Emerging food products, technologies and processes: insights for regulators

The report presents the findings of a project undertaken by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada in collaboration with Health Canada to identify emerging food products, technologies and processes that could have implications for Canada's regulatory frameworks in the coming years. The innovations were identified through a scan of published literature and validated through input from 81 agri-food stakeholders across Canada. The literature scan identified 313 emerging food products, technologies and processes, which were categorized into 8 areas of innovation.

1. Enhanced nutrition (56%)

  • Addition of new ingredients, often bioactive substances, to conventional foods for a desired health effect (for example, resistant starch to improve insulin sensitivity).
  • Inherently enhanced animal products (achieved through, for example, the use of unconventional feeds such as soybeans or lobster meal).
  • Food sources that are new or new to Canada (such as camel milk; bamboo; purple carrot).
  • Novel fibres (asparagus spears; pea; apple skins).
  • Improvements in food properties (quality and sensory properties of lean meats).

Stakeholders indicated that regulatory foresight was particularly important for the addition of new ingredients to foods. Some raised questions about the regulatory implications of consuming larger quantities of bioactives in foods, and consuming nutrients and bioactives modified in size. The majority of innovations in the Enhanced Nutrition category had been developed with a health context, particularly with respect to cardiovascular disease and diabetes, aging and personalized nutrition. In the context of potential new function claims, stakeholders cited several bioactives and their intended functions, such as lutein and eye health, and anthocyanin and improved cardiovascular function. Future health claims could result, provided such relationships can be substantiated and pre-market regulatory approaches are supportive.

2. New processing and production technologies (15%)

  • Extraction methods and ingredient processing (for example, development of water-soluble lipids for addition to foods and beverages; pulsed ultraviolet light to improve the nutritional content of mushrooms).
  • Enhanced delivery systems and functional aspects (such as delivery of bioactive ingredients through nanoemulsions or microencapsulated probiotic cultures; organogels).
  • Genetic manipulations (for example, cloning; stem cell applications; breeding techniques).
  • Sanitation and safety (including ultrasonic techniques to reduce microbial growth; nanoagriculture technology to deliver genetic materials to plants).

Stakeholders also mentioned high pressure processing, along with pulsed electric field, ultrafiltration, ohmic heating, and microbial enzymes as other technologies that should be included in this category.

3. Branded ingredients (10%)

Examples within this category include branded fibres, sweeteners, plant extracts, proteins, prebiotics, antioxidants and technologies. Stakeholders agreed that this was a category of emerging innovation; however, they did not always agree about regulatory implications. Some saw branding as a marketing issue, whereas others, such as ingredient suppliers, would have more involvement in regulatory processes for branded ingredients.

4. New crop or animal varieties (7%)

  • Improving inherent nutrient content (including crop cultivars or varieties with enhanced levels of bioactive constituents, such as phenolics in berries; advances in breeding to improve bioaccessibility and bioefficacy, such as provitamin A carotenoids in maize).
  • Improving crop survival or yield (for instance, genes to improve plant survival under conditions of drought or cold; performance plants that are resistant to heat, pests and disease, or have improved water efficiency and/or increased biomass).

Stakeholders indicated that improving inherent nutrient content was the most important sub-trend in this category, and the sub-trend for which regulatory foresight was the most relevant.

5. Enhanced food safety (4%)

  • Contaminant detection (for example, x-ray irradiation to improve microbiological safety of vacuum-packed asparagus; natural extracts, such as red cabbage, for antimicrobial action).
  • Monitoring or preventing the deterioration of food products, with an emphasis on portable technology (such as Radio Frequency Identification and universal serial bus (USB) monitoring of temperature and/or humidity during and after transport).
  • Labelling (printable electronic food labels to inform consumers, including cautions or warnings, temperature, freshness, cooking instructions and serving size).

Stakeholders agreed that contaminant detection was the most important of these sub-trends and the most relevant in terms of regulatory prioritization. Although they tended not to agree that labelling with respect to food safety was an emerging sub-trend, they did agree that it would have regulatory implications. It was also noted that "control" of contaminants (or potential contaminants) should be added to the list.

6. New food additives (3.5%)

  • Functional ingredients (for example, pea ingredients in sausages to improve their texture; rice bran and soy protein concentrate as fat replacers in mayonnaise).
  • Sweeteners (including stevia; advantame; tagatose).
  • Colours (such as natural pink from beetroot and paprika; natural red from tomato lycopene).
  • Flavours (such as natural citrus flavours to quench thirst).

Stakeholders identified functional ingredients as the most important of the sub-trends in this category, both from an emerging innovation perspective and from a regulatory foresight perspective. Some stakeholders indicated that the category overall is not significant but could trigger regulatory implications if declarations were included on the product label. Some also indicated that the way additives are categorized now (by function and by foods in which they are permitted) has led to some confusion, particularly with multi-functional ingredients.

7. Increased shelf life (3.5%)

  • Preservatives (including ice-structuring proteins from winter wheat leaves to enhance the quality of frozen food and desserts during freezing, storage, transport and thawing; addition of flax lignans to milk to improve nutrient resistance to oxidation).
  • Coatings (for example, edible coatings to increase the shelf life of pre-washed blueberries; pectin-based coatings to enhance the quality of stored avocados).
  • Packaging (such as an ethylene strip in strawberry containers to improve shelf life by 50%).

Stakeholders agreed that all of the sub-trends in this category were areas of emerging innovation, and had regulatory implications. Overall, "preservatives" was seen as the most important area of innovation. Stakeholders offered additional technologies to add to the list, such as ohmic heating and pulsed electric field.

8. Removal of toxins/allergens (1%)

The potential for toxins and allergens in the food supply has provided an opportunity for innovation, such as inclusion of substances to prevent formation of toxins. Overall, stakeholders agreed with this category as an emerging area of innovation. Some mentioned residues from pea, hemp and canola as having regulatory implications.

Next steps

Now that themes and priorities have been identified, there is an opportunity to further analyze specific areas and identify the regulatory implications of bringing specific initiatives to market.

Request the report

To obtain the full 15-page report, send an email message to aafc.sdad-ddas.aac@agr.gc.ca.