Francine Barrett, centre, during a tour of the School of Engineering

The University of Guelph has created Canada’s first academic chair in sustainable food engineering, backed by a $5-million gift from the Barrett Family Foundation. The chair is intended to develop innovative ways to improve food processing and production.

“Feeding the world’s growing population, safely and sustainably, is one of the greatest global challenges of today,” said president Franco Vaccarino.

“But it is not just a matter of generating more food; we must also do more to protect the food we produce, including improving food safety and reducing food waste.”

Worldwide, about half of all food produced is wasted during processing and transport or in kitchens and supermarkets, Vaccarino said. At the same time, consumers are demanding products that are safe, fresh and environmentally friendly, with longer shelf life.

“The University of Guelph is Canada’s food university; we have the expertise and the technology to address these issues,” Vaccarino said.

“This transformational gift – among the largest in U of G history — will allow us to leverage our strengths and develop solutions that support both consumers and the food industry.”

For decades, Bob and Francine  Barrett have supported a wide range of causes – arts, health and local communities. Looking for a strategic approach to their philanthropic commitments, they created The Barrett Family Foundation to focus on education, environment and humanitarian well-being concerns. “As a family we are delighted to align our giving priorities with the University of Guelph’s expertise in Engineering and Food.”

Bob Barrett

Based in U of G’s School of Engineering, the $3-million Barrett Family Chair in Sustainable Food Engineering will focus on the design, construction and operations of food processing. This will include improving food packaging, developing new “green” technologies, and finding ways to prolong shelf life and reduce food waste.

Educational outreach will include symposiums, programs and courses, partnerships with industry and government, and research collaborations across U of G and beyond.

The chair will also work with industry in identifying challenges and developing research projects.

The University will conduct an international search for the first chair holder. Besides funding for the chair, $1.5 million will support a sustainable food engineering research fund. Open to all engineering faculty, the fund will support research on packaging and advanced food manufacturing technology, and will involve graduate and undergraduate students.

Another $500,000 supports the Barrett Family Graduate Scholarships to train the next generation of leaders and skilled researchers in sustainable food engineering.

“This important investment in the School of Engineering will allow us to build on the University’s world-class expertise in food science, nutrition and agricultural production,” said Mary Wells, dean of the College of Engineering and Physical Sciences.

“It will help position U of G as a national and global leader in sustainable food engineering and innovation.”

U of G is home to the Arrell Food Institute and more than 500 University of Guelph researchers studying and teaching in food and food systems.

In 2016, the federal government invested $76.6 million to support the Food From Thought project, creating novel tools for producing more and safer food while protecting the environment.

U of G’s long-standing partnership with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs supports research projects in agriculture and food, and generates more than $1.15 billion a year in economic impacts.

“In addition to being one of Canada’s top comprehensive universities, U of G maintains a strategic focus on food,” Vaccarino said.  “This new collaboration will allow us to take sustainable food engineering to new levels, benefiting industry, consumers and the environment.”

Francine and Bob Barrett (centre) with daughters Rebecca and Kim, along with School of Engineering faculty and staff