‘NIFTEM wants its students to become food techno managers, entrepreneurs’

Says Dr Harinder Singh Oberoi, Director, NIFTEM-K, who believes AI plays a crucial role across nearly every segment of food processing

‘NIFTEM wants its students to become food techno managers, entrepreneurs’

At a time when the impacts of global warming are increasingly evident, ensuring a sustainable future for humanity through advancements in food science is crucial. National Institute of Food Technology, Entrepreneurship and Management (NIFTEM) in Kundli, Sonepat, Haryana, under the Ministry of Food Processing Industry, has been setting global standards in food technology and management. Also, India is gearing up to boost the integration of AI in the food processing industry and recently, the announcement was made at a national conference organised by MoFPI and NIFTEM-K. Millennium Post spoke with Dr Harinder Singh Oberoi, Director, NIFTEM-K, to learn more about how students from the institute are making significant strides in the food processing sector, the integration of AI in food technology, and more.

Given the growing impact of climate change on global food production and accessibility, how critical is it to prioritise the study of food science and technology?

If you look at the effects of climate change and what contributes to climate change, it is essentially the agriculture and the food processing activities. I don’t have the exact data with me but then reports say that about 36% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are largely because of agriculture and the food-related processing activities. So, food technology is one subject wherein a student or anyone who wishes to study food science, is exposed to various facets of agro-food system, right from production. Students get better insights into the supply chains and the factors which lead to production of GHGs at different stages during the supply chain. This creates awareness among them and they are thus in a better position to think, discuss and come out with ideas/ solutions to reduce such emissions. Also, renewable energy is one thing which will really be impactful in the coming years. If we use renewable energy, such as solar power for on-farm processing operations and/or on the vehicles transporting perishable materials, so that the energy being used for refrigeration is harnessed from the solar power, it will be quite helpful in countering the adverse climate change effects, rather than drain all the energy from the fossil fuels like petrol and diesel and contribute to increased GHGs. The use of environmentally friendly refrigerants in the cold chain logistics, designing appropriate processing machinery through proper life cycle assessment, proper waste valorization also help in mitigating the adverse effects of climate change.

Within a few years of its establishment, NIFTEM has emerged as a leading institute in food technology, entrepreneurship, and management. What are the most sought-after courses at NIFTEM?

Ours is a very unique institute. It’s the only institute in the country which gives a degree in food technology management. I’m talking about the BTech degree. All our students are exposed to management principles including finance, marketing, operations, international business, and business strategies. Once they are taught these courses, they become better and suitable techno- managers for the food and food related companies. So, when you compare us to any traditional university or institute, which is offering a typical food science technology course, their students are generally involved in production, quality assurance and R&D roles. Whereas, our students are sought after by companies and placed in diverse areas such as marketing, sales, business strategies, operations management, R&D, production and quality assurance. So, the companies prefer to hire our students for placements as well as internships. Then, in our Master’s degree programmes, we have courses which again have the management principles embedded in it. We have an exclusive department called the Department of Food Business Management and Entrepreneurship Development, which conducts courses in different facets of management and entrepreneurship development and management. In all our five disciplines, we offer MTech degrees focusing on food safety and quality management, food supply chain management, food process engineering and management as well as food plant operations management. Management principles are integrated across these core fields. Also, we offer an MBA degree with a unique dual specialisation. Students can specialise in agribusiness management along with a second specialisation in marketing, finance, or international business. We also offer PhD programmes in all the five departments. The institute houses five state-of-art pilot plants and a food testing lab, known as Centre for Food Research and Analysis (CFRA) which is a notified Primary and Referral laboratory by FSSAI. Our students are exposed to these state-of-the-art pilot plants where they get hands-on experience in their bachelor’s degree or master’s degree courses. So, it’s not that we teach things only in the classrooms or expose them to the departmental labs, we have 15 of these, besides a central instrumentation lab. Recently, we have taken a new initiative and formed nine groups comprising students from BTech, MTech, and MBA programmes. Each group has been provided with seed funding, and they have full access to our pilot plants and other facilities. They are asked to apply their knowledge and skill into developing a product. Once a product is developed, it undergoes stringent testing as per regulatory norms. Students can choose the right packaging, learn about branding, and get manufacturing licenses. We will help them obtain marketing licenses and sell their products, starting on campus. Our major objective at NIFTEM is to transform our students to entrepreneurs. We want them to become food techno managers and food entrepreneurs of tomorrow.

What research facilities are available to students at NIFTEM?

We have the best infrastructure in the country. Name an instrument, and we have it here. We have well-furnished classrooms, 15 different kinds of labs and a central instrument lab. For example, if someone is working on packaging, we have a facility to develop packaging material and test the properties of the packaging material as well as analyse the quality parameters of the product packed in that material. If you develop a product and need testing, we can do proximate testing for carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, and nutrients. We can also test for added colours, flavours, contaminants, such as residues toxins and heavy metals. We have all the instruments needed for testing food quality and safety across almost all commodities.

And what about the collaborations with government bodies like Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR)?

We have several collaborations in place. We have an MoU with ICAR, which is due for renewal, and another with the National Institute of Nutrition (NIN), a flagship institute of ICMR, which we are currently revising and submitting collaborative proposals for. Recently, we signed an MoU with the University of Melbourne, which is the top-notch university in Australia.

So, will there be a lot of international exchange programmes?

Yes, we are just working out the modalities for the student exchange and faculty exchange programmes. We are also looking at dual degree options and integrated degree mechanisms. So, taking inspiration from the western world and the international universities, we are also trying to enhance the capabilities and skill set of our students and faculty.

Career opportunities after BTech and MTech from NIFTEM

* New Product Development Specialists

* Sensory Specialists

* Food Microbiologist

* Food Analysts

* Quality Control Supervisors/ Managers

* Food Process Engineers

* Food Ingredient Manager

* Food Regulatory Affairs Specialist

* Nutrition Specialist

* Food Fermentation Specialists

* Supply Chain Management Specialists

Campus Life

* Institute is spread over an area of 100 acres

* Staying in the hostel is mandatory

* Separate hostels for girls

* Furnished rooms with modern amenities

* Well-designed common rooms

* Separate gym area

* Laundry service

* Excellent sports facilities

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