Busting Myths About the Food Industry

John Ruff, immediate past president of IFT

John Ruff, immediate past president of IFT

The food industry, processing, GMOs, artificial ingredients, globalization, oh my!

It’s hard to blame consumers for believing in myths about food. They are blinded with all the choices vying for attention at the supermarket and schizophrenic news headlines that muddy the water about what’s healthy and what’s not.

It’s the age of the “empowered, global consumer,” said John Ruff, immediate past president of IFT, speaking to the Cactus IFT Section on Feb. 4 in Tempe, Ariz. The Internet, social media, and quick communication at our fingertips gives the average consumer the ability to be more informed than ever before.

But there’s also a lot of misinformation that’s accessed often openly attacking food science and technology due to a general lack of understanding, he explained.

Myth #1: Food processing is new

The No. 1 myth is that food processing is a relatively new occurrence, Ruff said. “Some people might say that it’s only 50 years old. Some people say it’s 100 years old. Wrong answer. Food processing is at least a half a million years old.”

About half a million years ago humans first discovered the use of fire for cooking, Ruff says. That marks the birth of food processing and food science. That first use of fire must’ve been as foreign as any other type of food processing that came later.

“How it happened, who knows?” Ruff said. “Maybe some animal got too close and fell into the fire or maybe an ancestor killed an animal and threw it in the fire. But that particular ancestor picked the leg of whatever it was out and suddenly discovered that that meat was now tastier, easier to digest, more nutritious, and better for them.”

The advent of cooking in the Paleolithic era was followed by many other types of processing in the late Mesolithic and early Neolithic eras—around the same time of the arrival of subsistence agriculture—including drying, milling, and fermenting. Pickling and curing would come later, near the Middle Ages, and finally all the technologies of the industrial revolution that included canning, plant breeding, pasteurization, blast freezing, aseptic packaging, and the list goes on.

Myth #2: GMOs are new and unnatural

One of the most recent food developments of the present day is the technology to genetically modify crops, which brings us to myth #2—that GMOs are something new and unnatural. “GMOs are as old as crop cultivation. The birds and the bees did it 10,000 years ago,” Ruff said.

Ruff explained further that we’ve been deliberately modifying crops ever since George Mendel taught how inheritance of traits and pea plants worked. In fact, the understanding of genetics is what led Norman Borlaug to father the Green Revolution with his high-yielding wheat, which saved millions of lives in India, Africa, and Mexico.

So when it comes to modifying plants genetically, “nothing is new,” Ruff said. We just have advanced technologies that help us to do it more easily.

Myth #3: Bias doesn’t exist in research

Another myth Ruff tackled is that bias doesn’t exist when research is not funded by the food industry. It certainly is, and he presented several examples —borrowing mainly from work by David Allison and others—where “white hat bias” had crept into scientific literature.

In some studies relating to sugar, for example, there were several instances of emotion-based language that drew conclusions from causation about food based on animal or cell studies. Worse still, some of the conclusions about causation were purely based on correlations found in epidemiological studies.

With this type of bias, it’s no surprise that we get the headlines that we do. And it explains why consumers become confused so easily.

Myth #4: Globalization isn’t a good thing

In a small world where communication happens in an instant thanks to information technology, consumers often might not appreciate how complex the supply chain of food might be.

For instance, Ruff says, a simple cheeseburger could have ingredients—the wheat bun, tomatoes, beef, and sauce—from several different countries including Australia, Canada, Uruguay, Belgium, the UK, Chile, Morocco, and Spain.

Information technology is also allowing us to make improvements to the food system by helping us to more quickly respond to consumer demands and food insecurity all over the world.

Myth #5: Processed food can’t be good for you

One other widely disseminated belief is that processed food can’t be good for you, but this is yet another mischaracterization. Even fast food can be healthy, Ruff says.

In fact, in 2012, a review paper published in The Journal of Nutrition determined that the processing level of foods was actually only a minor determinant of the individual food’s nutrient contribution to diet.

So, the authors argued, processed foods should not be overlooked and did have an important nutritional role for consumers. But that might not be enough of a convincing argument for consumers, who seem to love to hate food technology and science. Because of rising mistrust of food science and technology, Ruff says IFT is calling for its members to speak out about their industry.

“The future of our profession is at stake here,” Ruff said. “If we don’t get people to understand what food science has done in the past, what it’s doing today, and how critical it is to feed the world in the future; if we’re going to feed 9 billion people by 2050, we cannot afford to say, be a Luddite and throw away food technology and food science.”

– David Despain, MS, Cactus Section IFT Newsletter Committee Chair

Two Ways to Truly Benefit from Suppliers’ Night


Networking is about connecting and building relationships. (Credit: Flickr)

This year’s Cactus Section IFT Suppliers’ Night provides you with the unique opportunity to meet face to face with fellow professionals in the food, beverage, and nutraceutical industries. Suppliers come to show the services, ingredients, or equipment they can offer to companies or consultants with the hope of creating a business partnership and generating revenue.

But Suppliers’ Night is meant to be much more than a sales pitch. To truly benefit from this event, there are two things you should try to do. First, network with the intent of building genuine relationships. Secondly, learn something new.

When networking at Suppliers’ Night, focus on building authentic relationships that are more than just a handshake and an exchange of business cards. As the CEO of Zappos, Tony Hsieh, encourages in an article for the Huffington Post, avoid networking in the traditional sense and, “instead try to build up the number and depth of your friendships, where the friendship itself is its own reward.”

Don’t be mistaken though; making connections with people could greatly benefit your business. However, the foundation of trust and commitment through a friendship can make all the difference when working on business matters. You never know how the relationship you built could lead to future endeavors and partnerships.

Also, keep an open mind about the connections you make by getting to know people that might not be in your direct line of business. It’s a good way to gain different insights and new perspectives. More importantly, don’t forget to follow up and maintain the relationships you invested your time into building.

Suppliers’ Night is also an opportunity to learn something new. As you make your rounds visiting with people and looking for solutions, keep an eye out for new products, services, or new ways of doing things. This is the time to ask questions directly to industry experts. If you see an ingredient or service that’s new to you or catches your attention (even if it’s not related to your work), make the effort to learn about it. It may just provide you with new insight for future projects or products.

Having an open mind at Suppliers’ Night allows you to build new relationships and learn new concepts, both of which can support your business. At this year’s Suppliers’ Night, make a conscious effort to build genuine friendships and learn new things.

-Quchat Shekarri, Cactus Section Secretary-Elect


Ancient Seeds for Modern Needs

Naweachic 5-09 CS 42

Credit: Native Seeds/SEARCH

The Southwest has a long and rich agricultural history. From the time that the first settlers migrated to the region about 4,000 years ago, crops such as corn, beans, squash, and amaranth were staple items of diets. Many of the crops originated from Mexico while Spanish settlers introduced others.

Over time, environmental adaptation and human selection influenced crop diversity and resulted in plants that could flourish in the many different regions of the Southwest including lowland deserts, river valleys, and mountain plateaus. One of the greatest adaptations was the ability to grow without large amounts of water since some civilizations depended solely on rainfall to water crops in the Southwest.

Today, many of our crops around the world are cultivated using the same seeds. Little attention is paid to the importance and ease of using seeds that have been adapted to grow in specific climates or regions. In fact, just ten companies control over 75 percent of the global sales market. Some believe that if farmers grew adapted seeds there would be less of a need for pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, and large amounts of water. Additionally, it would spur genetic diversity in our crops and promise food security for future generations.

One of those believers is Bill McDorman, the Executive Director of Native Seeds/SEARCH in Tucson, Ariz.—a nonprofit organization that promotes seed conservation. Bill and his crew at Native Seeds/SEARCH are pioneers in a movement to preserve native seeds through many different projects, one being a well-organized seed bank.

What’s a seed bank? It serves as a safe repository for seeds to preserve the genetic diversity. Seeds are kept under frozen storage conditions where they remain viable for long periods of time.

By doing this, Native Seeds / SEARCH can provide seeds to farmers if a crop is devastated either by weather or other circumstance. They have almost 2,000 seed variations—mostly comprised of different types of corn, bean, and squash. Native Seeds/SEARCH also supports and encourages local growers to use their seed varieties to contribute to the natural selection process.

Another way Native Seeds/SEARCH is trying to preserve native seeds and crops is through their conservation farm. This 160-acre farm is located in Patagonia, Arizona, and serves to support seed diversity and adaptation through natural selection.

If you want get involved in preserving the diversity of crops, Native Seeds/SEARCH allows people to buy seeds for your home garden or farm. Visit for more information.

By supporting Native Seeds/SEARCH, you are helping to create a more delicious, diverse, and abundant world—one seed at a time.

– Gillean Barkyoumb, MS, RD; Cactus Section IFT member


What Is IFT Doing About Food Myths?


John Ruff, Immediate Past President of IFT, spoke about myths affecting the food industry.

Cactus Section IFT recently invited the Immediate Past President of IFT, John Ruff, to speak about misinformation and misperception of food science.

These myths surrounding the food industry only spread misleading and invalid beliefs among the public. The accuracy of our sources and news is often questionable and that can lead to confusion, negative perceptions of food science, myths about food processing, and unwarranted fear of technology.

John touched on how IFT plans to aggressively counterattack these myths and advocate the importance of food science for the benefit of future generations. While he admits that it will take time, collaboration, advocacy and vision can build confidence in science and the food system.

For a brief summary of John’s talk, watch this video featured on the Food Product Design website.

What is a Section of Excellence?

Screen Shot 2014-02-06 at 5.03.20 PMIFT named the Cactus Section the 2011-2012 Section of Excellence. You may have seen recognition highlighted in previous newsletters or on the Cactus Section IFT website; however, if you are new to the organization or missed the announcement, you may be wondering what the award means and how we can continue to maintain our status as a superior section.

Here is the official explanation of the Section of Excellence award:

“This recognition symbolizes your section’s commitment to IFT, your section members, and the food science and technology profession. The section should be a vibrant community of dedicated professionals that embody the spirit of IFT. The events held throughout the year, exemplary volunteers, dedication to students, and excellence in leadership demonstrate ongoing devotion to ensuring that the section will flourish for years to come.”

While it’s flattering to be presented with the award in the past, we should strive to meet (or exceed) the award expectations as our section continues to grow. By striving to reach these goals, we can continue to represent the characteristics of a Section of Excellence:

  • Submit the section Annual Report and Financial Report by the deadline
  • Continue to nurture membership stability and growth
  • Organize at least three meetings each year
  • Keep the section website and newsletter up-to-date
  • Demonstrate commitment to future generations of food scientists and their community

If you have any suggestions about how to best meet these goals, please feel free to contact any of the Cactus Section IFT board members. We appreciate your supporting efforts to retain the excellent status of the Cactus Section IFT.

– Gillean Barkyoumb, Cactus Section IFT member


Member Spotlight: Lorraine Hansen

Lorraine Hansen

Lorraine Hansen

There many fantastic members in Cactus IFT that support our club. Without you, we would not be as successful as we are. We would like to recognize a very dedicated member, Lorraine Hansen, our Treasurer for over 10 years.

How did you find out about IFT?

I was working for Hunt-Wesson in Ohio and my supervisor suggested that I become a member. I have been a Professional member since 1990.

How long have you been involved in Cactus IFT?

I have been the chapter treasurer since 2003.

What does your role as Treasurer entail?

I manage all monies received and spent including paying bills and providing reimbursements. I report to our local membership the status of finances and file all financial reports with IFT National and the IRS. I also ensure payments are made to the Arizona Corporation Commission as a non-profit.

Why do stay involved in IFT?

I have found IFT to be a good organization for networking and sourcing information.

What do you do professionally?

I am a Quality Engineer Lead / Principal for The Dial Corporation—a Henkel company. They are mainly known for consumer-packaged goods; however, we manufacture insecticides, which contain food raw materials. I work with our products that are regulated by the FDA and the EPA and ensure that products are manufactured to meet applicable regulations (e.g. 21 CFR 210 – 211) and our own internal standards. I am the “go-to” person for manufacturing of our drug products including validations and drug stability studies. Additionally, I do statistical evaluations of technical transfers, weight capabilities on fillers, etc. If it has the word quality attached to it, see me.

How has IFT benefited your career?

IFT has kept me connected with like-thinking professionals.

If you had to choose, what has been your favorite IFT event? 

My favorite events would have to be the tastings of different products (wine, olive oil, etc.).  While it is fun just to taste things, I find the science behind it very interesting.

Do you enjoy any hobbies?

I travel… a lot! I travel mainly for work (I have 15 contract manufacturing sites that I am responsible for); however, also for leisure. When work takes me someplace that I have not seen, I try to see the area. I have been to Antigua, Guatemala; Hong Kong, Shanghai (yes, you do go shopping in the back streets), and Ghuanzou, China (our driver didn’t speak English and we got lost in rural China – but that’s another story); Seoul, Inchon (I left there about 10 hours before DPRK started bombing – again, another story); and several other places.

For leisure, I help chaperon local high school students that are involved with Model United Nations.  We have been to Ireland; St. Petersburg, Russia; Rome, Florence, Genoa, Turin, and Milan, Italy; and will be going to Athens, Greece in March.  Personal vacations in the last year have included a trip to Padua, Venice, and Verona, Italy; Basel, Zurich, and Straffhausen, Switzerland; and we (2 of my 3 daughters and I) ran around Germany and France.

Traveling is something I grew up doing. In fact, I visited all of the United States and Canada (except the west coast and Hawaii) by the time I was 13.  It’s a big, beautiful world and there is still so much to see and so many different cultures to experience.

What would you eat for your last meal?

I would have a fresh baguette, Brie cheese, balsamic cheese, and a nice 2007 Malbec wine from the Mendoza region of Argentina. (See, I did learn a lot at those tastings!)

A Tasty Night at Queen Creek Olive Mill


Cactus IFT members enjoyed an informative and tasty night at the Queen Creek Olive Mill.

The science behind producing quality olive oil is more than you may think. Everything from the type of olive tree to the time the olives are harvested can influence the taste and quality of oil that is produced.

Cactus IFT teamed up with Master Taster, Sommelier, and owner of the Queen Creek Olive Mill, Perry Rea, for an event to learn about the olive oil production process. For more than a decade, Perry and his team has been experimenting with different varieties of olive trees in order to find which ones grow best in Arizona. Currently, the Queen Creek grove is home to 16 different olive trees.

Olive trees grow buds in March and blossom in mid-April. If just four percent of the tiny flowers become olives, it’s a big crop. By May, olives have formed on the trees and they are harvested in the Fall.

The exact time that the olives are harvested significantly effects their taste profile. If they are picked when they are in their green, ripe stage, they will have a grassy, bitter, and peppery taste. Olives that are picked when they are purple in color have a buttery, fruity to flat taste that does not keep well. According to Perry, deciding when to harvest is a key factor in deciding the style of oil they want to produce.

Once the olives are harvested, they are pressed within 24 hours using mechanical machines to extract the oil without the use of heat or solvents, hence the term “cold pressed”. For some of the flavored oils, additional ingredients (such as oranges or lemons) are included in the mixing process to infuse the oil. After the olives have been pressed into a paste and the oil extracted, the oil enters a scientifically designed centrifugal decanter that spins at a high rate which removes any remaining water or debris. Finally, the oil is transferred to oxygen-free, stainless steel tanks where it is kept fresh and bottled as needed.

After the educational presentation by Perry at the Olive Mill, he guided us through an olive oil taste test. Our taste buds confirmed that Queen Creek Olive Mill truly produces some of the best oils in the world. From bacon to blood orange, every olive oil is sure to make your mouth water.

— Gillean Barkyoumb MS, RD

Inside Fairytale Brownies


Cactus IFT members enjoyed a behind-the-scenes tour of the Fairytale Brownies facility.

On June 4th, the Operations Lead Manager of Fairytale Brownies Kim Silva hosted the Cactus Section of the IFT for a tour of the Fairytale Brownies facility. The information-packed tour explained how the company started and the challenges they faced to get where they are today.

Founded in 1992 by co-founders and childhood friends, David Kravetz and Eileen Spitalny, the idea for Fairytale Brownies was born during a late night baking session. While baking at a friend’s catering kitchen, they both realized that there was an opportunity to share these delicious creations with others.

To make a great product, they start with the finest ingredients, such as unsweetened Callebaut Belgium Dark Chocolate, premium creamery butter, shifted cake flour and high-quality farm-fresh eggs. The quality ingredients result in exceptional treats. They’re moist, center cut, not too sweet, and packed with delicious goodness.

If you were not able to attend the event, you can take a tour with Eileen by going to YouTube and typing in “Fairytale Brownies Bakery Tour 2012”. This short video tells you all about the company and the production of of the product.

You can also see what types of products and packages they offer on their website at .

At the end of the tour, we received gift bags with a custom IFT gift box of brownies and a sample of their newest products, Lemon Blondie and Cinnamon Crumb bars. They were so good!

After the tour, we went to the Marriott Buttes Hotel for networking and to enjoy a wonderful breakfast, with a beautiful view and great company. It was a great way to start the day.

Thanks goes out to all, especially Kim Silva, for helping to put the tour and event together!

— Madonna Cash, Cactus IFT ACF Laison