Tim Foster gained his PhD in the area of physical properties of single and mixed polysaccharide systems, and undertook a post-doc at Unilever, identifying linkages between the mobility of polysaccharides in the plant cell wall and their influence on rheological properties. He then investigated the influence of processing conditions on the structure-functionality of single and mixed biopolymer systems which allows design rules for ingredient interchangeability, ingredient improvement and novel functionalities.
He worked for 15.5 years in Unilever’s R&D organisation where he led groups in the areas of biopolymers and new technology development, has acted as an advisor on a number of working groups such as the European Technology Platform Food for Life and WCFS/TIFN, and has supervised post-graduate and post-doctoral researchers in a number of publicly funded projects. He left his position as Senior Scientist in Unilever to become Associate Professor and Reader in Food Structure at the University of Nottingham in 2007, and has since supervised 17 post-graduate researchers and 5 post-doctoral researchers.
His current work focuses upon a further investigation of natural structuring agents, rehydration phenomena and microstructure changes in food products during digestion, and is centred on understanding the creation of required food microstructures from the most appropriate ingredient supply, utilising the most appropriate processes.
This requires knowledge of both current and developing / emerging ingredient and process technologies. Current thoughts on minimising waste of manufactured foods, with a mindset on optimising processes, ingredient usage, nutrient delivery and improving shelf life are key challenges faced.
To this end a recently patented technology allows a concentrate to be used which, upon dilution, can be used for application as in dietary applications for increasing feeling of satiety, as an in-home cooking aid or as a product used in distributed / late stage manufacture. The latter provides flexibility in processing and may allow a reduction in water transportation in product.
The use of microstructures in optimising the nutrient delivery from manufactured foods is also an area of focus, something being developed with colleagues within the University of Nottingham and in the current collaboration between Nottingham and the Universities of Birmingham and Loughborough in the EPSRC Centre for Innovative Manufacturing in Food.
New ingredient functionalities are also of interest, with specific focus on cellulose. Aligned science disciplines with the Bio Energy initiative diverge when natural polymers are used for structuring capabilities, but a common Bio refinery approach may benefit the utilisation of ALL of nature’s renewable resources. This may also include the use of waste vegetal material. Interactions with Chemistry and Chemical Engineering are facilitating some of this progress, and external linkages with the European Polysaccharide Network of Excellence (EPNOE) and its related Marie Curie Initial Training Network (STEP ITN) have allowed comparisons of processes used in the pulp/paper and textile industries with those conventionally used in the food industry. Additional comparisons are made between the most common food polysaccharide: Starch with the structuring potential of cellulose in food and non-food structuring, and potential application in packaging opportunities.