Tag Archives: Food Quality

Emily Newton, Revolutionized Magazine
FST Soapbox

How Food Processors Can Use Robots to Improve Food Quality

By Emily Newton
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Emily Newton, Revolutionized Magazine

Across industries, new innovations in robotics technologies are helping to speed up day-to-day work and improve product quality. Robots can be especially effective for businesses in the food processing industry, where a growing labor shortage poses trouble for processors.

While a number of critical industry tasks were difficult to fully or partially automate in the past, new robotics technology is helping to increase the number of potential applications for robots in the industry.

Consistency, Accuracy, and Speed

Food processing robots offer a few major advantages over conventional food processing workflows. Robots can perform a task repeatedly over the course of a work day or shift, typically with minimal deviation in precision. Unlike human workers, robots don’t get tired, and their pace of work tends to stay consistent. This combination of accuracy and speed has been found to increase site throughput while ensuring packaged products are up to company standards.

Food processors that adopt robots also see major gains in item consistency—more often, packaged products contain the same amount of food, weigh the same, and are packaged in the same manner.

Automated packaging systems can sometimes be a poor fit for certain food commodities, especially for products like delicate fruits and vegetables.

Experimentation, however, often leads to custom solutions that can handle these unique challenges. After experimentation with new weighing and packaging robots in the cannabis industry, for example, processors were able to accelerate the packaging process and create more consistently packaged items.

In the food processing industry, this can come in the form of robots with soft silicon grippers and attachments, which help companies package delicate products.

Workers production line
Workers in a factory sorting food by hand, could be assisted by new robot technology. (Unsplash image)

Preventing Cross Contamination

Despite improved food safety standards, foodborne disease outbreaks remain common in the United States.

The use of robots can help control cross-contamination in food processing plants.

With any human labor force comes the risk of cross-contamination. Workers assigned to packaging foods can easily transport pathogens from product to product or from one area of the facility to another. This is especially true in sites that process raw meat products. Even when following proper site hygiene practices, it’s possible for workers to unintentionally transport pathogens and other contaminants from one workcell to another.

Because work in food processing facilities is often shoulder-to-shoulder, it’s also easy for contaminants to spread from one worker to another once a particular cell has been contaminated.

Robots that are fixed in place and handle all the aspects of a particular packaging job can help localize potential contamination, making it easier for processors to minimize cross-contamination and keep food safe.

Robots can still contribute to cross contamination if not properly cleaned, but an additional set of robots could solve this problem, too. For example, one a provider of robots for the food processing industry has developed a set of robots capable of washing down an entire workcell.

These robots, working in pairs, activate at the end of each operating cycle and use high-powered jets of water to wash down the workcell, the packaging robots used there, and themselves.

Collaborative Robotics (Cobots)

One major recent innovation in robots has a new focus on tech that is collaborative.

These new robots, unlike conventional robotics, aren’t always built to fully automate a particular task. Instead, they are built to interact and work collaboratively alongside humans where necessary.

Artificial intelligence-based machine vision technology helps them navigate factory floors safely or assist in tasks like assembly and machine tending. Safety features like force limiters and padded joints help prevent injuries that can occur while working in close proximity to conventional robots.

These features also enable them to work in tight spaces without the use of safety cages that conventional robots sometimes require. In factories and food processing plants, they can provide assistance and speed up existing workflows.

For example, an article in Asia Pacific Food Industry cites one case study from a Swedish food processor, Orkla Foods. The company integrated cobots into a production line packaging vanilla cream, freeing up the human workers who had been responsible for the task. Before the cobots were introduced, workers had to bag and manually pack the vanilla cream into cartons.

Even with cobots, human workers are still necessary for tasks that require judgment, creativity, and problem-solving skills. Cobots can take over tasks that don’t lend themselves well to automation. These tasks tend to be tedious, dull, or even dangerous due to the repetitive motions workers need to make.

Even if a task can’t be fully automated, cobots can still help improve efficiency and boost accuracy. These robots provide the most significant benefits for businesses that need flexibility and agility in production.

Cobots are often lightweight and easy to reprogram on-the-fly, allowing workers to quickly move them from task to task as needed. In many cases, an entire fleet of cobots can be repositioned and reprogrammed in half a day, allowing a business to reconfigure its robots to handle entirely new tasks without additional capital investment.

This flexibility can also make cobots a better fit for personalized products than other systems. As product specifications change, a cobot can be easily programmed and reprogrammed to handle the differences.

The use of these robots can also help prevent cross contamination, like more conventional robotics.

Sector-Specific Applications

A handful of sectors within the food processing industry can also benefit from niche robotics designed to automate certain specific tasks.

Danish robotics manufacturer Varo, for example, developed a line of cake decorating and filling robots. These robots are designed with technology that allows them to determine which cake will be decorated next, minimizing the amount of human involvement needed to operate.

While these robots won’t be useful for every manufacturer, they are a good example of how many sectors within the industry stand to benefit from robots that can automate niche tasks.
Using Food Processing Robots to Improve Product Quality and Consistency
Robots help automate tasks that are dull, dirty or dangerous. In doing so, they typically provide businesses with significant upgrades to process accuracy, speed, and consistency.

New technology—like machine vision and collaborative robotics technology—is helping to expand the use cases of robots in the food processing industry. These robots can often improve product quality more effectively than process changes alone, and may help manage a labor gap that could persist well into the future.

Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series

2021 FSC Episode 3 Preview: COVID-19’s Lasting Impact on the Food Industry

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series

This week’s episode of the 2021 Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series will examine The New Normal: COVID-19’s Lasting Impact on the Food Industry. The following are highlights for this Thursday’s session:

  • COVID & Manufacturing, with April Bishop, Treehouse Foods
  • Impact of COVID-19 on Food Safety & Quality Teams, and Strategies for Moving Forward, with Jill Stuber, The Food Safety Coach
  • The Intersection of COVID, Technology and Consumer Changes, with Darin Detwiler, Northeastern University
  • COVID & Business Continuity Planning, with Douglas Marshall, Ph.D., Eurofins
  • TechTalks from RizePoint and Bayer

This year’s event occurs as a Spring program and a Fall program. Haven’t registered? Follow this link to the 2021 Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series, which provides access to all the episodes featuring critical industry insights from leading subject matter experts! Registration includes access to both the Spring and the Fall events. We look forward to your joining us virtually.

LIMS, Laboratory information management system, food safety

How Advanced LIMS Brings Control, Consistency and Compliance to Food Safety

By Ed Ingalls
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LIMS, Laboratory information management system, food safety

Recent food scandals around the world have generated strong public concerns about the safety of the foods being consumed. Severe threats to food safety exist at all stages of the supply chain in the form of physical, chemical and biological contaminants. The current pandemic has escalated the public’s concern about cross contamination between people and food products and packaging. To eliminate food risks, manufacturers need robust technologies that allow for reliable monitoring of key contaminants, while also facilitating compliance with the ISO 17025 standard to prove the technical competence of food testing laboratories.

Without effective data and process management, manufacturers risk erroneous information, compromised product quality and regulatory noncompliance. In this article, we discuss how implementing a LIMS platform enables food manufacturers to meet regulatory requirements and ensure consumer confidence in their products.

Safeguarding Food Quality to Meet Industry Standards

Food testing laboratories are continually updated about foodborne illnesses making headlines. In addition to bacterial contamination in perishable foods and ingredient adulteration for economic gains, chemical contamination is also on the rise due to increased pesticide use. Whether it is Salmonella-contaminated peanut butter or undeclared horsemeat inside beef, each food-related scandal is a strong reminder of the importance of safeguarding food quality.

Food safety requires both preventive activities as well as food quality testing against set quality standards. Establishing standardized systems that address both food safety and quality makes it easier for manufacturers to comply with regulatory requirements, ultimately ensuring the food is safe for public consumption.

In response to food safety concerns, governing bodies have strengthened regulations. Food manufacturers are now required to ensure bacteria, drug residues and contaminant levels fall within published acceptable limits. In 2017, the ISO 17025 standard was updated to provide a risk-based approach, with an increased focus on information technology, such as the use of software systems and maintaining electronic records.

The FDA issued a notice that by February 2022, food testing, in certain circumstances, must be conducted in compliance with the ISO 17025 standard. This means that laboratories performing food safety testing will need to implement processes and systems to achieve and maintain compliance with the standard, confirming the competence, impartiality and consistent operation of the laboratory.

To meet the ISO 17025 standard, food testing laboratories will need a powerful LIMS platform that integrates into existing workflows and is built to drive and demonstrate compliance.

From Hazard Analysis to Record-Keeping: A Data-Led Approach

Incorporating LIMS into the entire workflow at a food manufacturing facility enables the standardization of processes across its laboratories. Laboratories can seamlessly integrate analytical and quality control workflows. Modern LIMS platforms provide out-of-the-box compliance options to set up food safety and quality control requirements as a preconfigured workflow.

The requirements set by the ISO 17025 standard build upon the critical points for food safety outlined in the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) methodology. HACCP, a risk-based safety management procedure, requires food manufacturers to identify, evaluate and address all risks associated with food safety.

LIMS, laboratory information management system
LIMS can be used to visualize control points for HACCP analysis according to set limits. Graphic courtesy of Thermo Fisher Scientific.

The systematic HACCP approach involves seven core principles to control food safety hazards. Each of the following seven principles can be directly addressed using LIMS:

  • Principle 1. Conduct a hazard analysis: Using current and previous data, food safety risks are thoroughly assessed.
  • Principle 2. Determine the critical control points (CCPs): Each CCP can be entered into LIMS with contamination grades assigned.
  • Principle 3. Establish critical limits: Based on each CCP specification, analytical critical limits can be set in LIMS.
  • Principle 4. Establish monitoring procedures: By defining sampling schedules in LIMS and setting other parameters, such as frequency and data visualization, procedures can be closely monitored.
  • Principle 5. Establish corrective actions: LIMS identifies and reports incidents to drive corrective action. It also enables traceability of contamination and maintains audit trails to review the process.
  • Principle 6. Establish verification procedures: LIMS verifies procedures and preventive measures at the defined CCPs.
  • Principle 7. Establish record-keeping and documentation procedures: All data, processes, instrument reports and user details remain secured in LIMS. This information can never be lost or misplaced.

As food manufacturers enforce the safety standards set by HACCP, the process can generate thousands of data points per day. The collected data is only as useful as the system that manages it. Having LIMS manage the laboratory data automates the flow of quality data and simplifies product release.

How LIMS Enable Clear Compliance and Optimal Control

Modern LIMS platforms are built to comply with ISO 17025. Preconfigured processes include instrument and equipment calibration and maintenance management, traceability, record-keeping, validation and reporting, and enable laboratories to achieve compliance, standardize workflows and streamline data management.

The workflow-based functionality in LIMS allows researchers to map laboratory processes, automate decisions and actions based on set criteria, and reduce user intervention. LIMS validate protocols and maintain traceable data records with a clear audit history to remain compliant. Data workflows in LIMS preserve data integrity and provide records, according to the ALCOA+ principles. This framework ensures the data is Attributable, Legible, Contemporaneous, Original and Accurate (ALCOA) as well as complete, consistent and enduring. While the FDA created ALCOA+ for pharmaceutical drug manufacturers, these same principles can be applied to food manufacturers.

Environmental monitoring and quality control (QC) samples can be managed using LIMS and associated with the final product. To plan environmental monitoring, CCPs can be set up in the LIMS for specific locations, such as plants, rooms and laboratories, and the related samples can then be added to the test schedule. Each sample entering the LIMS is associated with the CCP test limits defined in the specification.

Near real-time data visualization and reporting tools can simplify hazard analysis. Managers can display information in different formats to monitor critical points in a process, flag unexpected or out-of-trend numbers, and immediately take corrective action to mitigate the error, meeting the requirements of Principles 4 and 5 of HACCP. LIMS dashboards can be optimized by product and facility to provide visibility into the complete process.

Rules that control sampling procedures are preconfigured in the LIMS along with specific testing rules based on the supplier. If a process is trending out of control, the system will notify laboratory personnel before the product fails specification. If required, incidents can be raised in the LIMS software to track the investigation of the issue while key performance indicators are used to track the overall laboratory performance.

Tasks that were once performed manually, such as maintaining staff training records or equipment calibration schedules, can now be managed directly in LIMS. Using LIMS, analysts can manage instrument maintenance down to its individual component parts. System alerts also ensure timely recalibration and regular servicing to maintain compliance without system downtime or unplanned interruptions. The system can prevent users from executing tests without the proper training records or if the instrument is due for calibration or maintenance work. Operators can approve and sign documents electronically, maintaining a permanent record, according to Principle 7 of HACCP.

LIMS allow seamless collaboration between teams spread across different locations. For instance, users from any facility or even internationally can securely use system dashboards and generate reports. When final testing is complete, Certificates of Analysis (CoAs) can be autogenerated with final results and showing that the product met specifications. All activities in the system are tracked and stored in the audit trail.

With features designed to address the HACCP principles and meet the ISO 17025 compliance requirements, modern LIMS enable manufacturers to optimize workflows and maintain traceability from individual batches of raw materials all the way through to the finished product.

Conclusion

To maintain the highest food quality and safeguard consumer health, laboratories need reliable data management systems. By complying with the ISO 17025 standard before the upcoming mandate by the FDA, food testing laboratories can ensure data integrity and effective process management. LIMS platforms provide laboratories with integrated workflows, automated procedures and electronic record-keeping, making the whole process more efficient and productive.

With even the slightest oversight, food manufacturers not only risk product recalls and lost revenue, but also losing the consumers’ trust. By upholding data integrity, LIMS play an important role in ensuring food safety and quality.

Jason Chester, InfinityQS
FST Soapbox

Digital Revolution: Empowering the Remote Workforce and Resilience Post-COVID-19

By Jason Chester
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Jason Chester, InfinityQS

Around the world, countries are beginning to take tentative steps toward a return to normalcy following months of stay-at-home mandates and other restrictions in light of COVID-19. Slowly, we’re starting to see employees return to their offices, retail stores open their doors, and restaurants welcome back patrons. However, many will find themselves in a world dramatically different from the one they left before quarantine.

Namely, on top of social distancing and disinfection measures to control further spread of the virus, entire industries are re-examining their legacy processes and systems—especially ones that presented operational challenges at the pandemic’s outbreak—the food manufacturing industry included.

In truth, food manufacturers have gone to great lengths to maintain productivity and output to meet demand throughout the pandemic. But they have done so in the face of unprecedented circumstances, with many plants operating with limited workforces and key employees like quality professionals and plant managers shifted to remote work. Lacking connectivity between those on the plant floor and at home due to long-held manual processes, a growing number of manufacturers must now take a hard look at their quality and safety programs and embrace digital tools.

A Wake-Up Call for Digital Transformation

Most technological investments in food manufacturing over the past several decades have centered on electro-mechanical automation designed to scale up the physical production process. Fewer investments, however, have been made on the equally important data-driven, decision-making process necessary for ensuring optimal performance, food quality and safety.

Even in the most heavily automated plants, it’s not uncommon to find manufacturers managing quality through manually updated spreadsheets, which are often only reviewed after the fact, when it’s too late for remedial correction. There are unfortunately also those who still rely on paper checklists, making it practically impossible to take proactive action on collected process data—much less get the information in front of remote quality professionals and managers. Meanwhile, others have gone as far as adopting software solutions for quality data management and process control, but these tend to be on-premises systems that employees can’t access outside of the four walls of the plant.

We have also seen many examples where, due to workforce restrictions and availability, employees from other parts of the manufacturing business (e.g., R&D, IT, and back-office teams) have been brought in to perform plant-floor activities like quality and food safety checks. The goal has been to prevent impediments to production output, just when demand has increased substantially. But ensuring that these employees perform the checks on time and in the correct way—with little time for training or coaching—has left many plant leaders in a precarious position.

The challenges seen with these capabilities and enabling geographically dispersed teams to work together through the pandemic have been a wake-up call of sorts for digital transformation. Manufacturers are coming to the realization that they’ll need data accessibility, actionability and adaptability along the road to recovery and in the post-COVID-19 world. And with social distancing and other workplace precautions expected to continue for the foreseeable future, the imperative is all the more urgent.

The Solution Lies in the Cloud

To digitally transform quality and safety programs today, food manufacturers should prioritize investment in the cloud. Notably, cloud-based quality management systems offer a way to standardize and centralize critical process information, as well as tools to empower employees at all levels of the enterprise.

For plant-floor operators struggling to keep up on account of reduced workforce sizes, such solutions can automate routine yet important activities for quality assurance, including data collection, process monitoring and reporting. If a team member needs to cover a different shift or unfamiliar task, role-based dashboards can help them to see required actions, while process workflows can provide guidance to ensure proper steps are taken even with a limited workforce. Further, automated alerts can provide timely notifications of any issues—whether it be a missed data collection or an actual food quality or safety concern present in the data.

Perhaps most importantly during the pandemic and for the post-COVID-19 world, the cloud makes critical quality data instantly and easily accessible from anywhere, at any time. Quality professionals, plant managers, and other decision-makers can continue to monitor and analyze real-time process data, as well as observe performance trends to prevent issues from escalating—all safely from home.

The scalability of cloud-based solutions also streamlines deployment so organizations can rapidly implement and standardize on a single system across multiple lines and sites. In doing so, it becomes possible to run cross-plant analyses to identify opportunities for widescale process improvement and align best practices for optimal quality control at all sites. This ability to understand what’s happening in production—through real-time data—to enact agile, real-world change is a hallmark of successful digital transformation.

An Investment for Whatever the Future Holds

Ultimately, investments in secure cloud-based quality management and the broader digital transformation of manufacturing operations are investments in not only perseverance during the pandemic, but also resilience for the future. Food producers and manufacturers who can readily access and make informed decisions from their data will be the ones best equipped to pivot and adjust operations in times of disruption and uncertainty. And while it’s unclear what the future holds for the world, the food industry, and COVID-19, it’s safe to say we likely won’t see a full return to normalcy but the emergence of a new—and in many ways better—normal, born out of digital solutions and smarter ways of thinking about quality data collection and monitoring.

Poll: Food Manufacturers Challenged with Limited Resources, FSMA, Staff Training, and Information Overload

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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In the age of increasingly fewer resources and less time, companies are challenged to effectively train staff and meet ever-changing regulatory requirements, while successfully managing their suppliers and customer expectations.

In its annual Food Safety & Quality Assurance (FSQA) Professional Survey, TraceGains polled professionals in food manufacturing, processing and distribution on their top priorities, challenges and predictions for 2015.  “Quality isn’t suffering, but not having enough resources—which typically means money, leads to non-optimal staffing—does have a negative effect on the workforce,” says Gary Nowacki, CEO of TraceGains. Nowacki tells Food Safety Tech how companies are managing these challenges.

Food Safety Tech: How are companies managing the lack of resources? Is it negatively affecting how they operate from a safety and quality perspective?

Gary Nowacki: People have to work more hours or do more jobs. They often cannot advance in their careers because there is no skill redundancy, and [they] cannot do much of the proactive work they’d rather be performing to help their company excel. This is especially true as the number of audits has increased rather than decreased as has been promised, which command a strong resource commitment from a limited pool.
 
FST: How are firms preparing for the changing regulatory and compliance requirements, especially regarding final FSMA rules?

Nowacki: We’ve seen two approaches prevail: Being extremely proactive now or purposely waiting until the last minute to push off any potential expenses associated with compliance. The lengthy rollout of the Food Safety Modernization Act hasn’t helped spurn companies into action. Considering that food processing and manufacturing is a very low-margin business, it is understandable that many companies wish to have full clarity before committing the required resources. We haven’t found anyone who does not wish to be complying with FSMA—there is great respect for the purpose of the law, and all companies that we have encountered practice food safety first.

Credit: 2015 Annual TraceGains FSQA Professional Survey
Credit: 2015 Annual TraceGains FSQA Professional Survey

 

FST: How is information overload affecting how companies operate? What advice can you offer firms?

Nowacki: Information overload goes hand-in-hand with limited resources. Ever-increasing upstream requirements, be they regulatory or industry driven, command ever-increasing downstream requirements. This, coupled with the fact that most organizations still operate in siloed departments, puts increasing strain on data collection, analysis, and retention requirements. Automation, specifically software-based automation, can help companies accomplish more, but we don’t advocate “with less”.

Further, automation can help break down those department and information silos, as decisions can then be easily made from shared data. One of the things we often sense first is that automation is expected to replace people—that has been very true globally in manufacturing—so there is a great deal of fear or uncertainty involved. Our experience has been that automation helps the limited human resources be more productive and, more importantly, more proactive. Automation helps move people from clerical, error-prone tasks to higher-level and more strategically important tasks, as the overwhelming amounts of data are being handled digitally.

Millennials Are Changing the Food Industry

By Chelsey Davis
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Millennials are definitely changing the landscape of the food industry. What do they care about when it comes to food, and what does this mean for food manufacturers?

TraceGains_Millennials1

We’ve all heard the latest trends regarding that hard-to-reach audience we’ve dubbed the Millennials (those born roughly between the years 1980 and the early 2000s). And with so many how-to articles out there, it’s hard to really understand who these folks are and what they want. Here are just a few fun facts about this generation: 50 percent consider themselves politically unaffiliated, they have the highest average number of Facebook friends, 55 percent have posted a selfie or two to social media sites, and there are roughly 80 million of them. This makes Millennials the biggest generation thus far. And one thing is for certain, based on research, they are definitely changing the landscape of the food industry. So what do Millennials care about when it comes to food?

Millennials care about quality and sustainability

According to a 2014 study by the International Food Council (IFC), Millennials have the highest level of awareness out of any age group when it comes to food sustainability, and they are willing to pay more for it. And when it comes to quality vs. price, Millennials are more apt to be loyal to a brand deemed to have quality products as opposed to a brand that has a better price point.

Quality versus price for Millennials  (Image courtesy of Bushiness Insider via Goldman Sachs)
Quality versus price for Millennials (Image courtesy of Business Insider via Goldman Sachs)

Take McDonald’s for example. In August of 2013, the fast-food chain reported a 13 percent decline in consumption for people between the ages of 19-21 since 2011. And while Millennials are still dinning out, they are opting for franchises like Chipotle and Five Guys. Why? These chains pride themselves on using local producers and sustainable food items, which makes paying that extra $2.00 for guacamole not so bad to this generation.

Additionally, Millennials are more apt to choose products that are socially responsible and produce lower carbon footprints. For example, Millennials are now paying attention to how much energy, water and effort it takes to grow, manufacture and transport food, including the packaging process. And as this environmentally friendly generation matures and moves into prime spending age, manufacturers will need to evolve the packaging of food products to ensure they are created with eco-friendly and recyclable materials if they wish to appeal to these folks.

Millennials care about their health

This generation, as research states, is more aware of their health than any other generation thus far, especially when it comes to what goes into their bodies. Locally grown, cage-free, all-natural, organic—these are all terms Millennials tend to gravitate towards when making food choices. As a result, organic coffee shops are popping up everywhere, farm-to-table restaurants are all the rage, and even private label brands are seeing increases in sales, with Millennials opting for those over national brands due to the perception that these labels are more innovative.

Millennials are also reading labels and are more aware of what the items on the labels mean—they understand the ingredients and what goes into their food more so than their parents and grandparents. As a result, we’re seeing an increase in natural and organic claims as we navigate through the grocery aisles.

Graphic showing wellness stats for Millennials  (Image courtesy of Bushiness Insider via Goldman Sachs)
Graphic showing wellness stats for Millennials
(Image courtesy of Bushiness Insider via Goldman Sachs)

What this means for food manufacturers

Food manufacturers have an interesting challenge ahead, but also a great opportunity. The ones that will ultimately gain popularity among Millennials will be those that are willing to innovate while staying authentic. Millennials not only value the transparency of brands, they are also aware of shortcomings when it comes to unsubstantiated claims. Food manufacturers must now walk the line between making all-natural and sustainable product claims, and being 100 percent truthful in their statements. When it comes down to it, Millennials will do the research, read the labels and uncover the truth.

So how do you appeal to Millennials, while also mitigating the risks when it comes to labeling your product natural, organic or GMO-free? To answer tough questions like this, TraceGains got the inside scoop from Attorney Antonio Gallegos, who advises on compliance with regulations administered by the FDA, FTC, USDA and similar state-level agencies, and co-produced a guidance report. Use this free Natural Labeling Guidance Report to help you make informed decisions in the future for your products. Do you have additional tips for reaching Millennials? Leave a comment below and let us know!

PerkinElmer Launches New Software for Rapid Detection of Food Adulterants

Adulterant Screen™ software pairs with PerkinElmer’s advanced FT-IR spectroscopy instruments for single-step screening and analysis of food authenticity and nutritional components.

PerkinElmerAdulterantScreenPerkinElmer Inc., a global leader focused on improving the health and safety of people and the environment, today announced the launch of its Adulterant Screen™ software. This automated solution can help food industry professionals evaluate the integrity of food ingredients to guard against existing and potential food adulteration threats.

Adulterant Screen software, when paired with PerkinElmer’s Fourier Transform Infrared (FT-IR) and Near Infrared (NIR) spectroscopy instruments, creates a unique, combined hardware and software system that can confirm authenticity and perform nutritional analysis in a single step.

“Food quality professionals face an increasing number of risks related to their ingredients which need to be continually screened for known contaminants as well as unknown contaminants that may be unsafe substitutions,” said Jon DiVincenzo, President, Environmental Health, PerkinElmer. “We are committed to delivering advanced detection solutions to help our global customers address increasingly complex industry regulations related to food quality control and safety in the supply chain.”

Adulterant Screen software performs rapid, targeted and non-targeted screening for several types of adulterants. Its customized set-up enables fast, effective implementation without lengthy calibrations. Its simple and intuitive green light/red light, “pass/fail” results system enables easy implementation, regardless of the knowledge level of its users. Click here for more information on the Adulterant Screen software.

PerkinElmer also offers the DairyGuard™ milk powder analyzer, a near infrared (NIR) spectrometer specifically developed for food suppliers and manufacturers. The DairyGuard analyzer is the only system available that tests for unknown adulterants as well as known compounds.

Rick Biros, President/Publisher, Innovative Publishing Co. LLC
Biros' Blog

Two New Proposed Rules. In about a year, it’s HACCP for everybody!

By Rick Biros
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Rick Biros, President/Publisher, Innovative Publishing Co. LLC

Some of the most boring press conferences are when coaches face the press after a game. Most of the questions coming from the press corps are not well thought out. It’s like they are just asking questions just because they can. While the coaches are required to be accessible to the press, I appreciate it when they put some personality and thought into their answers. One time, former Chicago Bears coach Mike Dikta confronted a reporter with “What’s the difference between a three-week-old puppy and a sportswriter? In six weeks, the puppy stops whining.”

The reason some of us watch these press conferences is for the remote possibility the coach actually says something interesting or even better, when they break down under the weight of all the really stupid questions. There was a Coors Light commercial series with coaches completely losing it. Football fans might remember former Indianapolis Colts coach Jim Mora whining “Playoffs?”  See video 

Bill Parcells, former head coach of the New York Giants was classic. Parcells had no patience for stupidity and used to yell at reporters, “That’s a really stupid question. Next question!”

Dr. Margaret Hamburg, Commissioner and Michael Taylor, Deputy Commissioner from FDA held a press conference Friday, January 4 announcing two new proposed food safety rules that I had the pleasure of attending. Hamburg said “This is a very big step in direction of creating a comprehensive prevention-based food safety system.”

The first rule proposed would require makers of food to be sold in the United States, whether produced at a foreign- or domestic-based facility, to develop a formal plan for preventing their food products from causing foodborne illness. The rule would also require them to have plans for correcting any problems that arise. A.K.A. HACCP. 

In the past, FDA enforced HACCP in seafood and juice. USDA enforced HACCP in meat and poultry. In about a year, it’s HACCP for everybody! Here’s the link to the rule: http://www.fda.gov/Food/FoodSafety/FSMA/ucm334115.htm

The second proposed rule proposes enforceable safety standards for the production and harvesting of produce on farms. FDA is targeting the five pathways of microbiological contamination: water, worker hygiene, soil materials, animals and packing houses – http://www.fda.gov/Food/FoodSafety/FSMA/ucm334114.htm

We are now in a 120-day review period for the two proposed rules. Taylor said, it typically takes the agency about a year to review the comments and issue the final rule.  So, we are looking at HACCP being the law of the land in all segments of the food industry in 2014.

The question food companies need to ask is not what will FDA’s HACCP rule look like in 2014, but how good is our HACCP plan now? Hamburg said the preventive controls rule is basic common sense food safety. Use 2013 as the year to revisit your HACCP plan. When was it last revised? What type of records are you keeping? Simply, if you have a good HACCP plan in place now, regulatory compliance should not be difficult. 

In the press conference, Hamburg said that additional rules to follow soon include new responsibilities for importers to verify that food products grown or processed overseas are as safe as domestically-produced food, and accreditation standards to strengthen the quality of third-party food safety audits overseas.

Unlike many coaches after a game, Hamburg and Taylor did a good job communicating their points. However, it was the consumer press with their questions that brought to mind how well composed Hamburg and Taylor stayed handling questions such as “How many foodborne illnesses will be prevented if these rules are carried out,” “How much does this cost,” and the best one, “How will FDA make sure farms will prevent wildlife from contaminating fields?” They remained cool and politely answered the questions. I guess they have more patience than me.

That last question made me think, how would Bill Parcells answer that? Picture this old grouchy guy who doesn’t care what anybody thinks of him rephrasing the question: “You want me to tell you how my agency will make sure farms are preventing wildlife from walking through or flying over the fields?? Next question!”

FST Soapbox

The Private Food Label Dilemma

By Barbara Levin
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Prevention-based food safety and quality assurance technologies have a good return on investment, and may be critical to the ongoing financial health of the food private label industry.

Tuesday morning I had my typical breakfast while running out the door – Trader Joe’s almond butter on a toasted whole grain waffle. Good, and good for you, as my mom likes to say. Then of course I got to my desk, looked through my daily FSQA news feeds, and saw that the peanut butter recall was expanded to almond butter – and to other brands besides Trader Joe’s from the supplier, Sunland!

Well so far so good – I’m healthy and not in a high risk group, but it did make me think once again about the problem for food retailers that – in the need to remain competitive for shelf space in their own stores – have turned to private labeling for more and more products store-wide.

I’m a big fan of Trader Joe’s.  I buy a lot of their private label brands – everything from almond butter, to tomato sauce to olive oil. And they did a good job of aggressively getting the tainted nut butters off of their shelves.

But it does make one think of the added challenge for those manufacturing and selling private label goods – where a manufacturer problem can create a huge negative impact on your private label brand. Obviously in cases such as the Sunland nut butters, the ability to trace where the product had gone was key for recalling it. And while that ability is critical – the initial damage to the private label brands is done. Now, it’s just a matter of how extensive the damage is and how much it will cost to repair: loss of inventory, loss of sales, loss of consumer confidence and of course the cost of illness and related lawsuits which have already begun to follow.

And this doesn’t count the non-direct costs – such as advertising to eventually get those customers back – those who may now be “private label shy” and go back to the brand names under the perception that they may be safer.

We challenge the industry to look not just at reactive measures – but proactive, preventative measures as well. How are you leveraging food safety and quality technology? Are you using technology only to trace back once a problem has already occurred? Or are you also using technology to help prevent contaminated ingredients from going into production – and non-compliant finished goods from being labeled and shipped – in the first place. Are you as retailers putting this extra pressure on your manufacturers to take not just the reactive steps but the proactive ones as well?  

Prevention-based food safety and quality assurance technologies have a good return on investment, and may be critical to the ongoing financial health of the food private label industry. Have a thought on this topic? Join the conversation by posting a comment below.

Rick Biros, President/Publisher, Innovative Publishing Co. LLC
Biros' Blog

Food Safety Supply Chain Quality Assurance

By Rick Biros
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Rick Biros, President/Publisher, Innovative Publishing Co. LLC

Both the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) and the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) have certainly raised the awareness of food safety in the supply chain.  The subject has been covered extensively by Food Safety Tech with articles such as the Taylor Farms Unnecessary Recall, and Product Tracing.  Earlier this year, at Food Safety Tech’s Supply Chain Vulnerabilities Conference we learned about many supply chain threats to food companies.

Last month, Food Safety Tech Editorial Advisors David Acheson, Jennifer McEntire and Jerry Roberts met with Tom, Beth and me in Philadelphia to discuss the next Food Safety Supply Chain Conference.  After an lively conversation over lunch, David commented that the topics we were proposing for the next conference were so numerous that we were looking at an eight day conference, thus, the conference series was established!

Food safety in the supply chain is certainly immense and overwhelming topic.  Through the conference evaluation forms we learned it’s one thing to learn about the problems, it’s another to know what the solutions are!

Food Safety Tech has taken steps to help the food industry tackle these challenges by developing a Food Safety Supply Chain Conference series and premiering the Supply Chain Resource Center.  Both will inform you on the threats to your company from the supply chain, but equally, if not more importantly, how to deal with these threats with best practices and technology solutions.

The October two day Food Safety Supply Chain Conference in Philadelphia focuses on:

  • Food Safety Supply Chain Quality Assurance
  • Traceability
  • Recall Management Strategies
  • Legal Liabilities

You will learn not only the vulnerabilities in the supply chain that you need to protect your company from, but also learn of best practices and technology tools to help you reduce your company’s exposure to food safety recalls as a result of your suppliers and improve profitability.  Simply, the goal is to provide practical information that after attending the conference you can begin implementing what you learn at your company immediately.

The Supply Chain Resource Center, sponsored by SafetyChain Software is a microsite within FoodSafetyTech.com that is a central point or repository of food safety supply chain news, articles, white papers, case histories, videos, archived webinars and more.  The Resource Center is more than just didactic content.  You can become an active member of the industry by participating in the interactive poll.  “Food for Thought” allows you to voice your opinion and thoughts.  “More Resources,” on the lower right are helpful industry links and the “Safety Chain Learning Center” is content posted by the sponsor.  We encourage you to bookmark the page and visit the Resource Center on a weekly basis to review most current news on food safety supply chain quality assurance in one convenient spot.

Later this year, we plan to roll out more Resource Centers on topics such as Traceability, Recall Management, Food Safety Audits, Food Microbiology, Food Forensics and Food Safety Training.  Please feel free to contact me if you are interested in contributing content or are interested in the sponsorship opportunities.

Both the Food Safety Supply Chain Conference and the Supply Chain Resource Center demonstrate Food Safety Tech’s belief that while many food companies have a good handle on their own food safety programs, their exposure to food safety incidents is getting higher with the larger, more global food supply chain and it is our job as a trusted information provider to educate the industry on the vulnerabilities as well as the solutions to these challenges.

All the best!

Rick Biros
Publisher/President