American Agricultural Scientist Wins 2007 World Food Prize

Purdue's Philip Nelson - "The Tomato King" - pioneered breakthroughs in large-scale food storage, packaging and transportation.

Published on: Jun 18, 2007

Dr. Philip E. Nelson, a Purdue University food scientist, is the winner of the $250,000 World Food Prize for 2007. The announcement, made June 18 at noon in Washington, D.C., cites Nelson's 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.

Nelson was announced as the 2007 Laureate by Ambassador Kenneth M. Quinn, President of the World Food Prize Foundation, which is headquartered in Des Moines, Iowa. Quinn made the announcement at a ceremony at the U.S. State Department in the nation's capital. The ceremony was presided over by Acting United States Undersecretary of State for Economic, Business and Agricultural Affairs Daniel Sullivan. Also participating in the announcement ceremony was Dr. Norman Borlaug, chairman of the World Food Prize selection committee. Borlaug is a former winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for his work in advancing the Green Revolution, helping to feed starving people around the world.

In making the announcement, Ambassador 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.

Research helped preserve food better

"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," says Quinn. "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."

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 500,000 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, 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), he engineered a variation of the bag sealing fitment as a membrane, which ruptures during the fill and then reseals with a sterilized foil cap. This is now the standard technology used for processing and packaging of aseptically processed foods worldwide.

2007 award to be presented Oct. 18

In the developing world, these technologies have made it affordable and convenient to transport and deliver a variety of safe food products without need for refrigeration, averting loss due to spoilage. Citrosuco, a leading orange juice producer based in Brazil, has used the technology developed by 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.

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 will be formally presented to Nelson at a ceremony at the Iowa State Capitol on October 18, 2007. The ceremony in Des Moines will be held as part of the World Food Prize's Norman E. Borlaug International Symposium, which this year focuses on "Biofuels and Biofood: The Global Challenges of Emerging Technologies." Further information about the Laureate Award Ceremony and Symposium can be found at www.worldfoodprize.org.