A Food Scientist’s Role in Sustainable Food Systems

Originally Published: October 19, 2022
Last Updated: November 22, 2022
A Food Scientist's Role in Sustainable Food Systems - Jonathan Gordon 2022 CLC

A fascinating approach to food scientists’ role in advancing clean label products was presented as part of the Applications Panel at Global Food Forums’ 2022 Clean Label Conference by Jonathan Gordon, Ph.D., President, Glasgow Growth Partners, LLC. In his presentation, “A Food Scientist’s Role in Advancing Clean Labels and Sustainable Food Systems,” Gordon began with a brief history of the chemical movement that developed around the beginning of World War II but focused more on how clean labels, healthy foods and beverages are created and manufactured.

Since many chemical-based ingredients have only been available for a short time, the adverse effects of some of these chemicals are only recently being realized. Yet, some of these chemical-based ingredients are perfectly harmless.

So, where do food scientists begin when developing clean label products? Gordon emphasized the following four points:

  • Start at the end.
  • Always maintain an overview perspective.
  • Don’t solve problems that don’t exist in practice.
  • Try to find a “physical” solution before you look for an ingredient solution.

Maintain an Overview Perspective

As Gordon delved into details regarding these practical steps, he provided sage advice from his experience in product development. He advocated looking at the equipment and process in a new way. Can the equipment do anything differently? Is there a piece of equipment in another production room that can be added to your production line? Can the piping be arranged differently, or can the equipment order be rearranged? Can you persuade the plant personnel to do what you want?

As a scientist, it is sometimes challenging to have an overview mentality. Higher education will propel one toward taking a narrowly defined focus, “until we become complete experts in something almost nonexistent,” Gordon said. It’s important to see outside the box, beyond your focus of expertise and look down from above. “Allow yourself to see beyond what you’re doing,” he added.

Do your homework, Gordon advised. Become as much an expert in the subject, and let your mind wander. Don’t solve problems that aren’t there. Avoid using compound ingredients if you can do it more effectively from scratch.

If ingredients are a problem, try not to use them. Process solutions can sometimes overcome issues. Gordon provided the example of a bar topping high in oil. When the topping is mixed and subject to high shear, the coconut fat melts and separates from the topping. One solution? The meat industry uses ice chips in their bowl chopper. “Can we throw CO2 chips into our mix and cool it down while mixing it?” asked Gordon. “It’s an alternative way to think of things.”

Product developers should consider other important factors when formulating a new product. They include physical characteristics and the importance of hydration for optimal performance; the critical nature of temperature; and the order of ingredient addition.

As an example of one of the key points above, Gordon described how temperature could make a difference in processing foods, particularly proteins. “[During] aseptic processing of proteins, proteins are heated during preheating and aseptic processes. If you can denature the protein in the preheat, they won’t crosslink in the aseptic process and gel in the end product.”

It isn’t always easy for food scientists to work around consumers’ attitudes involving clean labels. “We (as food scientists) are responsible for the mess,” Gordon said. “While trying not to say anything too negative, Twinkies didn’t invent themselves. We’ve got to fix it—since we’re the people in the front lines doing the work.”

“A Food Scientist’s Role in Advancing Clean Labels and Sustainable Food Systems,” Jonathan Gordon, Ph.D., President, Glasgow Growth Partners, LLC

To view this presentation in pdf format, go to “Clean Labels & Sustainable Systems: Food Scientists’ Role” in Global Food Forums’ Clean Label R&D Academy.