Food Processing Gets Smarter!

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How do we put food on our tables? Once, people simply relied on their local farmers. Today, we depend on a global web of growers, fisheries, packers, shippers, manufacturers, retailers as well as government and industry bodies. As the world becomes smaller and “flatter,” countries that at one time seemed distant are now primary sources of our food supply. Many of those countries do not have consistent standards for quality, process and accountability. Additionally, this complex system impacts and is impacted by other global systemsfrom energy to climate to healthcare to trade.

The result is a whole host of inefficiencies arising from issues of scarcity, safety, sustainability and cost. And an opportunity for our food system to get a lot smarter.

The Food Innovation Center at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, is a food business incubator programme. It provides business assistance services in addition to technology expertise, marketing assistance and property management, to farmers, co-operatives, start-up and existing small and mid-sized food and agricultural businesses around New Jersey. The facility was awarded Incubator of the Year in 2007 by the National Business Incubation Association.

A new food innovation facility opened at the Food Innovation Center on 17 October 2008. The $8million centre is both a business incubator as well as a food processing facility. It acts as a catalyst between Rutgers’ researchers and the food industry. The programme, which will be developed using a $51,000 federal grant, is aimed at including more nutritious food while providing local farmers with an alternative market for their produce. By the end of 2011, several products such as soups, salads vegetable snacks and lasagna will be introduced as part of the programme.

Rutgers’ food business incubator and processing facility design

The state-of-the-art incubator facility is located in a 23,000ft area and has three separate areas business development, food processing and product storage. The business development and community outreach area consists of a resource library, an observation room, a conference room, a product development kitchen, a sensory analysis area, a chemistry lab, and a microbiology lab and offices for clients and partners.

The product commercialization and food processing area consists of an anteroom and growing area, a production corridor, a bakery and dry processing room, a blast freezer, a raw material cooler, a blast chiller, a hot process area, a pot washroom, a cold assembly room, a fresh-cut room and cold process area, and a raw produce cooler.

The product storage area also acts as the shipping / receiving and building mechanical systems area. It features a finish goods cooler, a dry storage area, a finished goods freezer, a maintenance room, a chemical storage room, a receiving and shipping area, a loading dock, a storage area, HVAC systems and a mechanical room.

This the first incubator programme in the US that includes NASA-developed AiroCide PPT technology for air sanitation. The technology has been provided by Atlanta-based KES Science and Technology. The system is free of chemicals and removes volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and kills bacteria, fungi and viruses present in air.

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