Catherine Chinyere Okafor
- Course: PhD in Food Science and Nutrition
- PhD title: Product development of RTE (ready-to-eat) banana food product for industries to suit consumer demand
- Nationality: Nigeria
Catherine Okafor is studying for a PhD in Food Science and Nutrition as part of the Functional Biopolymers for Food and Health research group. Her studies are funded by Nigeria’s Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETfund). Through her PhD research, Catherine aims to minimize food waste by turning banana waste into a novel food product. Professor Caroline Orfila is her principle supervisor, and she is co-supervised by Dr Christine Bosch.
Producing a sustainable banana product
Bananas are often wasted in their producing areas, with batches of the fruit being thrown away due to not meeting ripening standards for the market. Catherine is investigating what happens to the rejected products, and exploring novel ways of processing their banana flour into a product fit for human consumption.
She said: “The goal of my research is to minimize banana waste in the producing areas. They are wasted during the ripening process, as many bananas which do not meet market standards are rejected even though they are edible.
The goal of my research is to minimize banana waste by developing a novel food product that has low production costs, is nutritious and safe.
“By developing a novel food product, which has low production costs and is nutritious and safe, I aim to meet consumer demands. The product will be a high-energy food made of 100% unripe banana flour extracted and developed from the crop.
She added: “The idea is a continuation of my MSc work. I hope to achieve development of the new food product for industry.”
Ready-to-eat banana porridge
Catherine’s research involves refining how the product will be developed and testing it in a lab capacity. She explained what this process involves.
“Processing unripe banana fruit involves peeling, slicing, and oven drying without any chemical addition,” said Catherine. “Then it is milled and sieved to produce unripe banana flour. This flour is cooked with water for 10 minutes, producing a porridge that is cooled, freeze dried and milled. This product will be packaged as ready-to-eat banana porridge.”
She continued: “Each ready-to-eat product contains the quantity as recommended according to age and sex and includes a protein source. My research also included fortification and microbial tests for safety and storage analysis.”
Supportive research environment
A member of the research community in the School of Food Science and Nutrition, Catherine supports and is supported by her supervisors and peers. She said:
“Staff at the University are always supportive and ready to help you to make good progress. My supervisors are Professor Caroline Orfila and Dr Christine Bosch, who are both very supportive. Caroline is my main supervisor and an authority in my research area, but my second supervisor Christine still plays her role as my supervisor in our related aspects of work, including the phytochemical aspect of my work.”
The supervisors are supportive... and take care to create a culture of getting to know people and what kind of research each person is doing.
Catherine added: “The supervisors are supportive and inclusive by sharing encouraging spending time with PhD researchers in the labs. They take care to create a culture of getting to know people and what kind of research each person is doing.”
Applying for a PhD
Catherine explained her PhD is been funded for three years by a body from her home country, Nigeria, called Tertiary Education Trust Fund (Tetfund). Before applying to Leeds, she identified academic staff members who shared her research.
She said: “Having gone through the profiles of all the lecturers in the department, I saw that the department Professor Caroline Orfila and Dr Christine Bosch, had the knowledge of my proposed work. From there I knew I was going into the right School.”
Catherine added: “As an international student I applied to the University of Leeds to study my PhD, because I learnt that it is among one of the best universities in UK, and part of the Russell group. My plan for the future is to continue developing my research, having been supported by Nigeria’s TETfund and the University.”