The Food Innovation Center at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, is a food business incubator programme. It provides business assistance services in addition to technology expertise, marketing assistance and property management, to farmers, co-operatives, start-up and existing small and mid-sized food and agricultural businesses around New Jersey. The facility was awarded Incubator of the Year in 2007 by the National Business Incubation Association.

Opened since 2001, the Food Innovation Center is part of the university’s New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station (NJAES). NJAES is an integral component of the university and provides a varied range of educational and research programmes for the people of New Jersey.

A new food innovation facility opened at the Food Innovation Center on 17 October 2008. The $8m centre is both a business incubator as well as a food processing facility. It acts as a catalyst between Rutgers’ researchers and the food industry.

In August 2010, the state and the university entered into a partnership in which the food innovation centre will develop ways to include domestically grown produce within the food programme for local schools.

The programme, which will be developed using a $51,000 federal grant, is aimed at including more nutritious food while providing local farmers with an alternative market for their produce. By the end of 2011, several products such as soups, salads vegetable snacks and lasagna will be introduced as part of the programme.

Rutgers’ food business incubator and processing facility design

The state-of-the-art incubator facility is located in a 23,000ft² area and has three separate areas – business development, food processing and product storage. The business development and community outreach area consists of a resource library, an observation room, a conference room, a product development kitchen, a sensory analysis area, a chemistry lab, and a microbiology lab and offices for clients and partners.

“The facility was awarded Incubator of the Year in 2007.”

The product commercialisation and food processing area consists of an anteroom and growing area, a production corridor, a bakery and dry processing room, a blast freezer, a raw material cooler, a blast chiller, a hot process area, a pot washroom, a cold assembly room, a fresh-cut room and cold process area, and a raw produce cooler.

The product storage area also acts as the shipping / receiving and building mechanical systems area. It features a finish goods cooler, a dry storage area, a finished goods freezer, a maintenance room, a chemical storage room, a receiving and shipping area, a loading dock, a storage area, HVAC systems and a mechanical room.

Food processing rooms

The 1,000ft² dry processing room is used to process baked foods, including fruit pies. The product undergoes mixing, proofing, sheeting, baking and steaming in this room. It features all the required equipment for the process.

The Food Innovation Center incubator and processing facility also houses a fresh-cut room cum cold process area maintained at 38°F. This 1,500ft² room facilitates the preparation as well as the packaging of freshly cut fruits and vegetables. The produce in the raw state goes through post-harvest preparation, cleaning, peeling, size reduction and packaging in this room. Some of the products produced here are used as an ingredient in the hot process area room.

The 2,000ft² hot process area produces beverages, soups, meals and other food items through blanching, steaming, cooking, roasting, baking, pasteurisation, filling and labelling processes. The extensive process capabilities of the room enable the hot process area to produce a wide array of products. In addition, there are bottling and filling lines, which ensure automated production.

“This the first incubator programme in the US that includes Nasa-developed AiroCide PPT technology.”

The rapid chilling of the products is done either in the blast chiller (maintained at 35°F), which features a 20hp compressor or in the blast freezer (maintained at 30°F), complete with a 40hp compressor. A 700ft², 20ft-high raw produce cooler facilitates 45 pallet spaces, sufficient for storing agricultural commodities. There is also a raw material cooler.

The packaging of products is done at a 700ft² HEPA filtered cold assembly room, which features horizontal form fill seal machines. The packaging of frozen or ambient products is done in this room. Other packaging equipment present in the room includes tray / cup packaging sealing lines and labelling and shrink-wrapping equipment.

Food business incubator and processing facility technology

This the first incubator programme in the US that includes Nasa-developed AiroCide PPT technology for air sanitation. The technology has been provided by Atlanta-based KES Science and Technology. The system is free of chemicals and removes volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and kills bacteria, fungi and viruses present in air.

Product manufacture

The facility can produce a large number of products depending on clients’ requirements. Products such as beverages, soups, sauces, stews, salsas, jams and jellies are manufactured in the hot process area. The area can also produce cheese, yoghurt, grilled and roasted vegetables, and meals.

Pre-cut vegetables, lettuce-based salads, fresh-cut fruits, peeled, whole, vacuum-packed potatoes can be produced in the fresh-cut room. It can also produce extended shelf-life sliced apples, peaches or tomatoes. The bakery and dry processing room can produce baked goods such as fruit pies, breads, rolls and cookies, as well as seasoning blends and rubs.