The new $45 million Food Science Facility is starting to take shape in a hole in the ground alongside FoodHQ on Massey University’s Mānawatu campus, in Palmerston North.
The new joint facility concept between AgResearch and Massey University – similar to what AgResearch is doing with Lincoln University near Christchurch – is going to accelerate innovation by having world-class talent working together under one roof, says AgResearch chief executive Dr Tom Richardson.
“In the case of food research, it means the opportunity for new generation products that offer exciting new textures and flavours and improve peoples’ health and nutrition,” he says.
It’s all about fostering culture with Massey University, according to AgResearch science team leader food assurance and meat quality and associate director of the New Zealand Food Safety Science and Research Centre Dr Gale Brightwell.
Construction work started in early February on the new facility. Scientists from the AgResearch meat and dairy science teams will be drawn together with researchers from Massey University, the government-funded Centre of Research Excellence Riddet Institute and the Food Health and Nutrition team, she explains.
“Eventually, there will be over 100 scientists in the building, plus staff and students.”
For the red meat sector, the highlight is a fully-working 500 square metre pilot meat processing plant on the ground floor of the three-storey 5,000 m2 building. This is being designed to meet export grade standards for red meat when required, along with three wet and dry processing rooms.
“One of these can be also used as a ready-to-eat area for product development,” says Brightwell.
Other facilities include an environmental test chamber, a level two physical containment (PC2) laboratory, ample chillers and freezers. It also has an extensive gantry rail system so carcases can be safely moved around the plant, which has been designed to be able to de-fabricate deer, lamb, veal and quartered beef carcases.
“This is a unique facility for New Zealand researchers and industry and the work flow and floor plan has been co-designed by meat scientists and representatives from the New Zealand meat industry and the Ministry for Primary Industries,” she says.
A 500m2 dairy processing plant will also be housed on the ground floor, which will be directly linked to the existing Massey Food Pilot Plant.
Upstairs, new laboratories will update the existing facilities at AgResearch Ruakura.
“The focus is strongly on scientific collaboration, with an open-plan office arrangement – no offices – together with areas for collaboration and team work,” Brightwell says. Outputs from the new Centre are likely to include concepts for new ready-to-eat products and other innovative added-value streams. The PC2 laboratory will allow researchers to carry out microbial intervention work closer to commercial conditions found in meat processing plants and at the level of carcase decontamination.
Each stage of the complex plan for the joint venture, which is being built to high specification to Environmentally Sustainable Design requirements, has involved working with designers, developing the design, costing and then confirming the plan. Now this has all been finalised, construction is being led by local building firm McMillan and Lockwood and is scheduled for completion in October 2019. Following plant commission, the new building is expected to officially open in early 2020.
Five of the 20-strong AgResearch food assurance and meat science team have already moved across from the ageing 1980s facilities at the Crown Research Institute’s Ruakura campus to Palmerston North. Brightwell is one of those, having moved to Palmerston North in 2010 where she has been the vanguard for relocations onto the Massey Campus.
All of the microbiologists, including Brightwell, are now located in the Hopkirk Research Institute on the Massey University campus. The Hopkirk is a shared facility with Massey University’s mEpiLab and researchers are already working collaboratively, particularly under the banner of the New Zealand Food Safety Centre. The team will work closely with colleagues at the Food Science Centre.
“It’s an exciting time to be in New Zealand meat research,” she says.
“AgResearch’s Future Footprint and the new facility alongside Massey’s existing facilities brings state-of-the-art facilities and New Zealand’s food scientists together on one campus to become what will be New Zealand’s largest agri-food innovation centre.“