Imagine taking a flashlight and shining it on a plate of food, what would you see? Now imagine what you’d see with a light that is millions of times brighter than the sun. The information you’d uncover would tell you an incredible amount about the food, its structure and quality.
Dr. Maria Corradini, Arrell Chair in Food Quality along with University of Guelph PhD candidates Louis (Luigi) Colaruotolo and Angie Homez-Jara recently visited the Canadian Light Source to study the role of food microstructure in food quality, deterioration and shelf-life using its very unique and powerful light technology.
The Canadian Light Source is based at the University of Saskatchewan and is the country’s first and only synchrotron facility. Synchrotron, a kind of particle accelerator, produces an extremely bright light by accelerating electrons at nearly the speed of light and directing them through a large tube. When the electrons go around the bends of the ring of the tube, they give off energy as very bright and sharp light. The light is channeled into beams, called beamlines, where it is used to perform experiments at stations that have been set-up with specific equipment. The bright light is used to look at the composition and structure of materials.
Researchers, scientists and learners apply to visit the facility and use the synchrotron-imaging technology to conduct experiments. The time under the light is called, beamtime. Dr. Corradini, Colaruotolo and Homez-Jara used their beamtime to study the role of structure of two types of food samples:
- Looked at 3D printed wafers produced with plant-based proteins and oils to identify layouts that promote or prevent spoilage over time.
- Used mushrooms to explore how cell and intercellular space affects deterioration.
Food structure is how food molecules are organized into defined elements. The makeup of these elements can increase or decrease food’s stability, functionality, nutritional quality, and safety. Currently, there is limited knowledge on the role of food structure in deteriorative reactions and processes, such as textural changes, separation of components and rancidity, that are related to spoilage and waste.
The team hopes their research including the data and evidence gathered at Canadian Light Source will help to characterize structural features within the samples and their changes along the shelf-life. This will allow them to gain insights into underlying causes of spoilage and help develop mitigation strategies to delay spoilage and prevent waste and inform tools to monitoring spoilage progress in the supply chain.
“Synchrotron allows you to look at samples at a very high level of detail and resolution,” explains Dr. Corradini. “In most of our research, we hypothesize about the underlying mechanisms that cause a phenomenon. Here, you can see the progression of this phenomenon and get the information to accept or reject the hypotheses.”
Part of the experience at the Canadian Light Source includes a presentation to the facility scientists. Dr. Corradini presented information about her lab’s research, allowing for knowledge exchange and the identification of potential new uses and contributions of beamlines on a lab’s research.
For Dr. Corradini, having access to novel techniques, like synchrotron-based imaging, to analyze samples and gather evidence is exciting and says that it helps to develop innovative solutions. Synchrotron can provide us with information to better understand the changes that food undergoes during storage . We can develop new tools, products and processes that will improve the nutrition, quality, and safety of the food we eat.