Purdue University scientist and former “Tomato King of Indiana” pioneered breakthroughs in large-scale storage, packaging and transportation of fruit and vegetable products
(WASHINGTON, D.C., USA) – Dr. Philip E. Nelson of Purdue University was named winner of the $250,000 World Food Prize for his innovative breakthrough technologies which have revolutionized the food industry, particularly in the area of large-scale storage and transportation of fresh fruit and vegetables using bulk aseptic food processing.
Dr. Nelson was announced as the 2007 Laureate by Ambassador Kenneth M. Quinn, President of the World Food Prize Foundation, at a ceremony at the U.S. State Department on June 18, 2007 hosted by Assistant Secretary for Economic, Energy and Business Affairs Daniel Sullivan. Also participating in the announcement ceremony were World Food Program Executive Director Josette Sheeran, Acting Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Henrietta Fore, Congressman Tom Latham (R-IA) and World Food Prize Selection Committee Chairman and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Dr. Norman Borlaug.
In making the announcement, Amb. Quinn stated that Dr. Nelson’s food science research has significantly reduced post-harvest waste and spoilage and greatly increased the availability and accessibility of nutritious food worldwide, particularly in emergency situations.
“Dr. Nelson’s pioneering work, which began with tomatoes and later included a variety of seasonal crops, has made it possible to produce ultra-large scale quantities of high quality food,” Ambassador Quinn said. “This food can then be stored for long periods of time and transported to all corners of the world without losing nutritional value or taste.”
Dr. Nelson’s research led to the discovery of methods and equipment to preserve perishable food at ambient temperatures in very large carbon steel tanks (beginning with 100 gallon tanks and increasing in capacity to 1.8 million gallons). By coating the tanks with epoxy resin and sterilizing the valves and filters, food products were able to be stored and removed without reintroducing contaminants. As a result, enormous quantities of pathogen-free food could be distributed to plants around the world for final processing and packaging.
Later partnering with the Scholle Corporation, Dr. Nelson developed a low-cost aseptic “bag-in-box” system for preserving and shipping foods. By the 1980’s, this technology had spread throughout the global food industry. Working with another company, Fran Rica Manufacturing (now part of FMC), Dr. Nelson engineered a variation of the bag sealing fitment as a membrane, which ruptures during the fill and then reseals with a sterilized foil cap.
In the developing world, these technologies have made it affordable and convenient to transport and deliver a variety of safe food products without the need for refrigeration, averting loss due to spoilage. Citrosuco, a leading orange juice producer based in Brazil, has used the technology developed by Dr. Nelson to ship up to eight million gallons of orange juice to the United States and Europe. The technology has also been applied to bring potable water and emergency food aid to survivors of the 2004 tsunami in Southeast Asia and the victims of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, as well as to other crisis situations worldwide, and is used in school nutrition programs in developing countries.
“Affordable and safe movement of food is critical in fighting world hunger and Dr. Nelson's technologies will help food reach those in need,” said Sheeran. The World Food Program was one of several organizations to support the nomination of Dr. Nelson.
Dr. Nelson has been involved in the storage and packaging of food since childhood. He spent his early years working on his family’s tomato farm and canning factory in Morristown, Indiana and once earned the crown of “Tomato King” at the Indiana State Fair.
The 2007 World Food Prize was formally presented to Dr. Nelson at a ceremony at the Iowa State Capitol on October 18, 2007. The ceremony was held as part of the World Food Prize’s Norman E. Borlaug International Symposium, which focused on “Biofuels and Biofood: The Global Challenges of Emerging Technologies.” Further information about the World Food Prize can be found at www.worldfoodprize.org.