Monday, June 18, 2007

'Tomato King' Wins World Food Prize

Purdue University professor Dr. Philip N. Nelson was named winner of the 2007 World Food Prize today in Washington, D.C.

Nelson will receive a $250,000 award and be honored at a formal ceremony Oct. 18 at the Iowa Statehouse in Des Moines. Today's announcement was made by World Food Prize Foundation president Ambassador Kenneth M. Quinn at a ceremony at the U.S. State Department.

Nelson was chosen for the prize in recognition of his scientific achievements in food preservation, as noted on the World Food Prize website. He got started early in his studies, growing up in Indiana working for his family's tomato canning business.

At the age of 15, Nelson was named the "Tomato King" after winning a 4-H award at the Indiana State Fair.

Nelson studied at Purdue after graduating from high school and received a bachelor of science degree in general agriculture in 1956. When his family's packing business closed because of increased competition from California, Nelson returned to Purdue and began a long career in horticulture sciences.

Scientific breakthroughs at Nelson's laboratories have transformed fruit and vegetable packing industry, and his "aseptic" storage and transportation systems made possible the distribution of not-from-concentrate juices on a wide scale.

Nelson’s biography states that his discoveries include:
• Refining and perfecting the heat sterilization and cooling methods for preserving vegetable or fruit products
• Developing experimental 100 gallon, sterilized carbon steel tanks coated with an epoxy resin for holding the sterilized product at ambient temperature. Later on, tanks ranging in size from 40,000 to more than 1 million gallons were manufactured using Nelson’s protocols.
• Designing and constructing aseptic valves for the large containers, preventing microorganisms from
moving through the valve stem into the sterile system.
• Refining a system for smaller-scale, in-bag storage (1 gallon to 300 gallons), allowing processors to fill
multilayer, inexpensive sterile flexible packaging material with aseptically processed products.
• Perfecting a special system for the aseptic bags allowing sterile product to be introduced without
recontamination. This system was evaluated by Nelson as a membrane that is ruptured during the fill, then resealed with a sterilized foil cap.
• Increasing the capacity of bulk bag-in-box technology up to 3,000 gallon capacity for cost-effective shipping of processed food.
• Developing, with a Norwegian ship builder, the installation of aseptic bulk storage systems ranging in size
from 1.8 million gallons to 8 million gallons into the hulls of ships for transport of orange juice across the globe.

The World Food Prize ceremony in Des Moines in October will be held during the 2007 Norman E. Borlaug International Symposium, titled "Biofuels & Biofood: The Global Challenges of Emerging Technologies."

Since 1986 the prize has been given in honor of individuals who have contributed to improving the quality, quantity and availability of food around the globe. It was originally envisioned by 1970 Nobel Peace Prize winner Dr. Norman E. Borlaug.

Photos courtesy of the World Food Prize Foundation.

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