Food engineering should shed its historical mindset, embrace new challenges and opportunities that the 21st century holds. Unabated scientific progress and breakthroughs highlight mounting challenges with some vital paradigm shifts. Four main challenges have been identified: modeling, virtualization, open innovation (OI) and social responsibility (SR). The shift from empirical to physics-based food modeling is paramount to benefit from new sensor technology, proliferation of the 'Internet of Things', and big-data information. An overriding part of modeling continues to be food uniqueness and complexity, consumer needs and expectations, health and wellness, sustainability and SR. Virtualization is to significantly benefit from expanding computational power, dedicated software, cloud computing, big data, and other breakthroughs. Collaboration and partnerships with all innovation ecosystem stakeholders are paramount. Academia's role as a 'startup university' requires revising its intellectual property models, curricula rejuvenating, OI, creativity, employability and SR. Food engineers are at a verge of a very prosperous future. © 2015 Elsevier Ltd.