Kansas State has just received a grant for $3 million from the USDA agency to fund research for the development of new fortified blended foods to improve health and nutrition in developing countries.
USDA announced six awards, of which Kansas State’s was the biggest, in early December as part of the Micronutrient-Fortified Food Aid Products Pilot Program. This pilot is sponsored by the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program, which is in honor of former Senator George McGovern and former Kansas Senator Bob Dole.
The six awards sponsored by USDA include projects for fortified rice, lipid-based spread, poultry-based spread, soy-fortified custard, fortified dairy protein paste and K-State’s own projects of sorghum-soy, sorghum-cowpea and a new formulation of corn-soy porridge. The micronutrient-enriched products, which will use only domestic products, will be sent to Cambodia, Guatemala, Guinea-Bissau, Haiti, Mozambique and Tanzania. Together they will help provide supplemental nutrition to more than 14,000 children.
Kansas State is once again on the “cutting edge of innovation,” according to Paul Alberghine, health and nutrition program specialist in the Food Assistance Division at the Foreign Agricultural Service.
Alberghine, who serves as manager of the pilot program for the USDA, said the products will be distributed mainly to children 5 and under. He said this is in connection to the “1000 Days” initiative supported by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Alberghine stated that the reason for the age target is that the younger the child is, the more impact nutrition has on growth and cognitive capability.
Alberghine said they are excited about the developments sponsored by all six awards, but they are most looking forward to the results of the K-State project.
“K-State’s project will have the greatest long-term impact,” Alberghine said. “This is just one piece of K-State’s involvement in food aid.”
According to Alberghine, K-State’s project creates two new food aid products and also a new formulation for a corn-soy blend. The new formulation will include the use of whey protein, which is a by-product of cheese production.
“We have discovered that animal proteins are better to use in these products because they are more readily absorbed by the human body,” he said.
Sajid Alavi, associate professor of grain science and industry, serves as the research project’s principal investigator, and, according to Alberghine, is a “world leading expert” on extrusion. Extrusion is the process of using heat and extreme pressure to create a final product.
Alavi will be using the process of extrusion to create a dry product that can be reconstituted using boiling water.
“Extrusion is a new process for food aid,” Alavi said, “But it is already being used for breakfast cereal, pasta and snack foods.”
Along with a new process, K-State is now using sorghum to create two of its fortified blended foods. According to Alavi, sorghum was chosen because it can grow in drought conditions, unlike corn, which is used in traditional food aid products.
Alberghine also saluted the use of sorghum and cowpeas in the development of new food aid products, saying that the end result of this project is that both the children being fed and Kansas sorghum producers and African farmers will benefit from this grant.
Kansans will see benefit in this project because it will create a new market for their products and African farmers will benefit because the crops being experimented with grow well in the African climate.
After the development of the new food products, they will be put through a series of rigorous tests and experiments before being used in Tanzania. Edgar Chambers IV, distinguished professor of human nutrition and director of the Sensory Analysis Center at K-State, will put the new product through shelf life tests and several sensory analyses.
“We need to make sure the product tastes good,” Chambers said. “They eat a different base diet and we need to find out what they like and dislike about current products to help us incorporate or remove those things.”
Chambers explained that the shelf life of the product must be around 12 months because shipping will take place in bulk, meaning that the product will need to be stored there until it is used.
“Shelf life is important when you are shipping that kind of a distance, the product will be traveling over water and the climate is different there,” Chambers said. “Since we ship in bulk, the product will sit for a while before it is consumed.”
Once the product is in Tanzania, it will be distributed by another organization, Project Concern International (PCI). Alaviestimated this process will start at the end of 2013.
“PCI will be the force on the ground, distributing the product for K-State,” Alberghine said.
Other members of the K-State project team are Brian Lindshield and Sandra Procter, assistant professors of human nutrition and Nina Lilja, professor of agricultural economics and the director of International Agricultural Programs.
Chambers summed up the project, saying that the grant and project will help K-State assist those in dire need of nutrition.
“This project takes pieces of K-State”s processing, economics, manufacturing and consumer behavior areas to provide products to those who desperately need food and better nutrition,” he said.
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