How Tech is Changing the Food Industry

This is why I love capitalism.

The result has been an explosion of choice: In the 1960s, supermarket shoppers had 7,000 products to choose from. Today, they can opt for any of 40,000 baked goods, dairy products, or packaged and prepared foods, according to Charles Santerre, an associate professor at Purdue University and spokesperson for the Institute of Food Technologists.

Food is becoming cheaper, safer, and healthier, all due to science and technology. It's amazing. Here are some new ways of controlling bacteria:

One area of investigation is biosensors, the biological equivalent of the old practice of sending a canary down into a mine with to spot dangerous levels of methane gas: When the canary dies, it's time for the humans to leave.

The goal is to spot normally harmless bacteria cells that behave a certain way in the presence of dangerous toxins. For example, at Clemson University in South Carolina a team of chemists, microbiologists, and food scientists have devised a way to tether luminescent molecules to food pathogens, such as e. coli and salmonella, to make contaminated food glow in the dark. Led by professor Paul Dawson, the team is working to create a "protein key" that would "fit" with another molecule, creating a bio-alarm when key and lock fit. Though promising, biosensors are still years from widespread commercial usage.

Another technique, high-pressure processing, where liquids are put under 150,000 pounds per square inch of pressure, is already being used to reduce contamination in products including guacamole and fresh orange juice. The intense pressure inactivates microbes and other undesirable enzymes by causing their membranes to burst. Because heat isn't involved, the process doesn't affect freshness or flavor, or cause liquids to lose important vitamins and minerals that are destroyed by high-temperature treatments.