Effective collaboration between the public and private sectors can be difficult to achieve in any arena. When such efforts are geared towards food safety—a multifaceted and massive component of public health—it is safe to assume that any difficulties are magnified. To confront these challenges, the Institute for Food Safety and Health (IFSH), a research consortium located at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Bedford Park, Illinois, works to increase knowledge of food safety, processing, and defense, as well as add to our understanding of nutrition.
History and Mission
Founded in 2011, IFSH is comprised of participants from academia, government, and industry. The group’s main goal is to facilitate food science innovation, with a focus on testing and developing “innovative food safety and preservation technologies, processing and packaging systems, microbiological and chemical methods, health promoting food components, and risk management strategies.”
IFSH also hopes to enable more informed decision-making by legislative bodies regarding food safety regulations. Another important objective is continuing and expanding upon the vital work of IIT’s National Center for Food Safety and Technology (NCFST), a consortium of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the food industry, and IIT that has been operating for 20 years.
According to IFSH literature, the organization’s research staff consists of 70 individuals from across various fields, including biochemistry, microbiology, processing and package engineering, virology, chemistry, and nutrition science. Work performed by the research teams is intended to “assist regulatory and industry stakeholders with a broad spectrum of science-based solutions.”
IFSH boasts a number of state-of-the-art laboratories and other facilities designed to aid scientists and other experts in producing the highest quality research possible. IFSH literature lists 10 structures—the names of which (indirectly) provide some insight into the work performed there:
- Applied and Analytical Chemistry Laboratories
- Clinical Nutrition Research Center
- Biochemistry and Nutrition Laboratories
- Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) Plant
- GMP Kitchen and Processing Area
- Food Processing Innovation Laboratory
- Biocontainment Pilot Plant
- Fresh Produce Processing Line
- Molecular Microbiology Laboratories
- Proficiency Testing Laboratories
IFSH industry members include a variety of corporations and other groups that have an interest in furthering innovation in food safety and the science of nutrition through collaborative research. The IFSH lists nearly 70 current industry members, including some of the most prestigious names in government (such as NASA and the US Army) and business (like Hormel Foods and the Grocery Manufacturers’ Association). The organization offers businesses five membership levels, which align with an applicant’s annual sales revenue or income.
In addition to corporations, membership is also open to regulatory agencies, allied organizations, and technology developers. IFSH literature provides a basic overview of the benefits provided for each type of applicant. Among these benefits are access to proprietary research, consortiums, task forces, and workshops.
Organizational Capabilities and Strategic Framework
IFSH lists six core areas in which it participates in food products’ path to market. These include food nutrition content, product formulation, process technology, safety and quality evaluation, process validation, and product introduction.
To concentrate on specific food safety priorities, IFSH operates out of four strategically aligned centers:
– National Center for Food Safety and Technology—Comprises the collaborative research efforts of IIT and the FDA. Areas of research performed within this entity are numerous and wide-ranging and include: allergens, chemical constituents, food processing and packaging, microbiology, methods validation, and nutrition.
– Center for Nutrition Research—Focuses on the nutritional impact of foods and food components, such as the nutritional benefits of a certain food product. Other research areas include cancer risk reduction, child and infant nutrition, cancer and diabetes risk reduction, obesity and satiety, and the bioavailability of food components. The Center also oversees research aiming to prioritize foods that promote human health.
– Center for Processing Innovation—Contains six of the 10 primary research facilities. The primary focus of the Center is process control and validation, including biocontainment and innovative research on processing methods. It also encompasses many commercial and educational projects.
– Center for Specialty Programs—Accommodates field-based research and other specialized projects, including customized laboratory proficiency testing. This Center also manages and oversees project contracts with various governmental agencies, such as the FDA, the Department of Homeland Security, and the USDA.