When I signed up to be part of my university’s IFT Student Association Product Development Competition team in 1999, I had no idea the profound impact that decision would have. I knew it would give me a chance to apply the skills I learned in the classroom in a real-world application and work closely with peers. What I didn’t expect was for it to introduce me to an organization that continues to provide me opportunities to build meaningful relationships, enhance my knowledge, and contribute to the global food system beyond my daily job responsibilities.

The Institute of Food Tech-nologists, better known to most of us as IFT, has been a place for the science of food community to collaborate, learn, and contribute since 1939. I have experienced the power and value of this community many times over since I attended my first Minnesota Section IFT event and my first Annual Event and Expo 20-plus years ago.

Today, I am honored to have the opportunity to serve as the 2023–2024 IFT President, working closely with the Board of Directors as we diligently continue working to promote and advance the science of food and its application.

I am stepping into this role at an important time.

The global food system continues to face incredible challenges, and our entire community benefits from IFT’s active engagement on these issues. We are seeing increasing regulatory pressure, especially across Europe. Coming together as a global science of food community to understand and navigate these pressures from a nutrition, contaminants, and regulatory perspective is extremely important. There’s also increasing interest and scrutiny coming from food consumers and groups that represent them that IFT has a real opportunity to help professionals working in the science of food solve or address. We also need to continue seeking ways to represent the interests of our community in areas tangential to food, such as sustainability and climate change, technology, and public health. This will help ensure we are contributing to food-related areas that matter most for people and the planet.

Sean J. Leighton

The global food system continues to face incredible challenges, and our entire community benefits from IFT’s active engagement on these issues.

- Sean Leighton, President , IFT

Over the last few years, the IFT Board, volunteers, and staff have deliberately focused on understanding and addressing the current and future needs of members of the science of food community in a thoughtful, strategic, and innovative way. This work has provided a sound foundation for us to build upon. Here are a few areas I am particularly excited about.

  • Diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging are extremely important to me. IFT now has four Member Resource Groups, providing identity-based spaces for members to connect in an environment in which everyone feels comfortable bringing their authentic, unique perspectives to the organization.
  • IFT has introduced its Concierge Service, which provides a dedicated resource food and beverage companies can leverage to accelerate innovation, quickly solve problems, and increase speed to market. In fact, we are using the Concierge Service to accomplish some of our goals at Cargill, where I lead our global Food Safety, Quality, and Regulatory team, and seeing big benefits from it.
  • The launch of the new IFT Product Development Bootcamp course fulfills a critical need for companies, ensuring employees have solid product development and business competencies to speed innovation and safely launch new products.
  • The regulatory environment in which we all operate is changing rapidly. That’s why it’s so important that IFT’s Science and Policy team continues to be actively engaged in legislative and policy advocacy, amplifying expert voices on issues ranging from food traceability to food and nutrition security to increased funding for food science research and more.
  • I was excited (and energized) to see more than 16,000 students and professionals representing academia, industry, and government at IFT FIRST: Annual Event and Expo this summer. Centered around the theme “Innovation in a Time of Crisis,” the event created great opportunities to build strategic connections, discuss critical topics, and explore innovative products, solutions, and ideas to future-proof the food system. Plans are already underway for next year’s event, which is scheduled for July 14–17, 2024. I hope to see you there.

As we look to the year ahead, I can’t wait to see how we can bring our collective knowledge and expertise together to advance the mission and purpose of this incredible organization.

It’s going to take all of us working together.ft

About the Author

Sean J. Leighton
Sean J. Leighton, MS, MBA, is IFT President, 2023–2024 ([email protected]).