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TECHNOLOGY

Trends in food technology in the Indian scenario
Saturday, 07 December, 2019, 08 : 00 AM [IST]
Dr R Mahendran, Anjaly Paul
Introduction
Food technology is an evergreen field connecting the agricultural sector and the industrial world. Newer technologies are being adopted to the field of food as the demand for food processed and packaged sustainably is upsurging. Nowadays, people are genuinely interested in knowing about the technology used behind a product and are not as opposed to the application of science in food. Food safety is also an important aspect to be dealt with as modernisation and tech innovations have emerged in the food sector.

Globalisation has increased the handiness and accessibility of resources, equipment, technology, and ideas worldwide. This aids to the emergence of newer trends from farm to fork. Consequently, the fields of food production, processing, preservation, packaging, storage, and transportation have been exposed to a lot of variety of changes in recent years. There are new-fangled changes, even in the type of food and beverages we consume. This trend can be observed from the mushrooming of fried chicken restaurants and pizza huts to the increased demand for probiotic yogurt in the Indian market.

The increasing population requires more food to eat with limited resources available. Hence more effective production strategies are needed with minimal losses during storage and handling — the spread of novel tools assistances in this endeavour.
    • Robotics
Smart robots are included in every section of the food supply chain, from agriculture to food processing and delivery. Intelligent farming techniques and precision agriculture operating with the help of automation are gaining importance among Indian farmers and agricultural researchers. Robotics is already established in food processing, particularly in butchery, mixing and sorting applications, and also in food packaging at different levels. Repetitive and arduous tasks are well handled by robots with precision. Some Indian restaurants even have robot chefs and automated facilities to serve foods that attract customers.
    • Artificial Intelligence (AI)
AI generally finds application as a predictive analysis tool mainly in marketing and supply chain optimisation. AI models predict and prioritise data and forecast demand and sales. One such form of AI is in calculating the need for food in supermarkets and hospitals based on the previously available data and thereby reducing food wastage. AI is a robust optimisation tool in research studies. This thinking of computer systems plays a huge role in retail and logistics with accurate statistics and databases. In India, AI applications are not widely expanded to the food and beverage sectors but holds a growing impact in other fields.
    • Blockchain technology
Blockchain is an encrypted and distributed computer filing system, moreover, like a ledger, which helps in food traceability. It is a prospective technology for transforming the supply chain of the food and beverage industry in India. Consumers will be able to trace the source and the quality of produces and ensure its safety and security. For example, it helps to know the place where the fruit is cultivated or in the recalling of a specific batch of products in case of the report of contamination or crisis. However, according to a report by Forbes, the blockchain is a digitised record of data added by its members, which questions the credibility of the underlying data.  
    • Sensor technology
Sensors are applied for monitoring and evaluating the quality of food and agricultural produce, especially in post-harvest storage and handling in the Indian food industry. Nowadays, the application of sensors extends from assessing the quality soil used for cultivation to detecting the specific microorganism causing spoilage or as in the electronic tongue used for the sensory evaluation. Sensors are also used in identifying the food adulterations and sorting and grading of produces. Newer technologies are amalgamated from time to time in food sensors. For instance, the incorporation of nanoparticles enhances the activity of a wide variety of sensors used in food.
    • Internet of Things (IoT)
IoT is a system of interrelated computing devices with unique identification tags. It has the ability to interact with each other by transferring data over a network with the help of embedded sensors, processors, and communication hardware. In the food and beverage sector, IoT helps in gaining greater visibility in each stage of manufacturing, production, and transportation. Even though it affects the privacy of the companies, IoT improves food safety and traceability. It also helps in the reduction of wastage and costs. It combines sensors, artificial intelligence, and traceability services like blockchain.
    • 3D food printing
3D printing is an additive manufacturing technique where food is formulated in a layer by layer manner based on computer-aided designs. When foods are 3D printed, we get intricate designs and custom-made meals with the possibilities of automated cooking and mass manufacturing. It also helps in converting nutrient-rich products to tasty foods in a short time and thereby attract kids. 3D printers are available in the market at about US$5,000.   


FnbNews

Figure: Major trends in food technology in Indian scenario

    • Food processing and preservation technologies
The emerging techniques like cold plasma, high-pressure processing, pulsed electric field, ultrasound, and ozone are replacing the conventional thermal treatments of food preservation. These techniques can also be used to modify the properties of food products during primary and secondary processing and improve the quality and shelf life of food and beverages. The commercial use of microwave, radiofrequency, infrared, and UV radiations in food processing and preservation is also common in the Indian food industry, especially for food drying, baking, and decontamination applications.
    • Novel food packaging technologies
Food packaging is an age-old technique. Still, newer trends are emerging in the food packaging sector with special focus on edible, biodegradable, and eco-friendly packages mostly made from food wastes or by-products. Novel changes are also observed in intelligent and smart nano-based packaging for improving the shelf life of products. The intelligent packages are often incorporated with sensors, indicators, or radio frequency identification systems that can interact with the packed food to distinguish, recognise, and document the changes happening. The electro-spinning techniques for fibre production are also gaining importance in the development of biopolymers.
    • Nanoencapsulation technology
In nanoencapsulation, the unstable bioactive or flavour ingredients are covered by a protective layer in nanometre-scale with inert films, sheets, or only by micro-dispersion. Nanoencapsulation techniques help in nutrient delivery and controlled release of flavour and aroma compounds with the help of natural nanocarriers. It also assistances in improving the stability and shelf life of bioactive compounds and fortification of food and beverages. Food and pharmaceutical industries commercially use this encapsulation technology, which increases the handiness and processing ability of some highly unstable products.
    • Online food delivery services and virtual restaurants
Another prominent impact in the Indian food sector is in the field of online food delivery services, with annual revenue of $7 billion in 2019. The increased dependency on mobile phones augmented convenience, and the numerous options offered to make these food aggregators an indispensable part of our daily life. The virtual restaurants, which provide delivery, only dining experience, are also growing with the help of these digital applications.
    • Other trends in the Indian food industry
The food nutrition sector also confronts numerous trends like personalised nutrition and nutrigenomics. The vegan alternatives and nutrient analogs are making their way into the mainstream. The ketogenic diet with high fat is also attracting people seeking simple solutions for weight loss. Food waste utilisation for the extraction of nutrients, development of new products, and packaging materials are also gaining importance.

Newer and emerging trends in food technology help in creating a digital, traceable, and safer food system. Indian food industries and markets do not fall behind others in accepting these novel strategies and technologies. Recently, the US Food and Drug Administration announced an initiative “A new era of smarter food safety” to address the application of tech innovations in food from vegan meat to predictive tools like artificial intelligence. The Food Safety Modernization Act, 2011, by FDA, focusses on preventing foodborne illnesses rather than responding to it. This trend will be globalised in the near future for ensuring safe food, which is readily available and meets the demand of the consumers with the help of modern technologies.

(Dr Mahendran is associate professor and head of Department of Food Packaging and System Development and Paul is a research scholar at Indian Institute of Food Processing Technology, Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu.  They can be contacted at mahendran@iifpt.edu.in)
 
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