COLUMBUS, Ohio — The erosion of milk’s reputation as a healthy food choice is the biggest issue facing the nation’s dairy industry, said the new dairy chair for The Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.
“We could survive longer on milk without food, without water, without pizza, than you can survive on anything else,” said Rafael Jimenez-Flores, who joined the college as the J.T. “Stubby” Parker Endowed Chair in Dairy Foods earlier this year.
Jimenez-Flores has made it his mission to demonstrate scientifically the nutritional benefits of milk in the face of “fear mongering” that may have led to some public misconceptions that it is not good for you. “It is unethical to use fear for profit when we are trying to feed the world,” he said.
Calling milk “the only food that has evolved with us,” Jimenez-Flores points out that the lactose in milk favors positive gut bacteria, which aid digestion.
In addition, the milk fat globule membrane has been shown to help prevent obesity and cancer as well as to enhance brain development, Jimenez-Flores said.
Ohio’s dairy industry has a strong reputation for processing in a manner that allows waste to be used as raw materials, adding value to dairy by products, he said.
Among his current research initiatives is an examination of the “fresh milk” concept in Australia, where unpasteurized milk is being sold to consumers. Rather than using heat to kill harmful bacteria, the process requires a high-pressure treatment, Jimenez-Flores said. He is working on a proposal to investigate high-pressure homogenization as well.
While the research is interesting and important, Jimenez-Flores considers his first priority as dairy chair to teach college students to solve problems. He plans to accomplish this by sharing his enthusiasm and love for his discipline.
“What the industry really needs are Ohio State graduates who can work and succeed,” he said. “Future graduates coming from my program will be unquestionably well prepared. These were values given to me by my professors, for which I am forever indebted.”
When he was an undergraduate student himself in Mexico, Jimenez-Flores studied chemical engineering and pharmaceutical chemistry at the Universidad La Salle, A.C.
He went on to Cornell University where he earned his MS in food science. Then he received his PhD in agricultural chemistry and food science from the University of California, Davis.
Prior to coming to Ohio State, Jimenez-Flores worked as a professor at California Polytechnic State University for 21 years, spending the last three as director of the Center for Applications in Biotechnology there.
He had always wanted to be an endowed chair, and when the opportunity arose at Ohio State, Jimenez-Flores was already aware of the department’s reputation, especially that of the late Jim Harper, who held the position from 1993 to 2013.
“It’s like an unreal thing to come here. Ohio State has tons of talent everywhere, not only in agriculture,” he said. “I want to help the dairy industry by attracting talent to work in and help develop dairy science.”