USA: CMU professor recognised for research in storing milk at room temperature

15 April 2013

Bob Howell, professor of chemistry and polymer science at Central Michigan University (CMU), has received international recognition from the society of thermal analysis researchers for his research on adapting the polymeric materials in plastic food packaging to allow milk to be stored at room temperature. Howell’s research to address the issue of foul taste in pastries based on their packaging and brown streaking in milk jugs created to reduce the cost of milk production was considered particularly noteworthy by the society. One of the challenges presented in his research, which began in 1985, focused on adapting the polymeric materials in food packaging items like ketchup bottles and peanut butter jars to store milk. The goal of his research was to find a method of storing milk in plastic jugs that do not require refrigeration. Refrigerating milk in transit is one of the major production costs. Degradation in the barrier level of the packaging, which helps to keep oxygen out and flavour locked inside, caused brown streaking in the jug. Another key element of Howell’s research dealt with the degradation of polystyrene, used in the transparent food packaging material for pastries and cookies. The degradation of the material created an odour, which resulted in an unusual taste in the product. Howell says his research helped uncover the origin of the odour and solve a problem that had existed for approximately 50 years (News Item CMU, 4 April 2013).