FIRST Impressions
Bill McDowell

Bill McDowell

Kelly Hensel

Kelly Hensel

Mary Ellen Kuhn

Mary Ellen Kuhn

Margaret Malochleb

Margaret Malochleb

Article Content

    Defying the headwinds of COVID screen fatigue, a commitment to innovation, learning, and entrepreneurialism attracted nearly 2,400 science of food professionals to log in for IFT’s newly rebranded digital event, FIRST (Food Improved by Research, Science and Technology), July 19–21, 2021.

    Attendees from 56 countries, comprising academic researchers, industry product developers, students, regulators, suppliers, and others, participated in an immersive online program centered largely on barriers and opportunities for food science to support the United Nations’ 2030 Zero Hunger goal.

    Keynotes from Ambassador Ertharin Cousin, former executive director of the World Food Programme, and Lisa Dyson, CEO of Air Protein, emphasized the urgency of interdisciplinary solutions to global food problems.

    The three-day agenda featured event classics, including 464 poster sessions, 111 Science FIRST presentations, and the IFTNEXT Food Disruption Challenge™, which awarded SnapDNA the $25,000 prize for the efficiency of its rapid pathogen detection system.

     But the virtual event also debuted new programming, including a suite of live session conversations on Zoom that brought together multiple science presenters to discuss questions submitted by the IFT community. “The overall objectives were to showcase IFT’s strength of convening subject matter experts from a variety of disciplines and provide a way for attendees to engage with one another and session presenters,” said Jay Gilbert, IFT’s director of scientific programs and career pathways.

    The 2021 program also introduced Business FIRST, a new programming track designed to support food innovators facing megatrends in marketing, finance, and consumer behavior.

    “This year’s FIRST program highlighted that we are at the epicenter of so many critical challenges that will require great science and innovation to solve,” said IFT Immediate Past President Noel Anderson. “The depth and breadth of the program brought to life the critical impact that food has on our global lives. From food insecurity, environmental sustainability, improving health and wellness to understanding the key role food plays in society and social relationships, FIRST helped focus us, and the science of food, on challenges where we can play a meaningful role.”

    Plans are underway for FIRST to return next year to Chicago’s McCormick Place as a hybrid live event, July 10–13, 2022.

    “We are extremely excited to return to Chicago in person,” said IFT President Vickie Kloeris. “However, we’ve learned from FIRST that the virtual event brought higher international engagement and made the program accessible to many who might not have participated otherwise, so expect to see a virtual component from now on.”

    Beyond the highlights that follow, registered FIRST attendees can visit iftfirst.org to access all on-demand sessions until Dec. 31, 2021. And for those who didn’t attend, it’s not too late to register to access FIRST content.

    About the Authors

    Bill McDowell is editor-in-chief of Food Technology magazine ([email protected]).
    Bill McDowell
    Kelly Hensel, Senior Digital Editor, reports on the latest industry and research news for ift.org and the Weekly newsletter. She also interviews chefs about the intersection of culinary and science for the Culinary Point of View column.
    [email protected]
    Kelly Hensel
    Mary Ellen Kuhn is executive editor of Food Technology magazine
    ([email protected]).
    Mary Ellen Kuhn
    Margaret Malochleb,
    Associate Editor,
    [email protected]
    Margaret Malochleb