A Conversation with Assoc. Prof. Filiz Altay About Food Engineering and Nanotechnology
Aug 08, 2016

The Department of Food Engineering at ITU keeps contributing to the pioneering spirit of our university, which has an established research culture.

Assoc. Prof. Filiz Altay of Food Engineering Department at the Faculty of Chemical and Metallurgical Engineering has provided us with information regarding food safety, application of nanotechnology on food, minimization of additives, and expertise areas of the discipline of food engineering.

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Assoc. Prof. Filiz Altay has pointed to the common misconception of associating the discipline of food engineering with biology rather than seeing it as a separate field of expertise. She emphasizes that biology is a field of natural science while food engineering heavily relies on the principles of engineering, as the name suggests.

Professor Altay stated that food engineering is also confused with medical fields specializing on nutrition and diabetes, which creates a conceptual ambiguity. Then, she informed us that the Department of Food Engineering has carried out various studies and new projects are on the way.

The effect of nanotechnology on food engineering

The work of Altay, whose area of expertise necessitates a multidisciplinary research perspective, just like most other scientific disciplines of our age, largely involves the application of nanotechnology on food and discoveries based on this. “I started working on nanotechnology applications in food engineering about 5 or 6 years ago. During this span of time, I carried out two COST (European Cooperation in Science and Technology) projects supported by TUBITAK (The Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey), and
Stating that as part of one of the COST projects the department has acquired a new measurement device, which is owned by only few other Turkish universities, Altay summarized what her project deals with: “one of the two projects is concerned with the prevention of syneresis and oil release, while the other one is about nanofiber encapsulation with controlled release. In this project, I focused on how to reduce the additives in products such as mayonnaise, ice cream, and salad dressing through nanotechnology.”

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Altay points to the economic significance of the issues she is working on, explaining that healthy nutrition provides people with a better life and therefore decreases health expenditures of governments. In this way, Altay believes, applications of nanotechnology in food industry can contribute to a more efficient use of national wealth.

“We all know that in today’s world access to safe food and healthy nutrition have become more important than ever. In that regard, it is important to raise the awareness of young people, whose eating habit is largely characterized by consuming packaged and who often do not have time for a timely meal.” In this context, Altay emphasizes that sustained and increasing R&D support could significantly contribute to minimizing additives in food products. According to Altay, this is an attainable goal thanks to the R&D support provided by ITU and the scientific endeavors of the faculty and students who are committed to advancing the existing body of scholarship on nanotechnology applications in food engineering.

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Assoc. Prof. Altay is currently working on the removal of microorganisms from nanofiber filtration membranes without a boiling process that would decrease the food’s nutritional value or any other process that could damage its structure. The realization of the research goals could make it possible to minimize additives or even eliminate the need for them. Moreover, Altay and her students have applied for a patent on nanofiber membranes for food applications. Also, Altay is working with her students in the fields of food, textile, and pharmaceutical technologies on issues such as nanofiber filtration membranes, preservation through nanofiber encapsulation, and sensor applications of nanofibers.

Research agenda of Filiz Altay and her students.

Establishing Nanotel company in 2014 in ITU ARI Teknokent, the techno-park that introduces to ITU students the world of science and business, professor Altay and her research group have been carrying out R&D activities in the company on nanotechnology applications in various fields such as medicine, pharmaceuticals, textile, materials, and food engineering in particular. Altay tells us that Nanotel has received grants from TUBITAK and it is the first institution to produce nanofibers in Turkey. Altay and her team produced their own nanofiber production equipment in Nanotel, and they even developed an industrial prototype of the instrument.

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In addition to generating nanofibers via natural and artificial polymers, Altay’s research group is designing nanofibers to be used in various areas and continuing their R&D activities through national and international partnership projects. Altay’s team also produces PAN nanofiber, which enables wastewater treatment without chemical or thermal processes, gel nanofiber, which enables preservation of aroma and sensitive active substances such as antioxidants through nanofiber coating, and chitosan nanofiber that is used in edible coating for food preservation. Also, they produce nanofiber for biopolymer nanofibers and food packaging. Another area on which Altay and her researchers work is the effect of radio waves and magnetic and microwave-based devices on food.

For further information about the work of Assoc. Prof. Filiz Altay and her students, please click here.