In the second of our three-part blog series looking at the future food factory, Ed Keenan, head of process at Integrated Food Projects gives his predictions for the technical and process trends we could start to see over the next 5-10 years.

You can see Ed’s opinion of the automation and design part of the industry, and what we can expect to see in food factories in the near future, in part one of this blog series here.

11. Super hydrophobic materials for water repellent buildings:

We can expect to see these materials aid in contamination reduction within the food industry over the next few years. They are inspired by patterns found in nature, such as shark skin, and these surfaces can be created through microscopic laser engravings, meaning that it’s simply not possible for contaminants to stick to the surfaces.

If we get this right there’ll be no need for chemical cleaning.

12. Silver ion building materials/conveyors:

The antimicrobial properties of silver ions have been used in medicine for thousands of years, Hippocrates wrote about the use of silver in wound care in Ancient Greece. At the beginning of the twentieth century surgeons routinely used silver sutures to reduce the risk of infection and silver was used widely before the invention of modern antibiotics.

The silver ions combine with bacterial proteins and interfere with DNA replication, effectively making the surface anti-microbial.

I expect to see an increased number of applications from conveyor belts, walls and floors, to door handles and any other human contact points such as buttons and taps.

13. Night ozone & UV disinfection:

Once the lights are out in food factories, integrated systems will disinfect the factory through ozone gas and UV light, two very intense natural sterilisers.

As well as acting as a steriliser, UV speeds up the process converting ozone back into oxygen. This process means that we could have a two-stage disinfection process that uses ozone gas, followed by UV light.

It’s worth noting that ozone is an extremely powerful oxidising agent and therefore incredibly harmful to humans – food factory manufacturers must be aware of this.

Using only a low-level ozone concentration, the ozone converts back into oxygen within minutes, although measures will need to be taken to ensure the process is carried out when there are no people in the production area.

14. Drains with UV or ozone built in:

Drains in food factories are a likely place for listeria which is one of the leading causes of food poisoning deaths. Using UV or ozone integration within the drainage systems will provide a continuous disinfection.

This process also means that there will be no contaminated aerosols associated with conventional drain jetting in areas where food is produced. Drains with UV or ozone built in will help to prevent the possible spread of listeria throughout the factory.

15. Ozone pack sterilisation:

We can sterilise the outside of newly packaged products through the use of ozone tunnels. The ozone within the tunnel readily converts back into oxygen, meaning the product leaves the tunnel without any residue or taint.

One example of where this type of technology is already in place and effective is the meat industry. A recent survey showed that almost 75% of packaged raw chicken products are contaminated with campylobacter; using ozone could be one way to prevent this in future food factories.

16. In-pack plasma ozone generation:

Ozone can also be used in-pack, generated within sealed packaging using cold plasma. Here we are converting some of the oxygen within the pack into ozone and as mentioned before, this readily converts back to oxygen. In turn, this actively destroys bacteria, mould, yeasts and viruses without the need for any chemicals or additives.

The main benefit of this is that it significantly increases shelf life of the food products. 

17. Pulsed electric field (PEF):

Instant, targeted, flexible and energy-efficient, PEF processing is a non-thermal food processing technique. PEF uses short, high voltage pulses to puncture the cell membrane of a plant, animal tissues or bacteria, which then leads to cell disintegration and microbial inactivation.

Suitable for both solid foods and liquids, PEF processing has a wide range of benefits, from improved shelf life and increased yields, to reduced knife wear during cutting – all without impacting on organoleptic properties in the same way that thermal processing does.

This is another technology which is commonplace in Europe but has not been widely adopted in the UK yet, something that I think is set to change in the coming years.

18. High pressure processing (HPP):

HPP is a cold pasteurisation technique by which products are sealed in their final packaging, placed in a vessel, and then subjected to a high level of isostatic pressure (300–600MPa/43,500-87,000psi) transmitted by water.

This pressure inactivates parasites and microbes that are present in food, extending the shelf life once in store.

The sensorial and nutritional properties of the food are not altered in the same way as with thermal processing, and because of the absence of heat treatment the product maintains its original freshness throughout the shelf-life.

19. Sugar conversion process:

Fruit juices are losing the perceived healthy status due to the high amount of free sugars.

We can now convert sugars into complex carbohydrates, or fibre, and this can be tailored to recipe requirements. The applications are currently focused on fruit juice production, but this will no doubt extend into other foods in the future.

20. Move to paper to other packaging:

It’s now possible to use paper packaging materials on VFFS (vertical form fill seal) and top seal machines. However, as a rule of thumb you can expect around a 50 per cent reduction in throughput rates, due to increased dwell times during sealing.

The move to paper has been a bit of a knee jerk reaction to the anti-plastic revolution and many of the packs appearing to be paper are in fact laminates.

We have to also question the carbon footprint of the new materials, as well as their impact on shelf life, food safety, and food quality – if any of this is compromised, then manufacturers will need to reassess their needs and requirements.

That being said, we can be certain that new alternative materials will become more commonplace; seaweeds, algae and plant starches are all likely contenders

Stay tuned for our next instalment in this blog series, where Ed will be discussing the buildings and services trends predicted for the food factory design industry in the next 5-10 years.


Integrated Food Projects have partnered with Kettleby Foods on a number of high-profile multi-million pound capital projects since 2003/4, helping the business to develop and grow. Throughout that time they have provided cost-effective and efficient solutions on development projects both at our existing ready meals production facility and also in creating a new satellite facility. The projects at our existing facility were managed without impact on our ability to service our own clients, and all projects have been delivered within budget, in a timely fashion and to the requisite standards of safety and quality. Their team work ethos and professional approach ensure successful projects and I would utilise Integrated Food Projects in the future without hesitation.

- Jarrod Thorndyke, Production Director

I have worked with Integrated Food Projects on many capital expenditure projects since 2004, the latest being the development of the new plot of land adjacent to our main site. They successfully employed a project delivery process to ensure the integration of a leased modular building solution with the development of the site infrastructure to improve logistics and Health and Safety. Their staff are always positive and enthusiastic and have fostered a team-work approach ensuring another successful project delivered. I look forward to working with them again in the near future.

- Engineering Manager, Major UK Ready Meals Manufacturer