Highlights from IFT 2014’s food science and technology fest

Thousands of food industrialists gathered in New Orleans this week for the 2014 IFT annual meeting and Food Expo. Some 15 000 attendees and more than a thousand vendors were present at this huge, one-stop shop for the industry’s top professionals representing 80 countries – all there to learn more about the hottest new trends, the most innovative technology and important developments in food science and technology. Clean label, 3D printing, adding science back to the food conversation, challenges of natural antimicrobials and new dairy technologies were just a fragment of the hundreds of sessions.

Clean label is the new natural

There were 2,363 food product recalls in 2011. This is the fact that David Jago, Director of Innovation and Insight at Mintel, shared with attendees at the company’s Ingredients and Innovation Zone on Monday afternoon. “The result from all the product scares is that consumers trust companies less than they ever have before,” said Jago. This mistrust and skepticism by consumers is compounded by the fact that they have more information available to them about food ingredients and the food supply.

Lynn Dornblaser, Director of Innovation and Insight at Mintel, pointed out that the term “clean label” is really an industry term. For consumers, a “clean” label is one in which they recognize the ingredients on the label. In addition, they are products that have more natural ingredients and are less processed. In fact, Dornblaser shared data that shows that 38% of consumers consider all natural ingredients when making food purchasing decisions.

How is this consumer desire translating to the market? Mintel’s data tracking product claims from 2009 to 2014 shows that “no additives” is the top claim on all new products launched globally. In the United States, all-natural claims are also very popular, but regulations in Europe keep this claim to a minimum. As for food categories that these claims are appearing in, Dornblaser said that they have high penetration in predictable areas such as baby food and products with simple formulations like juice drinks….

Adding science back into the food conversation

With blogs like Food Babe and documentaries such as Food Inc, the conversation surrounding the food system has reach levels never before seen. “Scientists are fed up with the one-sided, short-sighted story that’s out there about food,” said Cathy Kapica, CEO at The Awegrin Institute, who moderated an interactive panel discussion “A Filmmaker’s Perspective: FutureFood 2050 Panel Discussion”.

This was partially the impetus for the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) to launch its FutureFood 2050 program. The program, which is part of IFT’s 75th anniversary celebration, aims to create a broad dialogue on how science will deliver solutions needed to feed the world’s nine billion people by the year 2050.

Josh Schonwald, awarding-winning author, is a member of a team of editors working on a series of 75 articles based on interviews with food science leaders around the world that will be published on FutureFood2050.com throughout the year. “Unfortunately, the reality is that there are many well-intentioned people but they have a reflexively negative view of any and all science and technology in food,” said Schonwald at the event. However, he believes we can change that with the FutureFood 2050 program…..

Challenges of using natural antimicrobials in foods

The desire for a cleaner label is just one reason that food scientists are turning to natural antimicrobials in foods, according to P. Michael Davidson, Univ. of Tennessee, who presented at the Monday morning session “Emulsion Based Delivery Systems for Introduction of Natural Antimicrobials into Foods.”

While natural antimicrobials can come from sources such as animals and minerals, Davidson focused his presentation on plant sources, and specifically essential oils. The four most consistently effective spices and essential oils used as antimicrobials are cinnamon, cloves, thyme, and oregano. Unfortunately, these ingredients’ amphiphilic properties and low water solubility make them a little less desirable for use in the food industry. This led Davidson to a discussion on the challenges in using essential oils as antimicrobials in food…..

Presenters detail gut health research

Presenters shared some of the latest research on the ways in which prebiotics affect the gut microbiota and human health in a session titled “Linking Changes in the Gut Microbiota to Health Benefits: Challenges for the Food Industry.”

Several session presenters offered updates on research into mechanisms by which diet may affect gut health. Presenter Roy Martin of the University of California, Davis, delved into the relationship between obesity and gut microbiota. He explained that studies have shown that obese and lean subjects possess uniquely different microbiota profiles, and there is evidence to suggest that certain gut microbiota may by causal agents in producing obesity. He cited a study in which a fecal transplant of gut bacteria from obese subjects into mice caused the mice to become obese. Additional research showed that administering probiotics to mice led to a reduction in body fat in one study and increased lifespan in another…..

3D printing offers customisation, optimisation

While 3D printing has been around for nearly 30 years, its popularity has exploded in the last two to three years. “A lot of pieces were missing to make 3D printing work the way it does today,” explained Hod Lipson, director of Cornell University’s Creative Machines Lab, during his Beacon Lecture.

Much of the development in 3D printing has happened because the machines themselves have become much more affordable. They used to cost around $500,000, but now a consumer scale 3D printer can be purchased off the shelf for less than $1,000. In addition, the range of materials that can be used in 3D printers has expanded exponentially. Soft plastics were the only option in the 1980s, but today you can use “any material from cheese to gold,” said Lipson.

Lipson noted that “this technology is worming its way into every field.” This spans from engineering and education to fashion and art. He offered a packed house of attendees his ten “disruptions”—or reasons—why 3D printing is changing everything. First, is that in 3D printing complexity is free. “Increasing the complexity of the part doesn’t make it more difficult to make,” said Lipson. In addition, variety is free in 3D printing, which means that economies of scale don’t come into play.

These are two very important aspects of 3D printing that Lipson stressed. The question isn’t how can you use 3D printing to mass produce an item, such as bread, but instead, how can you use this technology to make something that would be impossible to make using traditional methods. Optimization and customization are really the main benefits of 3D printing technology. In addition there is no assembly required, zero lead time, no constraints, less waste by-product, and it offers compact portable manufacturing…..

Emerging technologies for dairy processing

At a session on titled “Novel and Emerging Technologies for Dairy Foods Processing,” three speakers explored technologies that may enhance dairy processing today and in the future, including nanoencapsulation of bioactives, new colorants for cheese-making, and surface treatment of plate heat exchangers to reduce fouling….

To read more about IFT 2014, click here