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UMass Opens Center for Foods for Health & Wellness

The University of Massachusetts Amherst on April 8 opened its new $5.6 million, state-of-the-art Clydesdale Center for Foods for Health & Wellness, with support from...

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The University of Massachusetts Amherst on April 8 opened its new $5.6 million, state-of-the-art Clydesdale Center for Foods for Health & Wellness, with support from top leaders in the food industry and alumni. The center features 7,800 square feet of new and renovated chemistry, microbiology and biology laboratory space for research in developing healthier and safer foods.

The UMass Amherst food science department is widely recognized as one of the best in the nation, including an outstanding assessment of its doctoral program by the prestigious National Research Council. The department is also the oldest in the country, founded in 1918. Department Chair Eric Decker notes that undergraduate enrollment has tripled in the past eight years and food scientists routinely visit from all over the world to benefit from UMass expertise. A new website dedicated to the Clydesdale Center can be viewed at www.umass.edu/foodsci/clydesdale-center.

Decker said, "Foods are such an important factor in health and wellness, it is critical we find ways to make our food supply healthier and safer while also keeping it acceptable to consumers and affordable to all. Establishing the Clydesdale Center is a terrific example of a research and development partnership between the university, the food science department, its alumni and the food industry to make foods part of our preventive health care strategy."

The new center, based in Chenoweth Laboratory, is named for Distinguished University Professor Fergus Clydesdale, retired food science researcher, department chair and expert advisor on domestic and international food quality, safety, regulation and policy. The Clydesdale Center includes six named laboratories, one each for food science industry partners ConAgra, Kraft and Pepsico, and three named for alumni and major donors Charlie and Mickey Feldberg, Gil and Carol Leveille and Karakian "Cutty" Bedrosian. A four-year, $1.8 million fundraising campaign by the food science department was capped when renovations began in 2009, Decker said. UMass Amherst matched that $1.8 million contribution to establish the $3.6 million Clydesdale Center. The university provided an additional $2 million to renovate the third floor of Chenoweth Lab.

Of three new food science labs on the second floor of Chenoweth Laboratory, two will be occupied by researcher Julian McClements and one by Yeonhwa Park. The third floor will house food scientist Hang Xiao’s research laboratory and a teaching lab.

UMass Amherst Chancellor Robert Holub praised the food science department for combining the right ingredients, a mix of strong productive faculty, increasing numbers of talented students and resourcefulness, to ensure its growth and success. He pointed out that the department was the first and is still one of the few in the nation to establish an external advisory board of alumni in top industry positions plus in-state industry representatives to help with fundraising and build industry partnerships.

Along with Holub, special guests who attended Friday’s celebration included Noel Andersen and Mehmood Khan of Pepsico, Kraft’s Vice President for Latin America Ivette Bassa, Ocean Spray Vice President for Research and Development Geoff Woolford, College of Natural Sciences Dean Steve Goodwin, Vice Chancellor for Research and Engagement Mike Malone and State Sen. Stanley Rosenberg.

Today’s guests dined on a special menu planned by UMass Amherst Dining Services to include a dish made from each major donor company, including Pepsi-marinated smoked whole turkey, roasted butternut squash with Ocean Spray cranberries, chicken caesar salad with Kraft dressing, a Green Giant/General Mills saut?ed vegetable medley, Clydesdale apple crisp with Reddi Whip whipped cream from ConAgra, M&M and Snicker snacks from M&M Mars and tea from Coca-Cola. The creamy apple crisp made especially for Clydesdale is a long-time favorite of his, served at his retirement and every special occasion he hosted on campus.

Over the past five years, undergraduate enrollment in the food science program has more than tripled, from 25 to 80, Decker said. UMass Amherst food science graduate and undergraduate students enrolled in the top-ranked program will benefit from the enhanced research experience afforded in the newly renovated laboratories, he added.

The public attitude toward food is changing, Decker said. "One of the most exciting opportunities young people have right now, if they want to help improve the nation’s health, is to learn to do it through readily available and affordable processed foods that people can incorporate into their hectic, everyday schedules. If you’re going to help get less salt and fewer calories, more fish oils and fiber in our diets, for example, food science is leading the way."

"People are starting to move beyond the artistic and more toward an appreciation of the science of food. The number one priority of food companies now is to improve health and wellness. They are our partners in developing ways to make the food supply healthier and safer, with a lower incidence of pathogen outbreaks, a high and stable nutritional value, great flavor, texture and convenience."

"Today, industry is funding projects to decrease trans- and saturated fat content, developing natural approaches to food preservation with packaging technologies and finding naturally occurring bioactive compounds in foods that can improve health, for example. All this requires a multidisciplinary research approach that we offer here at UMass Amherst," he added.