Episode 24: ITEGA (Institute of Packaging Technology and Food Engineering)


My guest is Dr. Anne Maltais, a senior scientist and researcher at the Institute of Packaging Technology and Food Engineering, located in Montreal, Canada. The Institute develops innovative and eco-responsible packaging solutions. Let's hear what Anne has to say on Water In Food.


Zachary Cartwright: I'm Zachary Cartwright. This is Water In Food. Welcome to another episode of Water In Food today. My guest is Dr. Anne Maltais, who is a researcher at the Institute of Packaging Technology and Food Engineering, located in Montreal. The mission of this Institute is to develop innovative and eco-responsible packaging solutions.

Zachary Cartwright: Engineer novel products from less common materials and ingredients and to provide training and advising to help teams implement what they call packaging thinking into businesses. Dr. Maltais' team recently started using dynamic dewpoint moisture sorption isotherm technology to improve their R and D processes.

Zachary Cartwright: And we'll be discussing this more in this episode of Water In Food. Hi, Dr. Maltais. Welcome to the show. Thank you. Hi, is that Zachary? How are you today? Thank you for being here.

Anne Maltais: Thank you. I'm good. Thank you.

Zachary Cartwright: Well, I know I've translated your Institute's name to English in the introduction, but I thought I would have you say its proper name.

Zachary Cartwright: Since I know that I will butcher it and not say it correctly.

Anne Maltais: So the acronym is it ITEGA, as you said, and in French, since Institut de Technologie des Emballages et du Gรƒยฉnie Alimentaire.

Zachary Cartwright: Beautifully said. I could never do that. And I was wondering if you could just discuss, you know, how long have you been at this Institute and what is the mission of your institution?

Anne Maltais: I've been working there for more than 10 years now. It's been 11 years, I think. And we actually are a technology transfer and applied research center.

Anne Maltais: Which is affiliated to the Collรƒยจge de Maisonneuve in Montreal. We're part of a great network of specialists in different fields field among the province of Quebec. There are actually 50 nines as a transfer center, just like us, but in different fields. So since food transformation industries are mostly present in Montreal, which is the --- and it makes sense that it is located in the city.

Anne Maltais: So the college, all specific food quality and transformation program to train a future food technologists that will serve these industrials and R and D fields. ITEGA work with this program and share its knowledge with the students and teacher. And we also hire some student for a training --.

Anne Maltais: Mainly our mission at ITEGA is to develop and share innovators, innovative practices in food, packaging, and processes. So the organization we're we serve these stand out from an economic, environmental, and social point of view the technological innovation path L to support the competitiveness of Quebec businesses in their effort to achieve excellence.

Zachary Cartwright: And what is your role there and has your role changed over time or have you kept the same role for these last 10 or 11 years?

Anne Maltais: Well, I actually came in for a post-doc stay and they actually kept me after, so I guess I was doing the job. Over time I got to be a scientist, a food scientist, actually.

Anne Maltais: And then like you're in the. During the is the years I developed some expertise and now I'm a senior scientist there. So helping other scientists to develop a project and to support industries from food, transport, it, transformation, food, service, packaging, and other industries sometimes I'm basically working, developing the project as a response to industrial request main of our business is to go with the flow, go with the trends and for the, from the inquiries of our partner.

Zachary Cartwright: And what are some of the things that you've done in the past or in your background that has prepared you for this role, maybe studying food science or other things that you've completed that have helped you get where you are today.

Anne Maltais: I have a degree in food science --- Quebec city. And I really love applied science, especially with food.

Anne Maltais: I love cooking as well. And it was the program was very good for me because it learned me all, every food types are made and what are the industrial processes for them. So it was very interesting and very applied. But then at the end of my degree, I knew I wanted to improve by knowledge at school.

Anne Maltais: So I went for a master's and a PhD degree. It was on the preparation of as a device for controlled delivery and heat-sensitive molecule. It's a bit off my actual work, but actually, a molecule functionality is involved with coating and bio-based packaging that we developed. So in a certain way, I use that experience.

Anne Maltais: And I also over time during my 10 years, 11 years here in ITEGA, I developed also some expertise in the packaging and the, especially their relationship with food and packaging.

Zachary Cartwright: And I also noticed on your LinkedIn page that you were at one time, a professional speed skater. And I was wondering if you could talk about that experience and maybe things that you learned from being a speed skater that you're able to apply today, so that you're successful.

Anne Maltais: Yeah. I was on the Canadian national team for about 10 years for the short track team and under workups or good for a couple of years as well. So it was a great experience. And I had a chance with people around me to manage graduates to the studies and the full-time athlete life. And I learned a lot of about efficiency, good work ethic and perseverance.

Anne Maltais: You know, moreover the being a scientist calls for a lot of resilience, just a, as I learned in short track. If you ever watch a short track, speed, skating, race competition, you know, this, that there's a high risk and that you do not control everything at every level. So you need to become resilient to survive in the sport and such as it is.

Anne Maltais: As a scientist life.

Zachary Cartwright: I really liked that comparison. And I think in another life I was a speed skater cause I love watching it and I wish that would have been something that I would have

Anne Maltais: done when I here. You probably know Apolo Anton Ohno no. Yes,

Zachary Cartwright: yes. I actually have a really embarrassing story that when I was like, I would watch the Olympics and always see him.

Zachary Cartwright: And I even wrote him an email when I was really little, just really asking him to take me on and train me and turn me into a speed skater. So of course, I know. Just coming back to ITEGA what types of products and businesses do you create packaging solutions for? Is this solely for research or for universities, or are you working with large companies or what does that look like for your team?

Anne Maltais: We actually have two main expertise field. The first one being the preservation of food and other sensitive material which contributes to save food from waste and allow us to preserve best qualities and security. The second expertise is about packaging design, especially in regards to eco- responsible conception.

Anne Maltais: We work mainly with industrial to create ready-made solutions as to their requirements. A majority of our business is SME, small and medium businesses. Usually, big businesses, they have their own R and D department and do they do their own stuff. But then when you go a little bit smaller, when the smaller businesses, the they really required transferred a G to get them reach their goals.

Anne Maltais: We follow all our partners needs and nutrients. I've been working a lot with food industries, like bread meat. There is fresh fruits and vegetable to increase shelf life to specific conditioning and packaging. We've also had some medical project in the past, for example I've been working on the development of chilling blocks for blood.

Anne Maltais: The unit used the mobile blood drives. It was a very challenging project, but also very rewarding considering that. Preservation of the precious donations and especially made great sense to me, since I had to be transfused in my life. So I got the the full, the reward of it.

Anne Maltais: Yeah.

Zachary Cartwright: Oh, wow. That's awesome. And really interesting, the range of products that you're looking at from food to medical and so on. What are some of the challenges that your team faces when you're trying to design a new packaging and how do you overcome those challenges?
Anne Maltais: For the moment, the biggest challenge is about eco-responsible.

Anne Maltais: I don't know if in English, you can say that, that word, but it's all about eco conception and everything. Packaging solution. There are not so many available solutions on the market now. And sometimes people they think well, some PLA or some specific packaging is a good alternative. But, when you look at different criteria's of the life cycle assessment, it's a, it can be very non-intuitive. Let's say like you think something that comes from from wood, it would be a sustainable, but not necessarily if the resource are are used for that.

Anne Maltais: So it, it needs to take everything into account. And there's also a lot of confusion about recyclability, biodegradability, compostability, bio-based material, and those specific terms and that's part of the mission of ITEGA to inform partners and consumers on that. And we also have a neutral opinions on all of the materials since we are not a supplier of research and kind of solution, we're just scientific point of view.

Anne Maltais: And also the we

Anne Maltais: The price of the available solution is also a strong constraint for the commercial application of the solution. So helping in making the new solution use on the market, we're certainly lead to expand available alternatives at a reasonable price.

Zachary Cartwright: And something that I've noticed a lot recently with a lot of the companies that the METER Group works with does that, you know, companies are trying to change their packaging, whether like you mentioned, it's to be eco-friendly or maybe there's a supply chain issue and they need to change their packaging.

Zachary Cartwright: And so understanding that new packageing is really important. Especially early on in, in an R and D process. Your team has recently started using the AQUALAB vapor sorption analyzer, as well as the moisture analysis toolkit software that, that comes with that instrument. And I was hoping that you could talk about these solutions and how they're helping you to overcome some of the challenges that your team.

Anne Maltais: Well, mainly two objective either the ability to predict the shelf life using the tool, and also the ability to determine the packaging, water vapor transmission rate that is needed in order to hit the desired shelf life. And let's say we work within industrial partner who wants to switch a, is multi barrier packaging, which is non-recyclable.

Anne Maltais: Is. You cannot only use another packaging without checking the adequacy, and sometimes you, you get surprised and you can be in a your prouct can be affected greatly by that and your brand also. Our input at, I think would be to use the VSA and determine the critical water content, so we can determine the packaging requirements to keep the fruits at their best.

Anne Maltais: For texture and preservation and the software can be used to predict the shelf life in various conditions, let's say like tropical condition or some higher or a low temperature condition to predict the shelf life and in the, in a very accurate way. So that we they don't have to wait for a year to to get the results.

Zachary Cartwright: So instead of taking a year to maybe do a physical test, how fast are you able to do some shelf life calculations using your vapor scorpion analyzer, and in that toolkit soft.

Anne Maltais: Yeah, well, that's pretty fast. Like the time of making the isotherm, it's very variable depending of the nature of the product, but it could be like two days maximum.

Anne Maltais: And then after that when you get all your your item for calculating the shelf life. It gets pretty easy. Like you can do that in a, less than an hour when the you're get accustomed to it. So it's very effective and we also can run accelerated shelf life packaging testing on the side, just to make sure that the prediction was okay.

Anne Maltais: And it's all also to accelerate the process instead of waiting for a long time to get the result.

Zachary Cartwright: And I think that's a really good point to mention it. And I talked to a lot of our partners about this, that, that prediction that you get using the equipment and the software, it is a prediction. It is just based on math, but it can give you a lot of insight really early on so that when you move on to an accelerated test or even a physical shelf life test, you really know what to focus on.

Zachary Cartwright: And you can save your team a lot of time in the long run. I was hoping that you could maybe describe in your own words, what is a moisture sorption isotherm that you're getting from the vapor sorption analyzer, what is an isotherm and why is it important when thinking about packaging and shelf life?

Anne Maltais: Yeah, well, to me like I know I've been learning that stuff at school, but it's been so many years now for me, the basic concept of isotherm is just, it's just a complete study that provides information on water activity and water content's relationship. Like before having the VSA, some saturated salts and specific jars [desiccators] to mimic these studies.

Anne Maltais: But it wasn't really not as accurate. So for us this equipment is very it's very good for us because it saves time. It essential show for the study of dry product as respect to their preservation. When you use the isotherm and you make a second derivative function all of those to the different, the critical water activity for a speicifc

Anne Maltais: product. So after that, we can use the modelization question of the software so that there is a function that is established and using all the calculation of the shelf life when packaging information are known. And we can also test the that property is in our lab using our equipment.

Anne Maltais: So it's a complete solution for us. And if a company also wants to modify a food formulation, we can study if it creates a shift in the isotherm and reacts with another packaging, if shelf-life become problematic, let's say if we add some moisture sensitive ingredients in the forumlation.

Zachary Cartwright: And something that you mentioned is that like you, I think a lot of food science students, you know, you hear about an isotherm in graduate school or undergrad, and you spend maybe 15 minutes in one class and learn about it and then move on and same with water activity. And this is equipment is really taking it to the next step or the next level.

Zachary Cartwright: Even when I started here at meta, I was really impressed or surprised with all of the things that you can understand using the isotherm and shelf-life and packaging is just one, one of the things that you can do with it. When your team was looking for this type of solution, how did you find the AQUALAB vapor sorption analyzer?

Zachary Cartwright: How did you learn about this technology?

Anne Maltais: Well, at the time we we had received some requests on the accelerated prediction of shelf life, or some products such as rice. I remember, and some of the products. And so I I looked at some literature on the subject, AQUALAB vapor sorption analyzer was the best tool to help us on that. And to create a whole server, the this three that they would actually like I was saying, we bolt make some isotherm analysis with using a closed jar in a specific moisture condition, but it was so inconsistent that we couldn't really use the results.

Anne Maltais: So the capacity of the AQUALAB to make rapid dynamic dewpoint isotherm is really helpful for us. And it gives very accurate precise, isotherm that we can use in real life. After we decided that this isn't the equipment that we needed, we asked for a grant and got the equipment for, at METER FOOD and they help us put everything together for our analysis need.

Anne Maltais: And we got great support for them also for both scientific and technical.

Zachary Cartwright: And besides that dynamic dewpoint isotherm method, were there any other driving factors that led you to getting this isotherm generator over maybe other isotherm generators? You know, this is surely not the only one that's available on the market, but what were some of the driving forces that led your team to getting this equipment and in not another piece of equipment?

Anne Maltais: Well, for sure, the dynamic dewpoint and the support service of for the team when I needed to get some information before purchasing was where was a big plus and also the affordable price of the equipment and the rebate that we got since we are in academic and research institution was also a very interesting for us.

Anne Maltais: So that's why we decided to go with METER Food.

Zachary Cartwright: Yeah, th that makes me really happy to hear that you had really good support in, and like you mentioned, we do work a lot with academic institutions. It's really important for us to partner with institutes like yours, especially institutes, you know, working with students so that, you know, as a student, you can learn about this technology and its applications really early on in an educational experience.

Zachary Cartwright: You, you mentioned it briefly, but youjust, can you discuss the training process that you went through and the support process. So after you got the instrument in and got it in your lab, what did the next steps look like? And what kind of support did you receive?

Anne Maltais: Well, we first got a global presentation of the equipment and all the the features that we that it can make.

Anne Maltais: And after that, to make sure the equipment was responding to our needs dried food sample was sent to METER Food and testing using the same equipment. So we were explained how to use the result curve, like just to make sure that it would satisfy our needs. And then we also got help after that for the startup in our lab and got all the info's about it with all the all the cues and thing to start in the right way.

Anne Maltais: And we also let some webinar access on isotherm. And you did explain to me how to use the software for prediction of shelf, life, following some other reaction, then some like Browning reaction, which are not direct directed. Directly drive driven by by water actually.

Zachary Cartwright: Yeah. So like you said, you know, you receive training on the software and then if you're looking at shelf life because of Browning reactions or some other type of chemical change, we do have some other approaches for looking at shelf life.

Zachary Cartwright: And in those terms pivoting from shelf life now I know your Institute is also known for food engineering, and I was wondering if you could talk about maybe some of the innovative products that your team has recently.

Anne Maltais: Yeah, actually we work on both sides, like packaging and also food engineering both goes together.

Anne Maltais: And usually we work with partners. We develop some specific engineering and then we can condition them so that the whole product is taking care of. So we've been working on a different bleaching process for potatoes using alternative treatments. We I cannot talk too much about the projects in some, the intellectual property, but I can mention them for sure.

Anne Maltais: We've been working a lot of different project about modified atmosphere packaging using active and passive modify atmosphere for fruit and vegetable. We've been working on conversion of some sugar also working in the development of a new blown texture for some food, using an equipment that we have here, which is a instant control, a pressure drop using the industry to develop some specific snacking products.

Anne Maltais: We on the gasification of some beverage, like a cold brew coffee and some also called pasteurization process for the heat sensitive aromas or product that is, there are heat sensitive. Also been working on some innovative process like your Postlight or UVC, light, developing a process for the contamination.

Anne Maltais: And also looking for some future trends in the food engineering, also working with the partnerships.

Zachary Cartwright: And then the third major component of ITEGA it looks like you provide a lot of training and advising to help structure and implement what's on your website. It's called packaging thinking into businesses.

Zachary Cartwright: And I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about that training process and what it involves.

Anne Maltais: Yeah, because one of the mission of the ITEGA is some giving some training for the industry and for the general consumers as well. And while these trainings are usually tailor made for a specific request or industry all on different topics of interest, mainly in food engineering and packaging.

Anne Maltais: And we also run the , which is the packaging meeting in English. It's it's a conference once a year, usually in spring last one was was made virtually since of the COVID. So this event, ITEGA presents some of the recent research that was run in our labs and with some partner as well.

Anne Maltais: And we have some other packaging specialists who share their knowledge. And this is the, also the occasion to create new partnerships, new partnership with industrials and research centers.

Zachary Cartwright: And now that your team is using that AQUALAB vapor sorption analyzer and, you know, having a better understanding of how to use moisture sorption isotherms.

Zachary Cartwright: Do you see isotherms becoming a part of these trainings or being mentioned in conferences more?
Anne Maltais: Well, Can you repeat please?

Zachary Cartwright: Yeah. Yeah, no, no problem. So now that your team has an AQUALAB vapor sorption analyzer and a better understanding of how to use isotherms to predict shelf life, or think about packaging, do you see isotherms being a part of the trainings that you offer or being mentioned more in the conferences that host.

Anne Maltais: Yeah, for sure. We want to offer isotherm analysis as a service for our partners and some future clients. So we want to show them why it can be so useful. And we definitely want to promote this equipment and expertise at upcoming conference.

Zachary Cartwright: And then my last question for you today is I just want to know about the opportunities that you provide to students and future professionals.

Zachary Cartwright: So anybody listening to this podcast, who's a, maybe a food science student interested in and maybe doing an internship there, or just really interested in shelf life and in packaging. W what opportunities does your Institute a afford?

Anne Maltais: Yeah, we offer some intern opportunities in our lab for some, either specific project or general learning.

Anne Maltais: stay. We hire some some of our college students as well. All the students, they get the opportunity to work and have direct contact with industrial partner, which is very interesting for their for their learning. And they also get to train with our food engineering and packaging equipment.

Anne Maltais: So they get used to them and give them an edge when it comes time to use their in their future jobs in the food industry. And they also get the opportunity to work with scientists and follow. Thinking through other project with with sometimes it raises their interest into a career in science and research and we can then maybe hire them afterwards.

Zachary Cartwright: Yeah. They can do a postdoc and then they can just come on board. Yeah. Well, Anna, I just want to say thank you so much for coming on the podcast. I think this is really helpful, especially for teams thinking about packaging and shelf life and when it comes to food that's really every team. I think you've given a lot of insights that our listeners will appreciate.

Zachary Cartwright: So thank you so much for coming on the show. And I look forward to working with you more. Thank you, Zachary. I'm Zachary Cartwright. This is Water In Food. Find this podcast on apple, iTunes, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts.

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