Food engineering: new horizons

September 27, 2017

Food engineering continues to have an outstanding contribution to food production, safety and innovation in the 21st century. However, there are increasing challenges and in an academic sense the domain of food engineering has not quite lived up to its enormous potential, according to Sam Saguy.

EFFoST is excited to have Professor Emeritus Saguy as one of the keynote speakers at the 31st EFFoST International Conference (November 13 – 16). He is one of the global leaders in food & chemical engineering and innovation.

 

 

The European Academy of food Engineering (EAFE) defines 'food engineering' as: “Food Engineering covers the study, modeling and design of ingredients and foods at all scales using technological innovations and engineering principles in the development, manufacturing, use and understanding of existing and emerging food processes, food packaging and food materials from food production to digestion and satiation enabling development and design, production, and availability of sustainable, safe, nutritious, healthy, appealing and affordable supply of high-quality ingredients and foods.” A shorter definition of modern Food Engineering is also considered as Science, Innovation, and Engineering for Diet and Well-Being.*

 

Saguy argues that the domain of food engineering needs a paradigm shift to avoid even the remotest possibility of becoming marginalized. Yes, a paradigm shift, because limiting ourselves to rethinking existing roles and concepts and focussing on incremental rather than disruptive innovation won’t be enough. Inertia, diminishing research funding, declining new academic positions and disrupting adjacent domains have a negative impact on food engineering and its attractiveness for talented professionals and students. The many bio-disciplines that are flourishing highlight the acute need for the food engineering domain to expand its horizon, “academia should redefine its food science, technology & engineering vision and curricula vital for recapturing its significant roles to stop the loss of its graduates to other fields”.

 

So what needs to happen to change things for the good? Saguy identifies 5 possible domains to make the transformation:

  • Enginomics
  • Modeling
  • Virtualization
  • Open innovation
  • Social responsibility

Enginomics

One possible paradigm shift Saguy identifies is enginomics (engineering + omics) - a new concept which includes a holistic perspective on food science, food product engineering, nutrition and human biological processes (e.g. gastrointestinal digestion, nutrigenomics, microbiomes etc.). This novel perspective calls for studying aspects such as human digestion, new techniques for modelling and simulation and personalized nutrigenomics.

 

An essential part of enginomics is the ability to quantify the bio-accessibility and bio-availability of nutrients. That’s a mouthful. The availability (bio-availability) and absorption rate (bio-accessibility) of nutrients can differ as a result of food processing methods. Take a tomato for example, a human body can absorb more lycopene from ketchup or pasta sauce compared to the same amount of raw tomato. The processing method used for ketchup or pasta sauce breaks down the tomato meat and cell structures which makes it easier for the body to absorb the lycopene.

 

The paradigm shift to enginomics will open new frontiers to study the mechanisms that elucidate how food engineering and processing impact properties of foods and how these properties influence aspects such as bioaccessibility, bioavailability, digestion and the microbiome, metabolic risks, wellbeing and even mood.

 

Modeling

Another domain identified by Saguy to make the transformation is food modeling and simulation. At the simplest level, food models are equations of a relationship between two or more variables. It helps scientists and engineers to predict properties of food.

 

Food modeling is a complicated task because of the lack of knowledge concerning its mechanisms, the issue of experimentation and obtaining reliable data, and the natural variability and uncertainties of food properties. To tackle these issues, Saguy recommends a shift from empirical or “observation-based” models, where the starting point is the experimental dataset from which the model was built, towards physics-based models. The latter is based on the universal physical laws that describe the presumed physical phenomena. 

 

Empirical models ignore the reactions and mechanisms occurring during the process and aim to find a simplified relationship between inputs and outputs. Physics models describe the physical-chemical changes in the product as a function of operating variables. They can drive innovation in very specific applications.

 

Virtualization

A model provides the opportunity for computation, simulation, prediction, optimization and process analysis. These activities and processes are referred to as ‘virtualization’. While various sectors (e.g. aerospace, defense, automotive) have been benefiting from modeling and virtualization, the food industry is lagging behind in utilizing the potential of virtualization as an engineering tool. Saguy thinks that the possibilities of this domain are enormous. Virtualization could offer various advantages, such as a significant reduction in time and costs of design, development, validation, equipment, circumvention of trial-and-error prototypes, time to market, risk assessments, etc. Recent developments (e.g. ‘internet of things’, cloud computing, big data, 3D printing) will support virtualization development and expand its potential to shape sophisticated strategies for innovation in the food industry.

 

Open innovation

Another important aspect to Saguy, is that academia and industry should embrace open innovation. To progress in enginomics, food modeling and virtualization it will be unavoidable to innovate at the intersection of various resources, disciplines and institutes in both academia and industry. Concepts such as ‘open innovation’ and ‘co-development’ will accelerate the progress in the aforementioned domains to realize breakthrough innovations, rather than incremental ones.

 

Saguy argues that “the food industry should alleviate its conservativeness and risk aversion and foster new strategies which embrace open innovation. It should also endorse basic and applied science, utilizing the most advanced, up-to date technologies, and scientific breakthroughs and enhance its overall research spending. This new mindset will generate a strong wave for embracing new thinking, stimulating a new framework for collaboration.”

 

Social responsibility

A critical element of a future paradigm shift is related to social responsibility, which should be a part of every stakeholders' duties and concerns. The creation of societal benefits should become the common goal for academia and industry. A genuine concern for society should be the norm, and an integral part of all open innovation partnerships. For academia to play a proactive role, criteria to assess its contributions, and a mechanism for academic rewards should become an integral part of all scientific activities. Accepted metrics are therefore required to assess and quantify social responsibility.

 

Professor Saguy refers to studies that show a strong positive relationship between corporate social responsibility and financial performance. However, he argues that we are in a transistion when it comes to measuring the impact of social responsibility and the acceptance of it as an established dimension in academia and industry. Both should develop the necessary curricula, methodologies, metrics and tools to study, measure and assess the relevance of social responsibility.

 

Food engineers of tomorrow

Meeting the aforementioned challenges as well as numerous others is paramount in enriching the significant and enormous contributions by food engineering to modern society. The food engineers of tomorrow need new knowledge and tools to excel in our hyper-competitive global economy and ever-changing markets and consumers’ needs. University graduates with sound academic knowledge of sciences and engineering should also have business, innovation and soft skills. It also means that academia should dare to introduce radical changes in curricula. Research will require an aggressive approach with multidisciplinary contributions combining process engineering, materials science and nutrition at all levels.

 

Saguy strongly and wholeheartedly believes that food engineering has a shining and exciting future and that it is our role and duty to develop a new vision and strategy, to offer the scientific and technological compass to overcome the challenges and realize the vast potential. Saguy likes to quote Anatole France (1921 Nobel Prize for Literature): “To accomplish great things, we must not only act, but also dream; not only plan, but also believe” - highlighting the 'multidisciplinary' and 'dreaming' as essential ingredients.

 

 


 

Roos, Y. H., et al. (2016). Food engineering at multiple scales: case studies, challenges and the future—a European perspective. Food Engineering Reviews(2), 91-115.‏

 

We would like to thank Professor Sam Saguy, Professor Petros Taoukis and Professor Yrjo Roos for their contributions. This article is based on and inspired by their work:
  • Saguy, I. Sam & Taoukis, Petros. (2016). From open innovation to enginomics: Paradigm shifts. Trends in Food Science & Technology.
  • Sam Saguy, Challenges and opportunities in food engineering: Modeling, virtualization, open innovation and social responsibility, Journal of Food Engineering, Volume 176, 2016
  • Sam Saguy; R. Paul Singh; Tim Johnson; Peter J. Fryerd; Sudhir K. Sastry (2013). Challenges facing food engineering. Journal of Food Engineering (Elsevier)