The UK's use of new technology lags behind that of the Far East, according to a leading researcher.
Speaking at the Technology Strategy Board's Agrifood innovation: success through technology conference last month, Craig Leadley, new products and technology manager with Campden BRI, bemoaned the food and drink sector's failure to use novel technology to develop more innovative ways of performing essential tasks.
Leadley said that researchers and companies communicated badly about new technologies. Because of funding problems and legislative hurdles not to mention the risk factor involved in any new endeavour smaller firms were being excluded from considering new technologies.
"Ironically, countries in the Far East have done more with UK research than firms here," he said.
The Far East has proved to be a more economically viable location, according to Martin Kelly, research and business development manager at Royal Holloway, University of London. That situation was unlikely to change in the near future, he said.
Leadley argued that simpler legislation, better communication between manufacturers and researchers, more grant funding and setting up cooperatives to explore novel techniques would help to make the use of new technologies more viable here.
One novel technology that could be of particular benefit to the food sector is ultrasonics, said Leadley. As yet, no companies in the UK are working with ultrasonics, as far as Leadley is aware, but it could be used for pasteurisation, emulsification, extraction and viscosity management, among others. The ability to temporarily change the viscosity of products before going through certain processes could improve efficiency and product quality, he added.
With the growing demand for cleaner label products, high pressure processing (HPP) could prove useful for sterilising products such as juices, where heating would damage the contents. Leadley said that HPP could extend shelf-life without the addition of preservatives, but only two firms were using it in the UK. Its drawback was that it had not proved effective at dealing with spores and this area would require further research.