By: Melinda Russell
Attending the IFT Annual Meeting & Food Expo was an inspiring, unforgettable, and even slightly intimidating experience. After going to the RCA Denver Annual Conference & Culinology® Expo, it was great seeing the more technical and science side of my field of study. The IFT Annual Meeting & Food Expo is a much larger conference with a greater variety of things to attend to and sample.
Before arriving, I was blown away by the discounts IFT was able to offer. I was even able to get a discount on my airfare. Upon arriving, I saw IFT advertised everywhere: the airport, the buses, the hotels, you name it. There were around 30 coach buses running different routes to pick up attendees from various hotels and bringing them to the conference building. That alone blew my mind, I did not fully comprehend just how much bigger the IFT event would be compared to the RCA event. I am very glad I went to Denver before attending the IFT event in Chicago. It at least got me somewhat prepared for what was happening.
Saturday night, I attended a session for first time students. When I checked into the conference there were over 40 different check-in stations with around 20 employees assisting the process. At the student meeting the fact was presented that there are over 17,000 members of IFT spanning over 90 countries. I had no idea IFT extended over that many countries. After the first day, I knew this would be a different experience than the annual RCA conference.
The IFT Student Association (IFTSA) provided a very welcoming environment for all students registered for the annual meeting. Their student Board led a session for first time attendees, where I learned about all of the conference student events and activities. I really felt like a part of the conference. There were so many different student competitions to enter. Throughout the whole conference a student lounge is available in case you ever need to sit down, regroup, and meet other enthusiast students–which I definitely utilized that more than once. Watching the student competitions was a great way to bring ideas back to my school and I am motivated to enter into future IFTSA competitions.
Since there was a wide variety of breakout sessions available, it was difficult choosing which one to attend because I wanted to go to them all! Educational sessions covered every aspect of food science from the microbial growth on certain foods to food trends in new product designs. It was great seeing all of the things I have been slowly learning in my classes be represented at this conference. It reaffirmed that what I am learning at Clemson is important, and seeing the sessions helped give me that little push I needed to study hard and start this semester strong. Some of the sessions were very technically, but it gave me a good understanding of what will be in my future, and the possibilities I have for emphasizing in certain areas of food science.
As I stepped onto the IFT Expo floor, I was awestruck. It was huge. I had no idea which way to turn. There are so many different types of companies on the expo floor: food microbiology, R&D, flavor houses, coffee suppliers, companies selling machinery to food science companies, foreign companies—you name it and it was on the IFT Expo floor. I was looking for a company to intern with so I was able to utilize the pamphlet outlining the companies on the floor, and the Expo map on the IFT app helped locate where I wanted to focus. It is definitely a good idea to bring business cards; you never know who you will meet. A lot of companies had amazing samples to try so I never had to spend money on lunch. The Expo floor really helped me see the potential companies I could be working for one day.
Overall, since I am more involved in the RCA it was very beneficial stepping out of my comfort zone. The conference helped me see all of the options for my degree outside of what I learned at the annual RCA Conference, and gave me a drive to enter more IFTSA competitions in the future. RCA and IFT complement each other very well, and I look forward to being involved in both organizations in the future!