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IFST Spring Conference 2017

The IFST Spring Conference ‘Your Future Role in Food: Embracing Advances in Technology’ brought together some of the finest minds involved in new technologies to talk to a diverse and engaged audience at Kings College on 7 April. Opened by the newly appointed IFST President David Gregory and chaired by Professor Ian Noble (Mondelez), the event highlighted some of the global challenges that technology might help us address.

The food system cuts across many of the UN’s sustainable development goals, including issues of water use, waste, the energy required to produce food and the significant public health challenges we are facing today. The speed of technological development offers opportunities to tackle some of the most pressing issues and will transform the way we work and live.

David Crean (VP R&D Mars), the keynote speaker, started the formal presentations by outlining Mars’ project on ‘sequencing the supply chain’ which is building a database using genomic information in the food chain to understand microbial communities, to aid in identifying hazards and deviations and to improve traceability. Starting with one supply chain the intent is to build a tool that can be rolled out to all products and create an evolution of HACCP.

The conference was then treated to a look at some of the new technologies being developed in agriculture and food manufacturing.

Dave Ross from the Agri- EPI centre introduced us to exciting technologies being considered in the agri-food sector, for example the use of robotics and sensors in animal production, autonomous harvesting/processing and drone sensing for crops.

Matt Rayment from the Manufacturing Technology Centre demonstrated a personalised drink bottle that had been designed and 3D polymer printed in less than a day. He discussed how applications from aerospace are being applied in food manufacturing and the use of a simulated food factory to run ‘what-if’ scenarios and improve operational efficiency.

Fraser McKevitt from Kantar informed us of some key trends in retail and food service that will drive the adoption of new technologies: the ‘squeezed centre’ range of products with growth in value and premium, the reduction in brand supremacy, the growth of Out of Home sales, the blurring of categories and trends towards ‘happier, healthier, more convenient’.

Ian Campbell from Innovate UK then shared examples of successful funding outcomes and called for more applications for funding from the UK Food industry.

This was followed by a Q&A session with the speakers. The audience discussed the challenges of communicating the benefits of new technologies and the implications of the increase in the use of robotics. Although some jobs will be replaced, new jobs will be created by new technologies.

The afternoon was split into two sessions, one focusing on consumer technologies, the other on manufacturing and control. In the consumer stream, Larry Wilson from TellSpec talked about its new handheld consumer NIR spectroscopy device and how the company is developing detection capabilities for a range of food quality and safety parameters. This was followed by Professor John Mathers, who communicated results showing that personalised interventions in nutrition healthcare delivered better results than ‘onesize- fits-all’ approaches, regardless of whether personalisation was based on phenotypic or genotypic information.

Meanwhile in the manufacturing stream, Dr Vincenzo di Bari introduced us to the EPSRC Centre for Innovative Manufacturing (CIM) in Food and talked about the role of process, product and ingredient design in food manufacturing. His presentation was followed by Dr Roy Betts from Campden BRI who stressed that as test methods in food microbiology are becoming easier to develop, it is critical we ‘use a method that asks the question we need to answer to get the knowledge we need’.

Back in plenary, Geoff McBride showcased some of the facilities and technologies that are available for the food industry via funding from a new STFC (Science and Technologies Facilities Council) food network ( and Ian Noble wrapped up the conference by noting the many opportunities to do good science in the food industry, reminding us of the need to leverage networks to access those opportunities. Technologies, such as genomics, simulations, advanced sensing, scanning, robotics and the ability to generate, manipulate and utilise new data sources are increasingly available to help realise our innovation and efficiency aspirations for the future.

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