Developing a healthier, more profitable food industry in Quebec

University researchers and commercial producers are working together to address the biggest challenges facing Quebec’s food industry and consumers

Canadians need nutritious, natural foods at an affordable price. Food scientists and industry producers want to deliver this— but how do we get there?

The Consortium for Research, Innovation and Transformation of Agrifood (RITA Consortium) at McGill University is working towards an answer.

Led by Salwa Karboune (Dept. of Food Science and Agricultural Chemistry), the project pairs top research universities with major Quebec food producers. Together, they address the most pressing issues facing consumers and the food industry.

A collaborative model

Made possible by a $5 million grant from the Government of Quebec, the RITA-Consortium funds research and development projects, splitting costs with partnered companies.

The project was a wise investment for the province.

When offered funding for pre-competitive research, companies have financial incentive to investigate better production processes — new ways of treating and producing food that could be profitable long-term.

Collaborating with autonomous food scientists can guide companies towards healthier, more sustainable ingredients and practices. And companies can direct food scientists towards projects with a real potential to be profitable and eventually commercialized.

The public is benefitting too.

What consumers want

Consumers have grown wary of lengthy ingredient lists and the potential health impacts of unidentifiable ingredients. Many are opting for simpler, organic foods.

In two years, the RITA-Consortium has funded more than 10 research projects that test new ways of transforming, preserving, packaging and sanitizing foods naturally.

Some projects explored how ozone, cold plasma and light could reduce microbial build-up on food like poultry and vegetables. These could be new ways of keeping foods fresh without using synthetic preservatives.

Photo of Salwa Karboune
Salwa Karboune, Scientific Director of the RITA Consortium: a project financed by MAPAQ in collaboration with Quebec industrial partners (CTAQ) and MEI (Créneau d’excellence TransformAction)

A team led by Professor Salwa Karboune has been mapping out the properties of natural antimicrobials like garlic, oregano oil, and various spices. In the right combination, these ingredients can extend the shelf life of food without adversely affecting taste. The benefit for companies, and in turn consumers — a simple, straightforward ingredient list, free from artificial preservatives.

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