The Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) is doing things differently this year. IFT’s annual meeting and food expo has taken place for 79 years, but 2020 is the first time the event will be entirely virtual.

IFT20 was originally scheduled for July 12-15 at McCormick Place in Chicago. But with the COVID-19 pandemic, Chicago-based IFT said hosting a virtual event over the same dates would prioritize the health and safety of its participants.

“It would be a disservice to the members of our community and the broader food ecosystem if we were to cancel IFT’s annual event in its entirety,” said IFT CEO Christie Tarantino-Dean. “We chose to transition to a virtual event to provide a safe and inclusive platform for the global science of food community to convene, share and learn — a purpose that is more important than ever before. We are excited about the new opportunities this presents and look forward to providing informative virtual programming.”

According to IFT, the virtual event is themed “SHIFT20,” referring to how IFT20’s programming will “shift” the status quo in the food production. The scientific and applied sessions will explore the question, “Is our food system the single biggest threat to the environment and our survival?” This theme will inspire discussions on ways food science and innovation could help provide the solutions needed to make the food system — and the planet —more sustainable.


Virtual experiences

IFT said the IFT20 virtual event and expo will kick off with a keynote address from April Rinne. In her remarks, Rinne will explore the critical role that food science, emerging technologies and the food industry will need to play in addressing food security in the face of our current pandemic times and global climate change.

According to IFT, Rinne is a U.S.-based globally minded advisor, speaker, writer and authority focusing on the new economy, future of work and global citizenship. She gave a Ted Talk on navigating uncertainty in the future and also contributes to the World Economic Forum. Other speakers for IFT20 still are being finalized. 

IFT said the event also will include a virtual expo where solution providers from around the globe will feature their products and services in an online platform. Participants will be able to discuss products one-on-one, attend presentations, ask questions and explore product research.


Panel discussions

IFT20 will feature topical areas anchored by provocative panel discussions that set the stage for a series of presentations, discussions and fireside chats — each of which will take a closer look at the science, technology and research for tackling these important issues, IFT said.

The panel discussion for the topic of food safety and security will be “Data Revolution: Is Food Safety Sitting on the Sidelines?” According to IFT, this interactive session will highlight the granular aspects of big data-driven improvements and disruptions for the food safety sector and inspire the industry to come together and collectively usher in big data-driven improvements for a sustainable, safe and productive future.

IFT said the health and nutrition topic will feature a panel discussion called “Striving for the Equitable Distribution of Nutrition.” The session will be a discussion on how to solve today’s issues of nutrition scarcity, and what tangible outcomes we need to embrace.

For the sustainability topic, “Our Food System is Killing Our Earth — What are We Going to do About it?” will be the panel discussion. IFT said the session will tackle the question, “How can we best balance consumer wants and business needs while protecting the future of our planet?”

“Building Food Security into Resilient Cities” will be the panel discussion for the science and technology topic. The session will focus on how today’s cities are being engineered to be more sustainable, safer and more socially responsible in pursuit of the promise of resiliency, IFT said.

Finally, the innovation topic will include the panel discussion “Stop Wasting Waste — Upcycling Our Future.” This session will focus on new ways of preventing waste and upcycling containers to make our food system more sustainable, IFT said.


IFT’s divisions

IFT said that as part of its investment in global communities that work to ensure a safe, nutritious and sustainable food supply for everyone, it offers 24 topical, interest-based groups, or divisions. Division members share knowledge freely, generate learning, and collaborate and innovate through the development and sharing of knowledge through webcasts and podcasts, in online forums such as IFT Connect and in-person at the IFT annual meeting.

IFT’s topical groups include the Dairy Foods Division (DFD). Members of this group share insights and discuss topics relating to dairy foods, including quality control, standards, product and process development, equipment, sanitation, sensory evaluation, biotechnology of dairy cultures and marketing strategies, IFT said.


DFD at IFT20

As part of IFT20’s robust virtual education program, there will be several scientific sessions for the DFD, IFT said. The sessions will be available in the online portal throughout the event. The topics include:

  • “Is this the protein it claims to be? Identification and purity methodology for authentication, adulteration detection and quality evaluation.”
  • “Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning — for a safer, better and sustainable food production ecosystem.”
  • “Nutrient Profiling — from the Global Landscape to the Evidence Base.”
  • “Protein Processing 2.0: Next-gen scalable technologies for advancing the functionalization and sustainable production of protein ingredients.”

Additionally, 25-plus dairy-related scientific posters will be displayed virtually and be available throughout the event. According to IFT, the posters were submitted by people who participate in dairy research, including students, industry professionals, government employees and more.

IFT20 also will include the Dairy Foods Division Graduate Student Oral Competition and Graduate Student Poster Competition. For the competitions, IFT-member students will present research findings. While both presentations are related to the research posters, the oral competition will be longer and focus on the presentation in addition to the research and the poster made from it, IFT said.

And this year, DFD will host a virtual social. According to IFT, the “e-networking” event will feature fun, trivia, recipes and door prizes. There will be opportunities for interactions with other DFD members to share best practices and learn something new.

For more information about IFT20, visit