September 27, 2020

BY NATALEIGH MCCALLUM

Advancing innovation in the food processing industry is an important initiative at Conestoga College.

It is also important to the Ontario food processing industry as a whole, as they must continually innovate to compete in the global marketplace.

At a Conestoga Board of Governors meeting Sept. 15, members were updated on the initiative, and were told the college is looking to create a research arm with help from Canada’s Technology for Food.

The initiative is important to the college because its Institute of Food Processing Technology (IFPT), which opened in November 2012, trains students for the food and beverage industry, the largest manufacturing sector in Canada. According to the IFPT’s website, there are more than 3,000 such companies in Ontario alone.

At the institute, students receive multi-faceted training, including millwright, electrical and welding training, and learn how to operate bakery, fresh vegetables and beverage production line equipment.
According to the institute’s website, as part of the ever-increasing need to remain competitive, the IFPT undertook an Advancing Innovation in the Food Processing Industry project, which was funded by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.

There were three main objectives to the project:

1. Understanding the innovation mechanisms currently in place in the industry.

2. Developing a gap analysis that would identify what is needed (e.g. technical resources, funding) to encourage industry (in Ontario) to adopt an increased level of innovation.

3. Deliver a workshop to industry, government and academia that explained how a system of open innovation works and how a model food cluster encourages such a system. (The workshop was held in 2012.)

At the Board of Governors meeting, Barbara Fennessy, executive dean of entrepreneurship and applied research at Conestoga, said, “Currently we have a number of food processing educational programs and we’re adding new ones, some significant new ones. But in addition to that, we will expand and do research through the Institute of Food Processing.”

Canada’s Technology for Food (CTFF) was created in partnership with the City of Waterloo and the Accelerator Centre.

The program’s goal, according to the CTFF’s website, is to help food industry manufacturers who have “real opportunities and challenges” collaborate with providers of knowledge, technical skills and commercialization expertise in information and communication technology.

Some of the research will look into the development of equipment for the food processing industry.

“Most of it is currently produced in Europe,” Fennessy said. “And there is an opportunity to potentially develop that gear in Canada, so that is something we will be exploring in the food industry, along with implementing automated and productive equipment.”

The college will also look at things such as food safety, food security and the opportunities they can offer. With food safety they are looking at educating workforces. With food security they plan to look at what is actually in the food people are consuming.

“There is a potential project out of the University of Guelph that has developed testing capability to map the genomics of various kinds of lamb, beef, pork and others,” said Marlene Raasok, executive dean of the School of Health and Life Sciences and Community Services. “We really see this opportunity as a living lab for our bachelor of environmental public health.”

Fennessy said, “Ultimately we want to create an institute of culinary research and culinary technology.”

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