I’m in Anaheim, Calif., and I’m not visiting Disney’s mouse. For the next few days, I’ll be attending the Institute of Food Technologists’ annual international conference. It’s not nearly as boring as it sounds.
There are about 15,000 food scientists, microbiologists, engineers, chemists, educators, government regulators, chefs and a score or more of other PhD-toting specialists from well over 50 countries. What they all have in common, besides being in this hunk of California, is that just about every one of them is obsessed with food – its safety, flavor, shelf life, appeal, delivery and just about every other aspect of food creation, processing and marketing that makes edibles leap into your shopping cart.
Sitting at the bar in the convention hotel – the Hilton — a cluster of the attendees were sputtering in their drinks last night as one scientist said he felt really at home in this hotel because the water in his room was as chalky white as gunk that came out of the hand-dug well in his rural farm in Somalia. But, he said, the water of his childhood tasted better.
Knowing that they had a hotel full of scientists whose life’s work is to prevent and detect bad things in liquids and foodstuff, you might have thought that the hotel staff would have been more candid about the nasty-tasting, opaque water that squirts from their facets.
Two front desk managers feigned amazement when I asked about the weird water, both saying they’d never heard of it but they’re sure that it’s safe. However, it wasn’t a surprise to the housekeepers, bartenders and a telephone operator,who all said: “Whatever you do, don’t drink the water.”
Of course, the Hilton was helpful, a flavor scientist said sarcastically . “They told me that room service would gladly bring me as much of the $6 a liter ‘artesian water’ as I wanted to buy,” he repeated.
Don’t let me leave the impression that all the attendees do is drink (there are beaches 20 minutes away.) There are 1,400 scientific lectures, seminars and symposiums such as: the oxicative stability of raw chicken breast and beef loin; the handling of blue pigments in crushed garlic cloves; the antioxidant capacity of traditional rye breads; PCBs and organochlorine insecticides in fish oil being sold in Canada, and many, many more.
One of the main reasons that I came is that there are about 12 hours of lectures on nanotechnology in food. By the time I attend them all, I hope to be able to spell the word.
I admit that this is not beach reading but these are the people who work to keep our food tasty and safe.
More on how they do that later.