Chicago’s McCormick Place served as host for the 2013 IFT Annual Meeting and Food Expo for several days in mid-July. Nearly 1,200 exhibitors (a 10% increase over the 2012 event) catered to more than 23,000 attendees, making it the second-largest in the show’s history. 

Food safety, health and wellness, and sustainability were the convention’s most popular topics of conversation and seminars. In fact, sustainability was the principal focus in this year’s keynote session by Fareed Zakaria, host of CNN’s Fareed Zakaria GPS, editor-at-large at Time and columnist with The Washington Post. He explored the extreme food challenges facing the world, both in developed and developing nations, and delved into food waste, food safety and food insecurity.

Seminar presentations continued with many of those themes, particularly this year’s three Beacon Lectures:
• Catherine Geslain-Laneelle, executive director of the European Food Safety Authority, charted European progress in establishing evidence-based food policy. She also delved into the key future challenges facing the risk assessment community.
• David Robson, head of energy and environmental foresight for the Scottish government, discussed leading an international government security community working on a range of issues that contribute to human and natural resource security, such as energy, environmental degradation, water and food security, global health, climate change and bio-diversity.
• Mark J. Manary explained the malnutrition epidemic affecting children in Africa and his development of ready-to-use therapeutic food for use in home-based therapy. Manary is the Helene B. Roberson professor of pediatrics at Washington Univ. in St. Louis and director of the Global Harvest Alliance, a joint venture between St. Louis Children’s Hospital, Washington Univ., and the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center.

Health and wellness, in particular, was an overriding subject during the conference, including seminars that may fly in the face of prevailing public opinion. Notably, during his presentation “Antioxidants in the Food Supply: In Vivo Effects vs. In Vitro Testing,” David M. Klurfied of the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agricultural Research Service argued there was no scientific evidence that the benefits of foods rich in phytochemicals can be attributed solely to antioxidants. He further explained that repeated studies have shown isolated antioxidants and antioxidant supplements provide no preventive effects for such chronic diseases as cancer and cardiovascular disease.

Kelly Tappenden of the University of Illinois, presented “Beyond Gut Health to Bone Health: New Evidence for the Multiple Health Benefits of Short-Chain Fructooligosaccharides.” Tappenden explored a study which found prebiotic-fortified formula reduced infections and improved allergenic responses in infants.

Following up on the EU’s multiple rejections of submissions for health claims for products containing probiotics, the European Food Safety Authority banned the use of the term “probiotic” altogether in December 2012. Nevertheless, annual sales of probiotics around the globe are projected to hit $32 billion by 2015, and a variety of probiotics were to be found on the IFT show floor, including one exhibitor displaying a heartier, spore-forming bacterium that can be baked, boiled, frozen or otherwise agitated, endure time on a store shelf and still deliver viable probiotics to the GI tract. This technology should allow for entirely new applications for probiotics, taking them out of the familiar yogurt- and dairy-heavy applications and into such areas as protein shakes, sparkling lemonade and instant coffee.

The institute, itself, even seemed to acknowledge the value of healthy products in recognizing Mars Inc. with the 2013 Food Technology Industrial Achievement Award, saluting the company’s advances in the application of food science and technology to food production, specifically for Mars’ research in the area of cocoa flavanols.

Mars notes that it applies gold standard scientific methods to its cocoa flavanol research to achieve a high level of scientific rigor, including a comprehensive scientific program spanning from analytical to human clinical trials, collaboration with leading global scientists and publication in the most prestigious health and science journals. The company has several clinical trials underway, which are exploring the benefits of long-term cocoa flavanol consumption in healthy and unhealthy populations. pf