By all accounts, this was an historic week for the Finger Lakes region. Rightly so, the opening of del Lago’s new casino and entertainment venue received most of the headlines and media attention. Never have so many jobs been established in our region by a single enterprise.
But other giant steps were taken this week, on a local path that could revolutionize the food processing industry, and place the Cornell University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and especially the Experiment Station in Geneva at its epicenter.
Nationally known food companies Wegmans Food Markets and Lidestri Foods partnered with Cornell and New York State to enable the acquisition and installation of a state-of-the-art Hiperbaric 55 High Pressure Processing machine. At the same time, Cornell formally kicked-off operations of its recently established Institute for Food Safety.
This commercial grade processor located in Geneva at Cornell’s Experiment Station is the first in the United States installed within a Biohazard Level 2 testing facility. This will enable researchers to determine how the pressure system will destroy pathogens in food. The machine is able to subject food to tremendous pressure—five times that which exists at the bottom of the Marianas Trench, the deepest and most pressurized point of the ocean floor, and 6,000 times the atmosphere normally felt in everyday life.
It was exciting to work with Dr. Katherine Boor, Dean of the Cornell University College of Agriculture, and Dr. Susan Brown, Director of the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station. They both agree, the addition of this machine will allow Cornell scientists to conduct transformational research, instruction and outreach that will revolutionize the food processing industry. Many believe this will be just as an important a step in the history of food processing and safety as heating, canning and refrigeration. Scientists also predict high pressure food processing could expand new markets for locally grown agricultural products, bring about a new age of food preservation and safety, and benefit our state’s growers, processors and consumers for generations to come. We would see new jobs created in the Finger Lakes region and throughout the New York State.
In addition to housing the Hiperbaric machine as an important component of a modernized food laboratory at the Experiment Station, Cornell will provide trained calibration and testing to assist food companies expand and create new food products.
This new equipment arrives at a time when the Cornell Experiment Station is the major center in the Nation to implement the food safety training necessary to insure compliance with the Food and Drug Administration regulations resulting from the Food Safety and Modernization Act.
The first meeting of the Advisory Board for the newly established Institute for Food Safety at Cornell was held this week. Lead by Dr. Elizabeth A. Bihn, the Institute is headquartered in Geneva, and will assist New York food companies, food processors and farmers comply with the new food safety regulations and compliance standards. The Institute will also support further research and technical innovation.
The Federal government estimates that 48 million cases of food-borne illness occur annually, and that 1 in 6 Americans are affected each year. These new rules aim to further reduce this number, and the Institute will be at the forefront helping the agriculture industry comply with more stringent testing methods and quality controls. This is also exciting news for the wine grape industry, and companies that produce dairy products.
As a non-thermal alternative to pasteurization, the Hiperbaric machine dramatically extends the shelf life of food products by using high pressure instead of high temperatures to eliminate food-borne pathogens. This process is being rapidly adopted by the food industry for ready-to-eat products because of its many advantages over high temperature methods. These include greater retention of foods’ nutritional properties; enhanced food safety as pathogens are destroyed more effectively and efficiently; extended product shelf life; reduction or avoidance of the need for food preservatives; and new opportunities for value-added agricultural products that cannot be thermally treated, but are amenable to High Pressure Processing.
For over 100 years Cornell University and the Experiment Station in Geneva developed revolutionary technologies, essential in growing the food to meet ever increasing demands to feed our Nation and the world. This additional cutting edge equipment, and the new Institute for Food Safety at Cornell University continue that important mission, and serve to strengthen our local and state economies.
Michael F. Nozzolio is newly retired as the New York State Senator from the Finger Lakes Region. He is on the Advisory Boards of the Cornell University College of Agriculture, and the Institute for Food Safety at Cornell. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org ; Twitter @mnozzolio_hb