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Max Rubner Institute – focusing on consumer health

The research and analyses carried out by the Max Rubner Institute are aimed at protecting consumer health. The institute investigates the contamination of meat and fish and also focuses on the health benefits of food additives and the future of functional food.

What harmful elements can be found in fish? © Pipistrello / Pixelio

The intake of food is a major human activity and is necessary to provide the materials needed to support life and maintain life functions. In 2009, the United Nations World Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) announced that around one billion people around the world "live in chronic hunger". On the other hand, the number of people in industrialised countries that suffer from adiposity is constantly increasing. The Max Rubner Institute (MRI) headquartered in Karlsruhe was founded in 2008 and is focused on health and consumer protection in the nutrition sector. Among the research institutions of the current Max Rubner Institute covering the major food groups, milk research was the first area to be covered in 1877 with the establishment of the Agricultural Experimental Stations, which were divided into two sections - Agricultural Chemistry and Dairy Farming. The six institutes led by Prof. Dr. Gerhard Rechkemmer are currently located at six sites in Germany (which will be reduced to four in the future) and they deal with nutrition and the health value of foods, their ingredients and manufacturing and preparation processes as well as with investigations into the safety and quality of food. The scientists also focus on the sociology of nutrition and ways to improve the information given to the public.

Max Rubner Institute - Federal Research Institute of Nutrition and Food

The Max Rubner Institute is an independent higher federal body under the auspices of the German Ministry of Nutrition, Agriculture and Consumer Protection (BMLEV). The MRI departments of "Physiology and Biochemistry of Nutrition", "Nutritional Behaviour", "Food and Bioprocess Engineering" and "Safety and Quality of Fruit and Vegetables" are located at the institute's headquarters in Karlsruhe. The departments of "Microbiology and Biotechnology" and "Safety and Quality of Milk and Fish" are located in Kiel, the Detmold location deals with the "Safety and Quality of Cereals" and the Kulmbach location with the "Safety and Quality of Meat" that investigates food and feed for undesired and key ingredients.

Nano has reached the food market

What effect do nanomaterials have on the taste and uptake of constituents of food? The Department of Food and Bioprocess Engineering led by Dr. Ralf Greiner is focusing on this question. At present, nanomaterials are mainly used in packaging; nanoparticle-containing food is not yet marketed in Europe. According to the German Federal Institute of Risk Assessment, insufficient data are available to effectively assess the effect nanomaterial packaging has on food contained therein. In cooperation with the MRI Department of Physiology and Biochemistry of Nutrition (PBE), the researchers are carrying out an investigation on “nanoscale food contact materials” where they are looking into whether food can be contaminated with the wear debris of production plants. The Department of Food and Bioprocess Engineering also focuses on conventional and future methods of manufacturing and processing food.

Secondary plant substances for prevention

Unfiltered apple juice is superior to clear apple juice in terms of its cancer-prevention properties. © Metoc / www.wikipedia.de

Food provides basic nutrition but is known to make and keep us healthy. Functional ingredients are often thought to have a preventive effect in terms of human health. Colon cancer is the second most common cancer in Germany, and a leading cause of cancer-related deaths. Research has shown that it is possible to reduce the incidences of colon cancer in industrialised countries by leading a healthier life, including following a healthier diet. Secondary plant substances contained in fruit and vegetables have been shown to have a positive effect on human health. The PBE has carried out a study to investigate the effect of apple juice on the development and progression of colon cancer in order to be able to give recommendations for the prevention of this cancer. The researchers used an animal model to investigate the effects of natural "cloudy" apple juice and clear apple juice as well as the effects of two components (turbidity material, polyphenols). They have been able to show that natural "cloudy" apple juice has the highest bioactivity of all apple juices tested, an effect that could not be deduced from the two individual components tested. The study clearly reflected the major research priority of the PBE: finding relationships between nutrition and human health.

Mycotoxins in fruit and vegetables

Bag with coffee beans © siepmannH /Pixelio

The Department of Safety and Quality in Fruit and Vegetables, led by Prof. Dr. Sabine Kulling, deals with biological nutrition research in fruit, vegetables, coffee, cacao, tea, spices, herbs and nuts and products produced from these ingredients. The department also focuses on the sustainable production of these food items. Kulling's group focuses mainly on the quality analysis of fruit and leaf tissue and the tissue's behaviour after harvest, in particular with regard to maintaining the quality of the tissues during storage. In an EU-funded research project, the scientists are investigating the effect of environmental conditions on the activation of toxin formation in fungi that have infested fruit and vegetables. Fungi are one of the major causes of fruit and vegetable decay. It is estimated that around 25% of the annual harvest worldwide is destroyed as a result of fungal infestation. One of the major problems is the mycotoxins produced by a broad range of Aspergillus and Penicillin species. Ochratoxin A, which is highly toxic and accumulates in the kidneys where it can lead to kidney damage, is a metabolic product that is only produced under certain environmental conditions. It is mainly found in coffee, cacao, spices and grapes grown in southern regions. Microarray investigations have shown that particular storage conditions such as low temperatures, which cause the fungi great stress, lead to the increased transcription of mycotoxin genes and hence to the enhanced formation of ochratoxin A. By investigating the signalling cascade that leads to the activation of mycotoxin gene transcription, the researchers are hoping to be able to develop a strategy to prevent the formation of mycotoxin.

How much do consumers know?

As part of the German National Nutrition Monitoring (NEMONIT) survey, the MRI is investigating long-term nutrition behaviour in Germany. The institute is carrying out this long-term study as a continuation of the “National Consumption Survey II”. Under the leadership of the MRI Department of Nutritional Behaviour, the researchers are conducting a survey on behalf of the German Federal Ministry of Nutrition, Agriculture and Consumer Protection (BMLEV) involving 2,000 people aged between 18 and 80. The acquired data are used as the basis for public prevention measures and reflect the nutritional behaviour of the German population. The department led by Prof. Dr. Ingrid Hoffmann is also investigating the knowledge and attitude of consumers with regard to nutrition as well as the information provided on nutrition. The goal of the latter is to show how the consumers use available media to learn about healthy nutrition. The MRI also maintains the German Nutrient Database (German: Bundeslebensmittelschlüssel) which provides comprehensive information about the composition and ingredients of foods with regard to energy provision and nutritional value.

Website address: https://www.gesundheitsindustrie-bw.de/en/article/news/max-rubner-institute-focusing-on-consumer-health