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Rows of canned goods stocked neatly in a food pantry

Voices of UF/IFAS: Ziynet Boz

Headshot of Ziynet BozName: Ziynet Boz

Position:
Assistant Professor

Hometown:
Mersin, Turkey

Years with UF/IFAS:
8 months since I started my position. I completed my Ph.D. here at the ABE department between 2013-2017 as a Fulbright scholar and completed another year of postdoctoral research.

 

Describe your role at UF/IFAS
I am an assistant professor of sustainable food systems engineering. My role involves teaching and research in the Agricultural and Biological Engineering Department.

How did your background/experiences shape your interest in your current field?
I have a very diverse educational background including food engineering, food processing, and packaging. I completed my B.S. in Food Engineering at Mersin University (Turkey) in 2009 and during my BS, I participated in a 1-year long exchange program at the Institute of Chemistry and Technology – Prague, Czech Republic. During my BS I also had co-op and industry experiences in dairy and cheese processing in the Czech Republic, fruit concentrate production in Coca-Cola company where I was exposed to real-world problems in day-to-day operations. During my industry experiences, I also saw how multifaceted the food industry was from R&D to production, from management to sales. I became even more curious about how the fundamental processing operations were designed, or aseptic transport or primary packaging were selected, or critical decisions were made. This was the point where I realized the importance of systems thinking in the food industry. Consequently, I was determined to study and learn more about different aspects of the food industry.

In 2009, I started my MSc in Food Engineering with process engineering and modeling where I focused on heat transfer modeling in traditional thermal processing in foods with Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) simulations. This area helped me utilize engineering thinking in my toolbox such as CAD modeling, fluid dynamics, finite element methods, and validation. During my MSc, my role as a research and teaching assistant was where I led wide laboratory classes including general, organic, and analytical chemistry, general and food microbiology, instrumental analysis, food technology, and food engineering unit operations. This unique multi-dimensional experience for over three years provided me with additional tools not only in teaching but also in fundamental analytical skills in food science research. As a result, I published several manuscripts, book chapters, and presented at international and national conferences. Upon completion of my MSc, I was awarded a Fulbright Doctoral Scholarship to pursue my Ph.D. here at UF in Agricultural and Biological Engineering with a food packaging focus.

After processing, I wanted to continue with packaging engineering because of its essential nature in the food industry. “Currently, almost every food product is packaged, fresh or processed”. Both processing and packaging play a critical role in providing safe and high-quality products. I also figured that there was a gap in expertise with a limited number of professionals in the food industry with both packaging and food engineering backgrounds. In addition to my curiosity to understand the food industry from a systems perspective, I wanted to continue improving my engineering skills. UF ABE Department is in a unique position to provide a well-curated educational and research environment for engineers who would like to specialize in multi-disciplinary topics. My Ph.D. experience here at UF IFAS, opened the doors of new possibilities and collaborations to improve the food systems. I became particularly interested in sustainability and food loss and waste reduction. During my 3-year experience with industry upon completion of my Ph.D., I worked with several multi-national, startup, and non-governmental organizations to provide research-based know-how and guidance to improve sustainability by mitigating food waste through packaging applications. I used tools such as Life-cycle Assessment (LCA) to assess and measure the sustainability of foods. I also held leadership roles at the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) where I was involved in various roles with being a Food Packaging Division chair in 2020-2021. I also started a new division called Sustainable Food Systems Division where I will chair and for the next three years.

In my current role here at UF, I would like to combine my research, industry, and educational experiences to train the new generation of Agricultural and Biological Engineers while developing exciting new research by utilizing my diverse engineering background to provide systems-based solutions. Industry partnerships are also central in my role to translate theoretical advancements into tangible products and improvements.

Tell us about some current research you’re doing on reducing food waste?
Currently, I am the PI of a multidisciplinary research group that was awarded the 2021 UF/IFAS Food Systems Institute Seed Grant to develop Digital Twins of refrigerated retail cases to improve the sustainability of stored fresh produce. This research focuses on utilizing the Internet of Things (IoT) and mechanical models to real-time monitor the quality and spoilage characteristics of fresh produce, thus, provide predictions and operational suggestions to reduce waste at the consumer-facing business level. In addition to utilizing digital tools to improve the sustainability of food systems, I am working on circular economy (CE) solutions for food loss and waste reduction, as well as to improve the food industry applications (E.g. reusable transport packaging interactions). One significant component of the circular economy efforts in the food industry is to develop training modules, educational materials, and courses to train the next generation of Agri-Food professionals in these crucial topics.

What are some things the public can do to reduce food waste?
In high-income countries like the United States, Food Loss and Waste (FLW) tends to occur at the consumer level such as retail, restaurant, and food service, and at home. Several options for home-level FLW reduction. One is the reduction of FLW through consumption pattern changes such as meal planning. COVID reduced FLW at home in the US partly because people were able to plan meals better and cook at home. New high-tech solutions like apps and camera-equipped refrigerators can aid people with complex work schedules and families. E-commerce (E.g., omnichannel shopping) and meal subscription options also make portioned cooking easier. Consumers can help the FLW mitigation is through rethinking the FLW-increasing purchase habits at the retailer such as picking the product with the farthest shelf-life date (E.g., use-by) or not preferring the products with cosmetic imperfections (E.g. ugly produce), which forces food industry to increase strict cosmetic requirements from the growers. For more resources, I suggest looking at local programs, as well as national and international resources (NRDC, ReFED, Food Recovery Network, USDA, FAO, etc.) for increased awareness.

What inspires you? (Or) What are your hobbies?
I resonate very much with the ideas presented in the book Range by David Epstein where the author argues that there is no single path or skill to succeed in a rapidly changing “wicked” world where generalist approach in the early career can benefit conceptional reasoning obtained from a wide range of skills later in life. Thus, I strive to look at complexities from seemingly unrelated aspects and work in collaborative environments. I also strengthen this muscle by creating a range in my research and personal life. I have been dancing Lindy Hop and solo jazz, even though pandemic halted my progress. I am a big fan of jazz music, and I also recently started learning how to play the trumpet (which looks like will take a couple of years until I can say I play trumpet). I love to work out, read books, and spend time with my dogs