Finally we headed back to Toledo for a meeting with Dave Beck (pictured left), president and CEO of the Center for Innovative Food Technology (CIFT), a not-for-profit organization which has provided technical assistance to food processing and agribusiness players in the region since 1995.
While it has a relatively small team of full-time staff, CIFT has access to a wide network of experts and facilities in the region and works with local businesses on everything from microbiological testing, food safety training and sanitation practices, to measuring carbon footprints, novel processing, packaging and preservation technologies, continuous improvement and lean manufacturing.
It also works with firms on product development, spanning everything from the nano-encapsulation of algal omega-3s for use in food and beverage applications, to probiotic yogurts, gluten-free bread, and prebiotic chocolate bars.
And for start-ups that don't have the money to set up their own facilities, it can hook them up with the Northwest Ohio Cooperative Kitchen (NOCK) - a small, fully licensed commercial kitchen/food production facility in Bowling Green that entrepreneurs can use until they are ready to graduate to their own manufacturing facilities.
What if veggies were as sweet and snack-able as fruit?
One interesting project CIFT is currently working on with some local firms is growing white, yellow and purple carrots and other vegetables later in the year such that a sweeter-tasting product results, turning baby carrots into something more akin to a fruit than a vegetable, says Beck.
It has also helped facilitate collaborations between scientists at Ohio State University (OSU) in Columbus, Gramminex LLC, and Synergy Flavors to evaluate the use of sorghum grown in Ohio as a second crop and a source of phytochemical-rich functional ingredients for use in foods and supplements.
Another example is its work with Jones-Hamilton Co. and Lebensmittel Consulting on a project to study the benefits of using blends of sodium acid sulfate as sanitizers in the fresh produce industry.