CORVALLIS - His 20-year drive to refine a new way of preserving food has propelled Daniel Farkas, a retired Oregon State University food scientist, atop this year's winner's list for the Institute of Food Technologists top honor.
Farkas received the 2002 Nicholas Appert Award, the institute's prize for "preeminence in - and contributions to - the field of food technology…for consistent, essentially lifetime, contributions to food science and technology."
Farkas was the key developer of a new high-pressure food preservation system that employs technology to kill bacteria and pathogens, but does not affect the taste, texture, nutritive value or color of foods. Killing the living microbes greatly extends the food's shelf life.
"The award recognizes the development of a new food preservation technology - a truly new food preservation technology," Farkas said. "It's not so much for me, but for the team involved in making that happen."
Farkas said the idea of using water under high pressure to kill germs and safely extend the freshness of foods "goes back to the 1890s." However, the high-pressure process wasn't economically practical until after Farkas and other food scientists and technologists started in 1982 to develop and refine the necessary technology and equipment to preserve food using high-pressure.
The high-pressure technique involves putting food - anything from pasta salad to fresh in-the-shell oysters - into a stainless steel cylinder. Water is added to the cylinder as a "cushioning" agent. The cylinder is sealed and water is pumped in. Then a pressurizing machine that Farkas helped to develop increases the pressure within the food-and-water-filled cylinder to upwards of 60,000 to 100,000 pounds per square inch, depending on the food being processed. The food is kept at that pressure for several minutes. Commercial units used for treating tons of food an hour cost about $500,000.
Farkas joined the OSU faculty in 1990 as head of the OSU Food Science and Technology Department, a post he held until his retirement in 2000. He isn't the first OSU Food Science department head to receive the award.
In 1960, the Institute of Food Technologists honored Ernest H. Wiegand for establishing a philosophy and the principles for training food technologists in science, technology, and engineering.
Harold W. Schultz won the award in 1965 for improving infant nutrition by developing the first strained meats for babies and improving the education programs for food science students.
For the 2002 Appert award, Farkas received a $5,000 honorarium and a bronze plaque from the institute's Chicago chapter.
The Appert Award is named for Nicholas Francois Appert, a Frenchman who invented the hot-water-bath canning method in 1795 at the request of the government, which was seeking a new method for extending the life of field rations and keeping the army healthy.
How will the general public benefit from the technology that Farkas was instrumental in developing?
Pressurized food already is for sale in local supermarkets. Oregon grocery outlets carry pressure-treated foods such a guacamole dip, which lasts longer and retains its texture and color.
In Japan, where food freshness and flavor are at a premium, the manufacturers of apple jam use high pressure to preserve the product's color and flavor.
The U.S. military has tested a variety of pressure-treated rations, such as spaghetti and yogurt. These are ideal for field conditions, where no refrigeration is available. A Washington oyster processor has found that using pressure not only kills the bacteria that makes eating raw oysters a risky business, but as a lucky accident, the high pressure separates the oyster from its shell, so traditional oyster shucking with a knife is not necessary.
Although retired from OSU for two years now, Farkas hasn't slowed in his pursuit of the refinement and application of the pressurization method that as he said makes foods "Fresher with Pressure."
Farkas' retirement from OSU has not meant retirement from research and development. He is the chairman of the non-thermal processing division of the Institute of Food Technologists. He writes book chapters and articles on food preservation for encyclopedias and magazines.
Farkas also is the vice-president of food science and technology of his company, Elmhurst Research Inc, of Albany, N.Y., which manufactures high-pressure food preservation equipment.
"We have sold one small unit, and we have a large unit on a test for a commercial application, he said." The design for the equipment came out of my OSU research study on rations and equipment for the military and high pressure."