Food market, Kunming, Yannan

Not only is prepared food considered man-made, almost all other aspects of food have some man-made or engineered component. Growing food, harvesting it, transporting it and even throwing away food waste, all have some engineering or design thinking.


  • Vertical Farms – explore food production problems related to population growth. Vertical farming is a potential solution to current food production limitations in a fictional location: Greentown. Because vertical farms are still a new concept with only a few prototype examples worldwide, imagine what the future could bring.
  • Food – protein, carbohydrates, fibre, fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes – Where do they come from? How are these transported and prepared? How can we ensure that there is enough food for everyone?
  • Agriculture – How is farming changing to grow food more efficiently using engineering? How are there new methods and tools being used?

Many engineers are working to improve the availability, quality and safety of food. Here are just a few examples.

  • Edible Active Coating (EAC) more than doubles strawberry shelf life
  • The Wonderbag – How Cooking with Recycled Polystyrene Can Avert Disasters – To give you an idea of the fuel and energy this can save, a pot of water can be brought two boil in just two minutes; the Wonderbag can then keep that pot hot for another hour, during which time rice can be cooked without requiring another hour’s worth of fuel-burning. And unlike a solar cooker, the Wonderbag can cook meals in darkness.
  • Solar cookers – The system uses the principle of phase-change to store and release heat. The key ingredient is a salt with a melting temperature of 220 °C, Seim says. Sunlight concentrated by a parabolic reflector melts the salt; when heat is needed, the salt is allowed to solidify, which releases heat. These practical solar cookers can store enough heat during a sunny day to work for an entire additional day, even if it is cloudy.
  • monitor food waste – About a third of the food produced for human consumption never gets eaten. That’s a lot wasted—some 1.3 billion metric tons worldwide each year … Using electronic tools to track and analyze every ounce of food supplied to a commercial kitchen that doesn’t make it to the table, could cut way down on waste, helping the environment while saving businesses money.

Food processing – What’s the problem?
People used to live and work near where food was grown and raised. Many people now must depend on engineering for the food they eat – everything from farming to packaging, distribution and storage.

  • Ask – What are some of the problems with getting healthy food to people who can’t grow their own food? Fresh fruits and vegetables are often grown on farms far from cities.
  • Imagine – How can food be processed or prepared to ensure that its nutritional value is kept? Food won’t go bad if it is keep at low temperature. Keeping food in air-tight packaging keeps germs out and freshness in.
  • Design, Build – What are some of the ways that food is stored now? Delicate fruits and vegetables can be refrigerated for a short while. Apples and other sturdier fruit can be stored and transported in a nitrogen atmosphere that slows ripening.
  • Improve – How can these be improved? Why would we want to do that?

Some examples of solutions to these problems

  • Pasteurization, 1863 – One of the first practical applications of Louis Pasteur’s germ theory, this method for using heat to sterilize wine, beer, and milk is widely considered to be one of history’s most effective public-health interventions.
  • Quick freezing frozen food – Clarence Birdseye discovered a new way to flash-freeze foods that produced much fresher and better tasting results than the earlier, slower methods of freezing. His inventions marked the beginning of the frozen food industry as we know it today.
  • Chewing Gum – Before coming up with chewing gum, Thomas Adams first tried utilizing chicle (a natural gum ingredient collected from trees) for rain boots, bicycle tires, masks and toys.

That’s engineering

  • refrigeration – the cooling of a body by the transfer of a portion of its heat away from it.
  • phase change heat pump – converts a refrigerant from gas to liquid and back again by compression in a refrigeration cycle.

Engineering ideas

  • heat transfer, solar energy, electronic tracking, waste management, pasteurization, public health, distribution network

Do it
Here are some challenges for you to work on…

  • follow food from farm to table, What are all the steps and technologies associated with growing crops and raising livestock though processing, packaging, distribution and food preparation?
  • Vertical Farms – use engineering to design and build a model vertical farm

Learn more…

  • Refrigeration – Refrigeration has had a large impact on industry, lifestyle, agriculture and settlement patterns.