NCFIL Director’s Perspective: July 2020
July 29, 2020
The North Carolina Food Innovation Lab continues with limited operations. As COVID hospitalizations continue to spike in North Carolina, the state remains in Phase 2 of recovery. Therefore, NCFIL can not yet welcome outside contractors and clients into our facility until at least mid-August. We continue to work on client projects with virtual client input. We’ve connected with many entrepreneurs over the past eight weeks, and indications suggest we will be very busy this fall.
This month, let’s look at recent activities that will guide the future of the food industry. Two particular items from the federal government should be noted.
U.S. Department of Agriculture Science Blueprint
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) released their science blueprint earlier this year, just as the pandemic began. A roadmap was written for federal research in the agricultural and food science fields. The USDA Science Blueprint details a vision for focused leadership and direction to advance USDA’s scientific mission through 2025.
The document outlines five overarching program themes for research focused efforts:
- Sustainable Ag Intensification
- Ag Climate Adaptation
- Food and Nutrition Translation
- Value-Added Innovations
- Ag Science Policy Leadership
Themes 1, 3 and 4 present objectives and strategies directly applicable to our food supply chain.
Sustainable Ag Intensification focuses on plant product quality through enhancing traits related to shelf life and taste/flavor that enable optimized nutrition, healthy characteristics and food safety. USDA’s strategy is to spotlight the wholesomeness and health-promoting characteristics of plant-based products and foods.
The Food and Nutrition Translation theme has seven objectives focused on improving the safety of our food supply using novel tools and programs. These strategies encompass ”addressing challenges to reduce foodborne illnesses” and “understanding the drivers of poor diets and nutritional choices.”
Nutrition and health promotion have become especially apparent during the ongoing pandemic crisis as the at-risk population for mortality generally had predisposing conditions often caused by metabolic diseases, including obesity and diabetes. The importance of food to future generations depends on researcher’s abilities to identify the biological factors necessary for reducing obesity and chronic diseases.
The Value-Added Innovation theme presents opportunities to identify technologies and system designs “for producing higher value end products from agricultural products, emerging crops, and livestock.” Objectives and strategies outlined in this theme present opportunities for entrepreneurs and small businesses to improve upon agricultural and food supply chains to provide sustainable and healthy foods. USDA is open to collaborating with stakeholders in partnership to foster innovations and novel technologies.
New Era of Smarter Food Safety Blueprint
Not to be outdone by the USDA, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released it’s new initiative to protect the nation’s food supply in mid-July. The New Era of Smarter Food Safety Blueprint builds upon the Food Safety Modernization Act and promotes the concept of preventing rather than responding to foodborne illness. FDA proposes increased partnering between government, industry and public health advocates in its blueprint.
The blueprint is structured with four core elements. The first core element is to use “tech-enabled traceability” to respond to foodborne outbreaks. End-to-end traceability throughout our food supply chain is the ultimate goal, so contaminated products can be removed from the marketplace as quickly as possible.
The second element promotes use of artificial intelligence and machine learning to “transform streams of data into more meaningful strategic and prevention-oriented actions.” The FDA would like to be able to “enhance and strengthen root cause analyses and predictive analytics.” These sources of new data will ultimately lead to improved approaches for inspections, outbreak response and recall modernization.
Other components of the blueprint consider novel business models addressing how food is processed and delivered. This focus will start on farms where agricultural raw materials are grown and harvested, attempting to develop a food safety culture at the very beginning of the food supply chain. The FDA will also address how it reviews and promotes novel foods and ingredients, such as cell-cultured foods, in the future.
Ultimately, human behavior plays a large role in preventing foodborne disease. The FDA proposes to identify how to “influence and change human behavior, as well as address how employees think about food safety.” Safe food handling practices at home are often as important to protecting the consumer as steps taken in our food processing plants. A food safety culture must be adopted throughout the entire supply chain, from the farmer’s field to the consumer’s plate.
Thank you for reading this month’s perspective. These are the views and opinions of the NCFIL Executive Director and may not reflect the opinion of others at NC State University. We welcome your feedback and perspectives.
Plant-based food innovation is a very active area in the food industry, so let’s talk about how NCFIL can collaborate with you, using jobs-to-be-done theory and design thinking for new ideas. We can help you bring ideas to market!