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The Institute of Food Research

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The Institute of Food Research is the only publicly funded UK research institute that addresses the fundamental science underpinning food and health operating in the 'post farmgate' sector of the food supply chain. The institute carries out a competitive programme of basic and applied research and is well networked with academic research centres, universities and institutes, the food manufacturing and retailing industry, and makes a key contribution to the BBSRC strategic research priorities of food security, bioscience underpinning health, and bioenergy and industrial biotechnology.


Outputs from IFR contribute to the development of novel foods and manufacturing processes and underpin evidence-based advice on food safety, healthier ageing, disease prevention strategies, and the early detection of risk factors. Policymakers, the National Health Service and specialist services, industry and the public are all end users of IFR research that also stimulates innovation in the commercial sector.

The Institute of Food Research is based in Norwich. Copyright: IFR

The institute is a key fulcrum that links research on food science, diet and health between the major universities, institutes and research associations in the UK, Europe and worldwide. IFR is distinctive amongst research institutes in Europe due to its fundamental science mission in food and health. It has a large portfolio of European Union (EU) funded projects, is a founder member of the European Technology Platform Food for Life, and instigated and chairs the FOODforce Group of European research providers.

IFR is part of the Norwich Research Park (NRP) which includes the University of East Anglia, the John Innes Centre, the Earlham Institute and the Norwich and Norfolk University Hospital which are all located on a single campus. NRP aims to deliver science focused on the grand challenges of environmental sustainability, food security, and food and health. It is also implementing a co-ordinated Enterprise and Innovation Strategy in partnership with regional authorities, and IFR leads the NRP Food and Health Agenda, one of its two strategic research priorities.

Research at IFR

Prevention of the emergence of foodborne pathogens, and a reduction in the present incidence and burden of food poisoning and gastrointestinal disease are being underpinned by research at IFR which is developing knowledge-led intervention strategies based on an increased understanding of the biology of bacterial foodborne pathogens and the requirements for establishing and maintaining a healthy gut.

Campylobacter is a major foodborne disease threat tackled at IFR. Image: IFR
Campylobacter is a major foodborne disease threat tackled at IFR. Copyright: IFR

IFR scientists are examining the health-promoting nature of plant-based foods through elucidation of the manner by which food components are released from the food matrix in the gut, are absorbed into the body and affect biochemical and physiological processes that promote healthy ageing. A unique aspect is the integration of food biophysics in the biological domain of the gastrointestinal tract.

IFR work aims to define the rules governing the environmental responsiveness of colloidal and biopolymeric food architectures in order to provide knowledge-based, predictive approaches for the production of safe and nutritious foods. This skill base is also supporting the development of biorefinery approaches to maximise the utilisation of agri-food chain co-products and waste, which includes the generation of bioethanol.

IFR has strong research infrastructure. It has a purpose-built laboratory for work on food-borne pathogens, together with access to several joint technology platforms, a state-of-the-art disease modelling unit with gnotobiotic animals, and excellent facilities for human dietary intervention studies. The institute also houses the National Collection of Yeast Cultures, which is strategically important to the UK in relation to the food production chain.

IFR plays a unique role in food and health operating at the cutting edge of relevant, interdisciplinary, basic science whilst helping to ensure the long-term competitiveness of the food manufacturing and allied industries. Food and drink is the UK's biggest manufacturing sector, and IFR delivers science to underpin innovation and to facilitate the development of foods with improved nutritional and functional properties.

Work at IFR

Postgraduate training plays an integral part in IFR's culture of encouraging both learning and knowledge transfer across its user communities; the institute offers PhD students a 3-4 year 'period of study' which prepares them well for a career in the food and health research community within both the academic and commercial sectors. The institute is also a specialised international training centre for EU PhD and post-doctoral students. The NRP gives students the added advantage of easy access to student life on the University of East Anglia's campus.

IFR explores the nutritional profile of common and new food varieties, such as ‘super broccoli’. Image: IFR
IFR explores the nutritional profile of common and new food varieties, such as 'super broccoli'. Copyright: IFR

The Food and Health Network (FHN) of the IFR, with over 200 corporate members, engages with the food industry in a collegiate atmosphere. FHN Direct allows our scientists to engage in detailed one-to-one confidential discussions with stakeholders, and IFR Extra provides, in response to industry requests, a rapid contract research and troubleshooting service to companies in the food and allied sectors.

Indicators of IFR's long-term economic impact include the added value of its work supporting the UK processed chilled products industry, calculated to be £23M each year. Extending the shelf life of products through the institute's work saves UK consumer wastage valued at £25M each year. Furthermore, ComBase, a predictive microbiology food safety tool pioneered at IFR, is estimated to save the EU food sector over £22M each year.