Where Food Meets IT: Lemgo Will Soon Trial Smart Food Technology

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in Lemgo (Germany).

We certainly live in a world of contradictions: while hunger is rampant across most of the planet, some regions are bathed in abundance. Globally, almost a third of food is wasted before it reaches the consumer’s table. The same is true for the countries of the European Union (EU), where a huge amount of valuable products are simply thrown away.

This unequal distribution of food is now exacerbated by the war between Russia and Ukraine, which are among the largest wheat importers in the world. However, the staple food of the poor countries, especially in North Africa, consists mainly of this cereal, which they import en masse from the two warring countries. Consequently, the cessation of production and exports due to war threatens famine in many countries.

However, all the inhabitants of the planet could eat their fill. But the poor management of available food, linked to inefficient production processes, explains this unequal distribution that we see around the world today.

Food analysis

To remedy this, it is necessary to implement research projects that contribute to the production of “smart” food. One of these initiatives will soon see the light of day under the auspices of the Faculty of Lemgo (North Rhine-Westphalia) of the Technical University of East Westphalia-Lippe (Technischen Hochschule Ostwestfalen-Lippe, TH OWL).

The research will be conducted by Smart Food Factory, a smart food facility being built on campus. The work is scheduled to be completed this summer, and from the autumn of next year, this center should begin its research on the topic “Where Food Meets IT(“Union of Food and Technology”).

The European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) is funding this project with 10 million euros. An amount that includes the construction of laboratories, the purchase of equipment and some test facilities for the first experiments.

The goal of the Smart Food Factory will not be to produce food in abundance, but to analyze it digitally using demonstrators and test devices. Thus, it will be a small industrial enterprise, which will then apply for research projects as needed. The results will mainly help to expand knowledge in the field of food technology. And in practice, this program will be primarily of interest to food manufacturing companies that will be invited to participate. The latter will indeed have the opportunity to test their own products and conduct a comparative analysis.

Transparent and accessible research

“Together with our partners, we will take a closer look at food and how it is produced. Issues of sustainability, quality, supply chain security and profitability are central to our research.”, explains Andrea Davies, project leader. She enthusiastically guides us around the construction site, where she knows every nook and cranny.

Andrea Davies, Project Manager, introduces the Smart Food Factory being built on the campus of Lemgo Technical University. Its purpose is the digital analysis of food products. | Marion Duran

First, we enter the lobby. This space, which will be bright and glazed, already in the current state of work gives the impression of openness. “It is important for us to ensure the transparency of our research and make it available to the general public”notes Andrea Davis. In this regard, seminars, conferences and information sessions will be organized in the future. Shared workspaces will also be created.

“Consumers are often skeptical about smart manufacturing. Smart food? And what else, milk bags will talk soon? We want to show that smart food production is indispensable in the future. Only by inviting people can we convey that message.”, the scientist continues. The whole building is surrounded by large green spaces, and the production hall, where the research will be carried out, is open to the public.

Focus on expiration date

Once in the last Andrea Davies goes into detail. “These days, food production is basically about putting raw materials into a machine to get the final product. We strive to change this. We want to control and understand every step of the manufacturing process.” To this end, sensors will allow you to know at any time about the status of raw materials and food products. Raw materials are, in fact, natural substances that differ depending on each production batch.

However, any deviation can have serious consequences for the quality of the product, to the extent that sometimes entire batches have to be excluded. Therefore, production processes must be able to adapt during operation. Only in this way can companies use resources efficiently. In this way, according to Andrea Davis, you get a digital picture of the production process and a better understanding of the product. Then we can give it a whole new dimension and produce more intelligently.

For example, you can control the temperature or the accumulation of certain enzymes in food. Similarly, sensors can be used to detect gases involved in the process of food decomposition. Thus, it is possible to draw conclusions about the shelf life of a particular product.

“We will devote most of our research to the shelf lifeAndrea Davis says If we want to reduce food waste in the future, we will have to manage expiration dates differently. And if we can store food for longer, then transport conditions will be simplified, which will provide a better supply for people living on other continents. As you can see, everything is closely connected.”

Plant milk, meat substitutes

Amid imposing machines and a busy construction site, Andrea Davies talks about upcoming projects in Lemgo. Among them is a continuous brewing system in which every step of beer production, from brewing to storage tank, will be controlled digitally. The results will be useful to brewers and the industry as a whole.

“We will dedicate most of our research to shelf life”Andrea Davis says. The project is financed by the European Regional Development Fund. | Marion Durand

Social trends will also be taken into account in the Smart Food Factory. “We will pay special attention to the efficient production of milk and meat substitutes and will improve it”Andrea Davis says. Research into plant-based milk production from oats, soybeans and peas is already underway at TH OWL.

“When it comes to plant-based milk production, the big question is how to efficiently produce plant-based protein. This can help us, for example, sugar beet leaves. This is the path we want to explore further.” According to Andrea Davies, the same question arises for meat substitutes, as demand in this area is also growing significantly. Real meat products are also studied at the Smart Food Factory, the project manager admits with a smile: “We have a tiled room where you can butcher a whole pig like a slaughterhouse.”

Another project is dedicated to the degree of maturation of cured meat delicacies. “Thanks to ultrasonic waves, in the future we will be able to determine whether the ham is sufficiently cured. This noble product must be in optimal conditions for delivery. Again, this is a matter of resource efficiency. Luxury hotels often quickly throw away meat products of poor quality.

Lemgo intends to become an attractive research center in the field of smart food technology. During this period of scarcity and high cost of food, these technologies will be essential for the sustainable and efficient management of food resources.

Translation: voxerop

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This article was prepared as part of the Union is Strength competition, which received financial support from the European Union. The article reflects the views of its author and the European Commission cannot be held responsible for its content or use.