|KATHY MACLEAN, COMMUNICATIONS, FACULTY OF AGRICULTURAL AND ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES
There was good news all around for the Quebec agri-food sector in the recent provincial budget.
The Government of Quebec has awarded $1 million a year for five years for the creation of the McGill Agri-Food Innovation Network (M.A.I.N.), led by the Faculty of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and the Conseil de la Transformation Alimentaire du Quebec (CTAQ) in collaboration with the Saint-Hyacinthe Food Research and Development Centre (CRDA) and other Quebec industry and university participants. McGill University's Business Engagement Centre (MUBEC) has been instrumental to the success of this initiative. The consortium aims to increase Quebec agri-food sector competitiveness and promote industrial innovation by building collaborative research projects which address the priorities and the needs of the province's food processors.
In the short term this initiative aims to develop economically viable approaches to extend the shelf-life of food products and to meet the consumer demand for clean/clear labels.
Consumers, in increasing numbers, are asking for minimally processed, preservative free, healthy food products with clean labels - products that contain food ingredients/additives that are natural with familiar names.
Natural functional food ingredients, including plant extracts and their essential oils, enzymes, peptides, bacteriophages and fermented ingredients, can be used as potential antimicrobial alternatives to the synthetic ones to improve the shelf-life of food products.
The team plans to create tools that will link the chemical profiles of potentially useful natural ingredients to their antimicrobial/antioxidant properties and to develop edible and non-edible antimicrobial/antioxidant packaging systems.
Work on this initiative has taken place over the past year and has included a series of workshops led by the Faculty's Associate Dean (Research) Dr. Salwa Karboune and Faculty partners, including the Departments of Food Science and Agricultural Chemistry and Bioresource Engineering. International food companies and small and medium-sized enterprises alike from the Quebec agri-food sector, as well as numerous researchers, participated in this co-design and open innovation process to determine research priorities for the meat, bakery and produce sectors. Seed funding for this phase of the project was provided by Quebec's Ministère de l'Agriculture des Pêcheries et de l'Alimentation (MAPAQ) and food processing industry partners Bonduelle, Exceldor, Cascades and Olymel.