Measuring food quality: concepts, methods and challenges
Report from the 3rd QLIF training and exchange workshop 12-14 February at the Louis Bolk Instituut
By Lucy van de Vijver
From 12 to 14 February, the Louis Bolk Instituut organised the 3rd annual QLIF workshop, titled “Measuring food quality, concepts, methods and challenges”. During these days a diverse and intensive program was presented.
Participants came from, Belgium, Bulgaria, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Macedonia, Poland, Turkey. Participants were all very enthusiastic, both on the quality of the presentations and the total program. For all those of you who missed it, I give a brief impression.
Definitions of food quality
On the first day definitions of food quality were discussed as well as the methods to measure this quality. Machteld Huber explained the inner quality concept, developed by the Louis Bolk Instituut. This inner quality concept is based on two main life processes in organisms; Growth and Differentiation and the balance or integration of these two processes. This in contrast to many other quality definitions based on the presence or absence of substances.
Analytical methods for measuring food quality (measuring substances) and experimental methods (e.g. crystallisation, biofotons) measuring life processes were discussed. After the theoretical part, participants had the opportunity to work with biocrystallisation pictures and to visit the crystallisation laboratory.
Excursion and research presentations
The second day started with a visit to one of the largest organic greenhouses in the Netherlands. The farmer grows tomatoes and paprika on a contract basis. Recently he started with a speciality in tomatoes, the Wild Wonders, a mixture of different shaped and coloured tomatoes. The greenhouse therefore gave a good view on the combination of ‘volume’ production and quality growing.
In the afternoon, Jacob Holm Nielsen gave us a very interesting insight into the QLIF studies on organic and low input dairy. The type of feed showed to be very important for the milk composition and he emphasized that for organic high-quality dairy, maize can better be avoided as part of the feeding regime.
Joke Bloksma presented the studies performed on lettuce, apple and carrot quality and how management factors (for apple, the bearing of the tree, sun light, ripening, etc.) influenced the quality of the products.
Finally, Gabriele Wyss from FIBL gave a presentation on food safety and food risks in organic production. She explained that many food safety aspects and food risks in organic are covered by conventional safety regulations and additional rules for organic farming. Because of the precautionary principles in organic food production the product safety and process safety tends to be higher in organic than in conventional.
At the end of the day 4 participants presented their own research. This gave a broad view on different studies in the field of food quality and it gave rise to many questions and suggestions from other participants.
Taste and health
At the 3rd day taste and health were the main topics. Organic food might have a better taste than conventional, but how do we measure taste.
Bob Cramwinckel of the Centre for Taste Research explained their 3-steps method to measure physical, psychological and total taste.
Last presentation was given by Ruth Adriaansen on how we can study health effects of organic food. The necessity of a clear working definition of health showed to be very important for the design of a study, the choice of parameters and the effects to be studied. As an example, the study design of “Organic, more healthy ??”, the large feeding study in chicken, currently being performed by the Louis Bolk Instituut, was discussed.
According to one of the scientific contributors the program “gave a great insight in the discussion going on in the field of organic food quality”.
Conclusions and challenges
The overall conclusion was that for the evaluation of food quality you have to take much more aspects into account than nutritional content and contaminants only. An enlarged or holistic quality concept is needed to cover the ambitions of organic food production. Challenge is to further develop such concepts and to design robust scientific studies, which account for all relevant quality aspects.
Join the 4th workshop in 2008
From 13 to 15 February 2008, the Louis Bolk Instituut will organise the 4th workshop, focussing on the relation between farm nitrogen management and food quality and the instruments at farm level to improve nitrogen management. We strongly encourage you and your (junior) colleagues to join.