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Understanding The Intersection Between Chemistry, Food Processing and Human Health


My appointment in the Agricultural Experiment Station (AES) is as a Food Chemist. Research conducted in my laboratory focuses on optimizing the quality of fresh and processed foods and support AES in its mission to improve the health and quality of life for the citizens of California. My research program is concentrated in three primary areas: (1) elucidating basic chemical reactions and changes in composition that occur in fruits, vegetables and nuts as a result of breeding, pre- and post-harvest processing, (2) identifying and quantifying target and non-target phytochemicals for authentication, safety and biological relevance, and (3) developing methods for the characterization and mitigation of chemical carcinogens and toxins developed during food processing.It is clear that the science of food is experiencing a paradigm shift toward a fully integrated approach to ensure an abundant, environmentally sustainable, safe, flavorful and healthful food supply. Food manufacturing has
changed at an unprecedented rate during the 21st century, and is now a globalized endeavor. Ingredients are increasingly grown and purchased globally, through brokers and vendors and manufactured worldwide. There is a growing need to improve understanding of the chemical composition of foods, impact of contemporary processing, packaging, and storage on quality, and develop new analytical tools in areas of food quality assessment, traceability, verification and authentication.Achieving these goals begins with developing a foundational understanding of the chemical composition of foods, reaction mechanism (e.g. oxidation, reduction, polymerization, etc.,) and matrix interactions in food systems. Characterizing the phytochemical composition of foods is critical for improving the quality and health impact of fresh and processed foods, building reliable databases (e.g. the USDA flavonoid database), and for providing a foundation for food authentication and verification. Tremendous
innovations in mass spectrometry (MS) and ultra-high pressure analytical chromatography (UHPLC) now enable rapid, global and highly sensitive analysis of non-target compounds (e. g., metabolomic) and new tools for discovery, identification and quantification of target compounds (e.g. toxins, bioactives, adulterants).Our research helps identify new strategies and processing innovations for retaining and optimizing levels of health beneficial compounds in finished food products, and decreasing the formation of toxic or undesirable compounds (e.g. acrylamide, oleuropein, off-flavors etc.,) in finished foods. Our research on improving analytical strategies (i.e. gas chromatography mass spectroscopy (GC/MS), UHPLC-MS/MS, and UHPLC-quadrupole time-of-flight MS) for identifying comprehensive profiles of both volatile and non-volatile compounds in fruit, vegetables and nuts lays the foundation for understanding quality difference in varietals and for food verification and authentication.My
research will continue to focus on developing novel analytical approaches to promote a better understanding of food.

Mitchell, A.
University of California - Davis
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