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The Institute of Food Research receives strategic funding from BBSRC

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Science at the Institute of Food Research

Research at IFR is focussed on the physical and chemical nature of food and how it interacts with the body to influence health.

Our scientists are advancing understanding of:

  • the fundamental biological processes within the gut, involving the interaction between food, the microbes that live in the GI-tract (microbiota) and the human gut epithelium
  • how nutrients and other food components pass into the blood stream and affect our health
  • the survival and growth of foodborne microbial pathogens

The Institute is uniquely positioned to contribute to understanding how food can enhance health, thus contributing to the quality of life of individuals and the economic health of the nation. We address the Biological Sciences Research Council's three key strategic research priorities :

  • Food Security  bioscience for a sustainable supply of sufficient, affordable, nutritious and safe food, adapting to a rapidly changing world
  • Basic bioscience underpinning health  driving advances for better health across the life course and improved quality of life, reducing the need for medical and social intervention
  • Bioenergy and industrial biotechnology  biofuels and industrial materials from novel biological sources, reducing dependency on petrochemicals and helping the UK to become a low carbon economy

Research Programmes

IFR has two strategic research programmes:

Food bioactives

Food & Health Programme

Our research is focussed on the links between the chemical and physical nature of fresh and processed foods and our health. We consider the main classes of food polymers that function as both structural components and nutrients - lipids, protein and carbohydrates, as well as ‘non-nutrient’  bioactive compounds which are often responsible for the varied colour, flavour and fragrances of our fruit and vegetables. We combine this research with studies on how we can exploit food ‘waste’ as a source of energy and valuable compounds. Our studies are multidisciplinary, and range from plant sciences, through food manufacturing and processing, to human dietary and clinical studies.

Our science has many users: the academic and clinical science community, health advisors, policy makers, consumer groups, retailers and the food manufacturing industry.  In addition, we increasingly work with companies seeking to breed new varieties of fruits and vegetables with added health benefits.

Visit the programme website

Microbial food safety

Gut Health & Food Safety Programme

Our research focuses on:

  • How the GI-tract functions
  • Microbial food safety
  • Biomathematical approaches

Such a multidisciplinary programme incorporating both wet and dry scientists is we believe, unique in the UK. Outputs from our research will contribute to the development of a more resilient food chain, safer food, and lifelong GI-tract wellbeing.

Beneficiaries will include policy makers (e.g. FSA, EFSA) and industry, who will receive strong evidence-based advice on food safety and foodborne pathogens. Industry will also benefit through the availability of the information required to develop innovative new products (e.g. safer high quality foods, pro-/prebiotics).

For the NHS and specialist services (e.g. gastroenterologists, clinical immunologists, microbiologists), science-based advice and evidence will be provided to support healthier ageing strategies.

The public will be the ultimate beneficiary of our research through improved food security and safety, and the early detection of risk factors for GI-tract disease, leading to improved lifelong well-being.

Visit the programme website

National Capabilities

The Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) funds three ‘national capabilities’ that are hosted and maintained at IFR. 

National Collection of Yeast Cultures The National Collection of Yeast Cultures
Food Databanks Food Databanks
ComBase ComBase

National Capability is defined as a capability (e.g. personnel, infrastructure, facilities, biological collections, databases) that is essential either as a single point of capability, or part of capability, required for UK national strategic purposes, or as an essential, strategic component of the international research base.

National capabilities are by definition externally facing and engaged with the user community e.g. UK, international, commercial, general public; available for access by appropriately qualified academics in UK academic institutions and to international academics and the commercial sector.

Core Facilities

Our skill-bases in Analytical Sciences and Proteomics, are key to the effective delivery of IFR science. We maintain a Human Nutrition Unit for non-residential metabolic studies with human volunteers and are planning a Gnotobiotic Facility in collaboration with the Disease Modelling Unit at the University of East Anglia.


We have a particularly important role helping to ensure the long-term competitiveness of the UK agri-food industry - working in collaboration with companies, often funded by Government schemes designed to drive economic impact, but with advances always grounded in academic excellence. A trio of activities directly addresses industry needs:- IFR Extra, the Food and Health Network , and FHN Direct ( for 1:1 confidential research

Impact of IFR Science

An independent report on the impact of the IFR has shown that every £1 invested in IFR delivers £8 in benefits to the UK economy.

Food is the UK’s biggest manufacturing sector, and the report shows IFR’s research and innovation is supporting growth in this sector and the UK economy as a whole. The report quantifies the impact of IFR’s research on improving health and reducing the economic burden diet-related diseases place on our healthcare system and the wider society. Every £1 invested in IFR research funding provides a return on investment to the UK economy of £8.18.


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