Dan Kephart, research and development leader for Life Technologies, told FoodProductionDaily food laboratories are called upon to tackle a myriad of food-related challenges. For example, one in six US consumers are stricken by foodborne illness each year, and one-third of all perishable food produced globally is tossed out.
Further, Kephart said, there are currently 7bn humans roaming the planet, and 1bn more will have joined them by 2020.
“Feeding all of those people will be a real challenge,” he added.
Ease of use
He said technology firms are coming up with more advanced methods to test for pathogens, quality, and other factors. However, food clients demand even evolved science like polymerase chain reaction (PCR) systems be simple enough for minimally trained staff to operate.
“Customers are saying, ‘I want a black box where I can put a sample in and get an answer out,’” he said.
To that end, Kephart said, instruments are increasingly being designed with user-friendly design, ability to track samples easily, with simple, plug-and-play setup.
The nature of food technology is much like other industries, Kephart said—users are ever demanding better quality, faster results, and lower prices. Systems using PCR and other advanced technology are on the rise, but they won’t be replacing existing conventional methods for the foreseeable future.
“Traditional microbiological testing won’t go away anytime soon—it’s still 75% of the testing market,” he said. “We’re not trying to replace it; instead, we’ve shifted our thinking to how can advanced technologies coexist, and supplement existing technologies.”
While customers demanding more data from their testing equipment, Kephart said delivering too much data can actually complicate matters.
“With some techniques, you can end up providing much more information than a customer actually, truly wants, and that can create a whole other set of problems,” he said.
Kephart spoke to FPD at the Food Labs Conference during Pittcon 2014, an event dedicated to analytical technology for food and beverage testing, materials analysis, and more. Life Technologies is a division of Thermo Fisher Scientific.