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The Food Quality and Innovation LINK Programme
The Food Quality and Innovation Programme - Background
The programme is designed to help industry meet anticipated technical challenges across the areas of raw material production, food manufacturing, packaging and distribution. It also seeks to enhance industry ability to contribute to Defra's targets for sustainable development of the food chain. The broad aims are to increase industry's technical capability and performance in producing safe, high quality nutritious food and to provide necessary information and direction in terms of ensuring these foods meet consumer expectations and needs.
Defra is the lead Government sponsor and is responsible for the running of the programme, including management of its Secretariat. It also provides a Programme Coordinator whose role is to advise industrial and research partners during the development of concept notes and proposals to be put to a Programme Management Committee (PMC). The PMC advises on the management of the programme and on appraisal of projects.
The food processing sector has the potential to make key contributions to sustainable development in economic, social and environmental areas. Projects offering benefits in economic and social areas will be particularly sought within the new programme. This might include research to underpin the industry's capability to understand and control its raw materials more effectively thus maximising quality to consumers while minimising waste. The programme will also enable the development of foods which better meet society's needs and expectations, including the delivery of balanced, positive nutrition. Throughout the programme efforts will be made to involve broad sections of the food chain so that, for example, raw material production is effectively matched to processing needs and consumer expectations. Note that, in what follows, reference to "quality" includes organoleptic quality, nutritional quality and microbial and chemical safety.
The Food Quality & Innovation programme will have the following main research themes:
Raw material quality
Identifying key compounds and structures present in food raw materials and determining the function and behaviour of these at various stages in the food chain. Specific targets might include understanding how the chemical, biochemical and physical characteristics of a raw material relate to processing requirements and to the key quality attributes of the product. Also included might be studies aimed at producing a better match between food raw material quality and processing and consumer requirements. A specific aim of work in this area should be to reduce the level of waste produced as a result of poor or variable raw material quality or of short product shelf life. Determining the basis of quality attributes throughout the food chain, including storage and distribution, will be covered, including the role of packaging in maintaining the quality of both fresh and processed foods.
Food ingredients, food safety and materials science
Developing industrially useful models able to predict the structural, functional and textural properties of food from knowledge of the interaction of its components and the effects of processing. This could include predictions of evolving properties during product storage and predictions of shelf life. Specific targets might include chemical reaction kinetics of food ingredients, interfacial phenomena, macromolecular conformation, glassy and rubbery states, partitioning and migration, phase transitions, hydration and dehydration, deformation and fracture, inhibition of microbial survival and growth.
Quality and safety measurement
Establishing a better basis for detecting and monitoring key quality and safety attributes of materials throughout the food chain, from raw materials through manufacturing to distribution and retail. Specific targets might include the measurement of organoleptic properties, determining the relationship between these measurements and physical parameters and the detection of taints, allergens and microbial and chemical contaminants as well as nutritional (or anti-nutritional elements.
Delivery of improved nutritional quality
Exploring ways in which improved knowledge of materials allied to improved processing, packaging, storage and distribution can contribute to nutritional benefits for consumers. It will be focussed on a limited set of nutritional and anti-nutritional elements in foods broadly aligned with FSA and other Government initiatives and priorities. Specifically it will address problems around the production of foods that, while retaining high levels of palatability and consumer acceptability, contain reduced levels of fat (or unhealthy types of fat), sugar or salt, or of natural toxins, allergens or other undesirable products developed during storage or processing (for example acrylamide). Similarly work enabling production of foods enhanced with respect to their content (or showing improved retention) of dietary fibre or other established 'healthy' macro- or micro-nutrients (such as vitamins) would be considered.
Sensory quality and consumer perception
Understanding the relationship between food composition and structure and sensory quality. Thus work will be supported that seeks to understand the key elements that determine consumer perception of food quality, the mechanisms of eating and food breakdown in the mouth, the psychology and physiology of satiety and improved methods of measuring sensory quality.
How the Programme is Funded
The programme is jointly funded by Defra, BBSRC and SEERAD. Government grant of at least £5 million pounds will be available over a period of five years. A requirement for support is that Government contributions are matched by an equivalent contribution - either cash or in-kind - from industrial partners.
How the Programme is Managed
The programme is managed by an expert committee of academics and industrialists together with Defra, BBSRC and SEERAD officials. The Committee is responsible for advising sponsors on the selection of projects for support. Another particular responsibility of the Committee is to stimulate new research collaborations. The Programme Co-ordinator assists the Committee in these tasks.
Conditions for Support - The Rules On Getting a LINK Grant
Specific rules relating to the Food LINK programmes are described in the Defra Food LINK Guidance Notes, a copy of which may be obtained from the Programme Secretariat (see below) or from the Food LINK website at www.defrafarmingandfoodscience.csl.gsi.gov.uk .
For guidance only, some key criteria are:
proposals should focus on strategic research into technologies with the potential for future commercial development;
research projects must involve collaboration between one or more companies and one or more research-based partners;
overall Government support for a project is limited to a maximum of 50% of its total eligible costs;
applications should only be submitted for a project that would not have been undertaken in the form proposed or within a reasonable timescale without aid under this programme;
arrangements for ownership and exploitation of intellectual property arising from a project must be agreed between partners before an offer of support can be made.
for industrial in-kind contributions to projects to be eligible for matched funding, all research should normally be carried out in the UK and by UK-based personnel.
Getting Started - How to Apply for Funding
The FQI PMC meets twice a year and there are two formal dates for submission of outline proposals. However you can apply for LINK funding under this programme at any time as the Food Technology Unit is also able to deal with applications outside of formal PMC meetings. This means that your proposal does not get delayed if you have just missed a committee meeting. You should start by submitting an initial outline proposal. This provides an opportunity to get advice on whether your submission should be developed into full proposal without too much investment of time. A standard format, which should be used for all project outlines, along with more detailed advice on the mechanisms and procedures for applying for funding under the programme, is contained in the Defra Food LINK Guidance Notes.
Who to Contact
For advice on the Food Quality and Innovation Programme and an opportunity to discuss proposals please contact the Food Quality and Innovation (FQI) LINK Secretariat at: