There’s a clear belief in the power of science and engineering in our world. Industries large and small are seeing dramatic change at the hands of some of the world’s best and brightest. But one industry that may go overlooked by most is the one that literally puts food on our tables. From big data to big thinking, the food industry is seeing changes in droves, and our tastebuds are the benefactors. In this post we're highlighting 5 innovations you might not know about.

Hackathons Marry Food and Silicon Valley

Sustainable agriculture has had its fifteen minutes of fame, and the unfortunate grass on the other side of the proverbial fence has not been greener for environmentally friendly producers. In addition to pressure from larger food producers and a growing skepticism of the true value of the consequent price premium arising from organic farming methods, these small scale farmers are in need of some serious help. Fortunately, the eco-warriors of the world’s food industry are finding friends in high places.

Hackathons, organized, volunteer-based networking and brainstorming events, combining Silicon Valley’s most savvy and the noble-minded sojourners of traditional industries, are turning sustainable farming into a hot-bed of creativity. With players like Google and Facebook showing up, it’s clear that heavy hitters are taking a serious interest in the practice, and the efforts are paying dividends. According to the article in Forbes, 24 separate ideas and business plans arose out of a simple meeting of the minds, enlightening tech giants to the plight of the agricultural industry, and demystifying the world of technology to the often tech-averse niche of sustainable farm practitioners.

Data Solutions Enable Small Producers

One of the greatest challenges facing these sustainable farmers, along with other small-scale firms, is the inability to compete with the sheer volume of Farm, Inc. Comprehensive supply-chain solutions, top-to-bottom management of farming, processing, distribution, and logistics have given these commercial producers a distinct edge through comparatively reduced burdens in meeting regulatory and consumer demands. But a small-scale, high-minded endeavor is aiming to close the gap between the big and small fish.

Carvhack, a solution that uses data collection and an understanding of independent meat producers’ needs is streamlining the myriad processes of running this type of firm. Data capture technologies, that measure everything from weight to quality of cuts as they are processed and packaged, are used in tandem with commercial-level database software that facilitates, among other things, compliance reports, eCommerce, inventory, order fulfillment, invoicing, and quality assurance. By providing the same power to smaller producers that larger farms already enjoy, Mom and Pop’s meat sellers will have a fighting chance in the crowded market.

The “Internet of Things” Streamlines Food Supply

But commercial farms are stepping up their game in a big way. One of the biggest challenges facing large-scale operations, those spanning continental boundaries, is the task of monitoring and optimizing all operations at once. Multiple locations, languages, customs, prices, practices, and equipment can make global supply-chain management an extreme difficulty, even for those with the resources of a multi-national corporation. But one thing speaks all languages, crosses boundaries, and enables businesses to hit their peak capabilities: data.

"Big Data”, as it’s being called, is a combination of ubiquitous data capture and high-level analytics used in order to streamline performance on all scales. The true linchpin of this strategy is the growing “Internet of Things”; web-enabled devices that can report information and be manipulated remotely. Process units, data reporting equipment, and a top-down look at the whole picture can ensure fair prices to farmers, quality goods to market, and, perhaps most importantly, an appropriate volume of goods delivered to hungry mouths, cutting down on waste and improving efficiency.

UV Water Treatment Makes Dairy Safer

With all of this information ferried down the pipeline to concerned process managers and food technologists, every little detail of the supply chain is subject to intense scrutiny. Fortunately for some industries, developing technologies are assuring that at least one piece of the data puzzle will no longer be a concern. The dairy industry, specifically, is seeing the benefits of some truly revolutionary work that’s improving one of the most basic building blocks of milk production: water.

Atlantium’s new water purification technology has paid dividends for milk producers both in energy savings and resource reuse The UV-powered water purification units not only remove deadly pathogens and bacteria from the water with astounding proficiency, they do so at an energy savings of 98% compared to traditional methods. In addition, this new, clean water can be reused for sanitation and flushing purposes, ensuring more sanitary dairy, and cleaner drinking water for surrounding communities.

Cancer Research Methodologies Benefit Food Processing

It’s not uncommon for research findings to cross-over into other industries, but Nitin Nitin, Assistant Professor at UC Davis, probably never thought his work would benefit both food and cancer research. The young professor’s work has seen a bevy of benefits, including a better understanding of how cancerous cells are affected by chemotherapy, but the Institute of Food Technologists didn’t recognize him just for his impressive interdisciplinary approach to health problems.

The authority on food innovation awarded him the 2013 Samuel Cate Prescott award for recognition of his methodology’s contribution to some integral food processes. More specifically, his work in molecular imaging and biotechnology helped drastically improve baking and drying methods for foods, and his work in molecular imaging helped shed light on the interactions of pathogens with food cells. The combination is a potent one-two punch for a food industry dedicated to making food safer and more affordable for everyone.

From data to food safety, the world of food is changing for the better. Combinations of creative minds and knowledgeable producers are giving birth to innovative new solutions. Agricultural firms large and small are improving the means and the cost of food production to our benefit. And a combination of water treatment solutions and molecular imaging are making food safer and food processes much more efficient. 2013 was a whirlwind of invention for our basic foodstuffs, one can only hope that next year, 3-D printing pizzas and ordering grass-fed beef online will be pedestrian tasks.