers, Hellberg said.

Two samples from an online seller contained horse meat, which is illegal to sell in the United States. As a result, the United States Department of Agriculture is investigating the findings.

Hellberg said the majority of the mislabeling appeared to be unintentional, and potentially an issue of cleaning equipment between uses of different products.

“Which is still an issue especially for certain religions, they don’t want any pork or any beef in the product, so if it is even testing positive at a low level then that’s an issue,” she said.

The research didn’t end there, a second study looked at 54 samples of whole cuts of game meat, finding that over 18 percent were potentially mislabeled.

The mislabeling found in the game meat study might be more intentional, Hellberg said, because of the price advantage to certain meats. But some of it may simply be mishandling, Hellberg said.

Hellberg mostly does research alongside her students looking into mislabeling and testing methodology.

Prakash said the study of Food Science is important because it increases the safety of the food supply and educates consumers. Before the establishment of the Food and Drug Administration in the early 1900s, the food industry was booming and with the lack of regulations, chemical preservatives were commonly used. Since the FDA was created in 1906, the food supply has become safer and cheaper.

And now, people pay much more attention to what is being done to food during production.

“It’s good that consumers are asking, because the food industry will respond,” she said.

While some people would prefer zero chemicals in the food they consume, Prakash says that chemical ingredients are not always as they seem.

“Just because it’s a chemical it doesn’t mean it’s bad,” she said.

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