Tag Archives: packaging

Stephen Dombroski, QAD
FST Soapbox

8 Reasons Sustainability is Critical in Food and Beverage Manufacturing

By Stephen Dombroski
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Stephen Dombroski, QAD

Sustainability pushes a lot of our hot buttons—it’s a political issue, an economic concern, and a social conversation. Some people even see it as a moral matter. Sometimes it’s on the back burner, but then it blazes back into the headlines. Sustainability is, arguably, an industry unto itself, since the economic impact on companies trying to adhere to government guidelines or react to consumer preferences can be in the billions of dollars across a wide range of markets. Sustainability demands are hitting a variety of industries, not just food and beverage. For example, the move from the internal combustion engine to the electric vehicle can be called a “sustainability” issue.

The Eight Elements of Sustainability
1. Consumer preferences
2. Climate change
3. Food insecurity
4. Food waste
5. New foods
6. Packaging
7. Regenerative agriculture
8. Transportation and regulatory restrictions
In light of the many disruptors in the food and beverage industry and most recently, due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, sustainability is now front-page news. This article will discuss eight reasons why sustainability is now one of the defining issues in food and beverage manufacturing. Future articles in this series will examine each issue in more detail.

Consumer Preferences

The green consumer wants brands to embrace purpose and sustainability, and they want their purchases to contribute to the greater good, or at least, do no harm. The demand started among millennials and Gen Zers, but with the influence of social media, it’s expanded to all demographics.

The industry has been forced to introduce healthier products, with more ethically-sourced ingredients and more transparent supply chains. Younger consumers, especially, often trace a brand’s sustainability record with QR codes or smart labels. They want to know from where their food originates.

These consumer actions and attitudes are now influencing the development of new food items and packaging designs as manufacturers realize consumers are taking notice.

Climate Change

Warming is causing the earth’s poles, permafrost and glaciers to melt and the oceans to rise. Average sea levels have swelled more than eight inches since 1880, with about three of those inches gained in the last 25 years. Here’s the impact on sustainability—when sea levels rise and warm, flooding can occur, causing coastal seawater contamination and erosion of valuable farmland. Higher air temperatures may also rule out the cultivation of some valuable crops (gasp, chocolate!).

Hotter temperatures can also cause insect body temperatures to rise; they need to eat more to survive and may live through the winter instead of dying off. A larger, more active insect population could threaten crops. And changes to water, soil and temperature could affect the complex ecosystems of the world’s farms, causing plant stress and increasing susceptibility to disease. The food manufacturing and farming industries are starting to investigate new ways of growing food in environments that can protect crops from these changes.

Food Insecurity

Food demand is expected to increase anywhere from 59% to 98% by 2050. Populations are growing and due to rising incomes, demand is ramping up for meat and other high-grade proteins. At the same time, climate change is putting pressure on natural and human resources, making it challenging to produce enough food to meet the world’s needs.

The world agrees that governments, manufacturers and consumers have a social responsibility for to do their part to combat world hunger. Consumers are becoming more aware of food security and the threat that climate change poses. People are attempting to eat sustainably with meals designed to have a lower environmental impact, and incorporating an awareness of plate portions and food waste.

World health organizations are also stepping up. The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) is the food-assistance branch of the United Nations and the world’s largest humanitarian organization, addressing hunger and promoting food security. The WFP works to help lift people out of hunger who cannot produce or obtain enough food for themselves, providing food assistance to an average of 91.4 million people in 83 countries each year. Food brands worldwide are offering support through donation programs, new product development to provide more nutrition with less and new sources of food.

Food Waste

Around one-third of the total food the world produces—around 1.3 billion tons—is wasted. It’s more than just the direct loss; food waste contributes heavily to climate change, making up around eight percent of total global greenhouse gas emissions. Food manufacturers are making significant efforts to reduce their food waste footprint. Is it possible to anticipate and plan for potential glitches in frozen food processing? Sustainable brands make contingency plans in advance so that food can be stored safely while a broken line is fixed, rather than let it go to waste. What should be done with raw materials left over after processing? Perhaps there are other creative uses for it—vegetable waste, for example, has been used for fertilizer.

Human behavior is a main contributor to climate change and the motivator for new sustainable practices. Over time, community attitudes can change habits, like encouraging commitments to composting or recycling. In certain communities, grocery stores and restaurants contribute leftover food to charities. Portion control at restaurants and in the home can make us healthier and also help to reduce food waste.

New Foods

In response to changing food preferences and the demand by consumers for healthier options, food and beverage companies have the opportunity to develop new foods and build a reputation for sustainability.

Brands have been working on protein alternatives, but one can argue that plant-based protein went mainstream when news broke in 2019 that both McDonald’s and Burger King were testing plant-based burgers. And with veganism and vegetarianism growing, tofu, seeds, nuts and beans are also showing up in kitchens more frequently, as are products made from them.

Did it surprise you the first time you heard about cauliflower pizza crust? Food manufacturers have been actively introducing new products like this, substituting vegetables for carbohydrate-rich grains. Product manufacturers have brought us new product options like zoodles made from squash as a substitute for spaghetti. Utilizing products differently is a sustainable tactic. In addition, it opens up new markets, expands the value chain and increases business opportunities for food and beverage manufacturers.

Packaging

Sustainability also involves sustainable or “eco-friendly” packaging. Packaging with a reduced environmental impact is becoming a consumer priority.

What is sustainable packaging? It can mean packaging made with 100% recycled or raw materials, packaging with a minimized carbon footprint due to a streamlined production process or supply chain, or packaging that is recycled or reused. There is also biodegradable packaging like containers made from cornstarch being used for takeout meals.

To help fight food waste, intelligent packaging for food can use indicators or sensors to monitor factors outside the packaging like temperature and humidity, or internal factors like freshness. Smart labels can tell an even more complete story about what sustainable practices have been used in packaging manufacturing or along the supply chain via a QR code or webpage.

Optimizing product density for transport is another sustainability technique. Minimizing packaging can reduce shipping weight and packaging waste to minimize an organization’s carbon footprint. An added benefit is that manufacturers can deliver more in less time thus improving customer service and keeping the supply chain moving.

Regenerative Agriculture

Sustainability may call for practices that maintain soil health, but regenerative agriculture goes further; it looks to reverse climate change. Regenerative techniques promote the need to restore soil health, rebalance water and carbon cycles, create new topsoil and grow food in a regenerative way—so nature has the boost it needs to sustain improvement. If the quantity of carbon in farm soils increases 0.4% each year, says the European “4 Per 1000” initiative, it could offset the 4.3 billion tons of CO2 emissions that humans pump into the atmosphere annually.

The regenerative food system market has drawn investors, wedding the benefits to both water and soil to economic incentives. Unhealthy soil requires more water to produce the same amount of food. Healthy soil resulting from regenerative agricultural practices holds more water and therefore requires less water to be added. Underground and hydroponic versions of regenerative agriculture are also emerging.

Transportation and Regulatory Restrictions

Sustainability is also dependent on transportation and the supply chain. Governments are evaluating current practices and implementing changes that can positively affect climate change.

The food and beverage industry is actively embracing other changes that affect sustainability. Electric trucks fit well with their distribution hub model, with clean, quiet, short run deliveries. Fuel usage during transportation is being considered from every angle. Local and regional food systems, where farmers and processors sell and distribute their food to consumers within a given area, use less fossil fuel for transportation because the distance from farm to consumer is shorter, and therefore reduce CO2 emissions.

These eight areas are the defining issues facing food and beverage manufacturers today in sustainability. Sustainability impacts all of us, everywhere, and food and beverage manufacturing is right in the middle of it. What this means to the manufacturing world is that they must prepare their processes, systems, infrastructure and mindset to evolve their business in tune to the evolving issue of sustainability.

Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Food Fraud Quick Bites

Wine that Wins No Awards

By Susanne Kuehne
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Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Wine label, food fraud
Find records of fraud such as those discussed in this column and more in the Food Fraud Database. Image credit: Susanne Kuehne

Italy’s Guardia di Finanz (GDF) had a case of wine fraud essentially fall into their lap when a crate of fake prestigious Tuscan wine was found at the side of a road. Scammers repackaged and mislabeled cheap wine that would have fetched almost half a million dollars in revenue. The fraud was carried out with a high level of sophistication, including identical labels, bottle caps, bottle wrappers and wooden crates, and the wine was already reserved by customers in several countries.

Resource

  1. Taylor, P. (October 16, 2020). “Italian police bust fake Tuscan wine ring, seizing 4,200 bottles”. Securing Industry.
Are Traasdahl, Crisp
FST Soapbox

Creating a Disruption Database in Response to COVID-19

By Are Traasdahl
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Are Traasdahl, Crisp

The spread and impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has been fast and furious across the globe.1 The toll on human life and the economy is being felt by everyone, everywhere. Closures of schools and restaurants, restrictions on social gatherings, the shift to working from home, and other social distancing practices have created sudden, unusually high demand spikes across a number of categories, particularly related to food.

COVID-19 in the Food Industry: Mitigating and Preparing for Supply Chain Disruptions | Attend  this complimentary webinar on-demandRepercussions from these dramatic demand surges are being felt across entire supply chains. Growers, producers, processors, manufacturers, wholesalers, and retailers of all sizes are scrambling to fill immediate shortages.2,3 At the same time, foodservice operators are reassessing their needs in response to government mandated take-out/delivery-only service. Schools are consolidating preparation and pick-up points for breakfast and lunch programs, while on-campus foodservice venues have closed at colleges and universities. Food companies are scrambling to redeploy and redirect existing inventories, as well as forecast short and mid-term demand and production requirements in the face of an unprecedented situation.

In the first several days of disruption, the immediate response is all-hands-on-deck damage control. Rightfully so. But in the flurry of activity, it is critical that those responsible for demand forecasting document the disruption as it is happening. Why? Because sales history is the foundational input of sales forecasting algorithms. Outlier events, such as COVID-19, natural disasters, extreme weather, short-term international trade restrictions, etc., have the potential to distort demand trends if they aren’t recognized and weighted appropriately in forward-looking projections. Formally documenting extraordinary events allows organizations to:

  1. Explain unusual variances to history and/or forecast
  2. Create evergreen institutional knowledge (vs. relying on individuals, scattered notes, and memory)
  3. Build a “disruption database” that can be used to make fact-based overrides to algorithm-generated statistical forecasts when a similar disruption is predicted or occurs in the future.

These “disruption databases” could ultimately serve as the foundation for even more sophisticated disruption forecasting models. As machine learning and artificial intelligence continue to evolve, these models could potentially be customized based on the type of event. Importantly, this annotation of events needs to occur within your forecasting platform so that it is permanent and visible to inform insights for all forecast users.

So, what information should you capture?

  1. Timing of the event
    • This includes specific days or weeks as well as information across the event lifecycle, including pre, during, and post event completion.
  2. Geography impacted
    • The scale of the event should also be noted. Some events are market-specific (i.e., the 2020 Nashville tornado), while others are state or region-specific (i.e. California wildfires, Hurricane Katrina) or result in national or global level impacts (COVID-19).
    • The ship-to locations of your customers relative to the disruption will influence the demand impact of the event.
  3. Customer gains & losses
    • During shortages, changes to current customer strategies should also be accounted for, such as potential volume reallocations. This could mean realignment of current customer distribution centers, temporarily not shipping to or losing specific customers, and/or even securing new customers based on your ability to supply when competitors cannot.
    • Customers may also shut down temporarily and/or delay previously scheduled new store openings. They may also reduce their hours of service and/or increase frequency of deliveries.4
  4. Channel shifts
    • The use of different channels in response to the event should also be captured. For example, in response to COVID-19, grocery retailers are seeing a significant increase in home delivery and click-and-collect orders.
    • Collaborate with your customers to quantify this shift. It may explain your volume trends (if your products are or aren’t typically purchased online) and/or suggest alternative product forms, packaging, etc. to meet both immediate needs and longer-term demand.
  5. Products impacted
    • This includes both items with demand spikes as well as those realizing unexpected demand declines. Shifts may also occur between product forms. For example, some consumer concern about bulk produce has been expressed with COVID-19 since the produce is manually stocked and shopped.5 While efforts are underway to dispel this misconception, it has impacted short-term demand for both the bulk items and their pre-packed counterparts.6,7
    • Adjacent, complementary and/or substitutable items should also be considered.8 Focusing short-term production on core varieties, cuts, forms, etc. vs. a complete assortment may allow a faster return to category (if not item-specific) in-stock levels.
  6. Ordered vs. filled quantities
    • Typically, sales reporting systems only capture what was shipped/invoiced, not what was ordered. Capturing and comparing both enables quantification of the demand “opportunity loss,” which could be factored into future “event” forecast models.
  7. Consumer sentiment and behavioral shifts
    • Specific to COVID-19, Nielsen IRI and Crisp DemandWatch have identified “phases” of consumer behavior and anticipated category purchase impacts. Noting when these phases occur in your forecasting system can provide insight into performance analysis and inform future projections. These consumer patterns may also have application to other extreme events, such as natural disasters.9,10
    • In the face of significant disruptions, look for, leverage, and annotate relevant consumer insights to inform the forecast. Link the annotation to a central archive of relevant research and data to expand access and understanding across your organization.
  8. Raw material, ingredient, packaging, labor or other sourcing issues
    • Note any shortages that impacted your ability to meet demand. Your ability to satisfy demand may be impacted by your own suppliers’ ability to get you the necessary inputs and/or your ability to staff production runs.
  9. Distribution & logistics issues
    • Access to truck, rail, and/or air transportation of products may also be disrupted by the event. Note any logistics constraints to delivering finished goods to customers.
  10.  Competitor activity/disruptions
    • New product launches, delivery systems, ownership, facility fires, labor shortages or disputes, weather patterns, and more that impact your competitors can also influence demand for your products, both in the short and long term.

In the heat of the crisis, this level of documentation may sound burdensome. Even if you start with notes on a scratch pad, email chains, and a collection of industry newsletters, set aside one morning or afternoon a week to annotate within your forecasting platform the factors that impacted demand that week. Continue to post notations in the week each specific disruption-driving factor begins and each week thereafter until its impact has dissipated. Keeping up with annotations as you go along will keep things fresher in your mind and can help inform immediate and near-term plans.

Disruption Database
Disruption databases can serve as the foundation for more sophisticated disruption forecasting models. As machine learning and artificial intelligence continue to evolve, these models can be customized based on the type of event. (Figure courtesy of Crisp).

Don’t forget that pantry loading shelf-stable items early in a disruption may significantly impact post-disruption sales, as consumers work through inventory they have at home. Track this as well. Best-in-class forecasting platforms, such as the example shown in Figure 1, can effectively leverage advanced computing power and analytics to help visualize the impact of COVID-19 on supply and follow-on effects predicted to be felt in your markets. The disruption information you track can be gathered, organized, and analyzed along with trillions of data points from disparate sources to generate high-quality statistical demand forecasts and actionable insights with speed and precision.

When the dust settles on this current event, take the time to document other historical disruptions. Working in reverse chronological order, gather as much date-specific archived data and tribal knowledge as you can, and add it to the annotations in your forecasting platform. The next time a disruption occurs (and it will!), you will be equipped to draw on this “database of disruptions” to proactively predict and respond to future impacts on demand.

References

  1. Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). (2020. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  2. Fares, M, Baertlein, L. (2020). Factories shift operations in scramble to restock supermarket shelves. Yahoo! finance.
  3. Redman, R. (2020). Coronavirus: How leading grocery chains are responding to keep customers safe and shelves stocked. Supermarket News.
  4. Wells, Jeff. (2020). Grocers modify store hours to clean and restock amid panic buying. Grocery Drive.
  5. Naidu, R, Fares, M. (2020). Wary of coronavirus, U.S. shoppers skip the fresh produce aisle. Reuters.
  6. Ward, A. (2020). COVID 19 Coronavirus Prevention: A dozen things to know about leafy greens. California LGMA.
  7. Koger, C. (2020). No reason to avoid fresh produce during outbreak. The Packer.
  8. (2020) Nielsen Investigation: “Pandemic Pantries” pressure supply chain amid COVID-19 fears. Nielsen Insights.
  9. (2020) Key consumer behavior thresholds identified as the coronavirus outbreak evolves. Nielsen Insights
  10. (2020) IRI Brief – COVID-19: Impact on CPG and Retail. Retail Wire.
Maria Fontanazza, Food Safety Tech
From the Editor’s Desk

COVID-19 in the Food Industry: So Many Questions

By Maria Fontanazza
1 Comment
Maria Fontanazza, Food Safety Tech

Industries across the global are reeling from the COVID-19 crisis. Although we are clearly not in a state of “business as usual”, the food industry is essential. And as this entire industry must continue to move forward in its duty to provide safe, quality food products, so many questions remain. These questions include: Should I test my employees for fever before allowing them into the manufacturing facility? What do we do if an employee tests positive for COVID-19? How can the company continue safe production? Should we sanitize between shifts on the production line? Should employees on the production floor wear face masks and shields? At what temperature can the virus be killed? The list truly goes on. We saw it ourselves during the first Food Safety Tech webinar last week, “COVID-19 in the Food Industry: Protecting Your Employees and Consumers” (you can register and listen to the recording here). Amidst their incredibly busy schedules, we were lucky to be graced with the presence and expertise of Shawn Stevens (food safety lawyer, Food Industry Counsel, LLC), April Bishop (senior director of food safety, TreeHouse Foods, Inc. and Jennifer McEntire, Ph.D. (vice president of food safety, United Fresh Produce Association) for this virtual event.

From a manufacturing point of view, we learned about the important ways companies can protect their employees—via thorough cleaning of high-touch areas, vigilance with CDC-recommended sanitizers, conducting risk assessments related to social distancing and employees in the production environment—along with the “what if’s” related to employees who test positive for COVID-19. Although FDA has made it clear that there is currently no indication of human transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus through food or food packaging, some folks are concerned about this issue as well.

“The U.S. food supply remains safe for both people and animals. There is no evidence of human or animal food or food packaging being associated with transmission of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19,” said Frank Yiannas, FDA deputy commissioner for food policy and response in the agency’s blog last week. “Unlike foodborne gastrointestinal viruses like norovirus and hepatitis A that make people ill through contaminated food, SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19, is a virus that causes respiratory illness. This virus is thought to spread mainly from person to person. Foodborne exposure to this virus is not known to be a route of transmission.”

As the industry continues to adjust to this new and uncertain environment, we at Food Safety Tech are working to keep you in touch with experts who can share best practices and answer your questions. I encourage you to join us on Thursday, April 2 for our second webinar in this series that I referenced earlier, COVID-19 in the Food Industry: Enterprise Risk Management and the Supply Chain. We will be joined by Melanie Neumann, executive vice president & general counsel for Matrix Sciences International, Inc. and Martin Wiedmann, Ph.D., Gellert Family Professor in Food Safety at Cornell University, and the event promises to reveal more important information about how we can work through this crisis together.

We hear it often in our industry: “Food safety is not a competitive advantage.” This phrase has never been more true.

Stay safe, stay well, and thank you for all that you do.

GREG BALESTRIER, Green Rabbit
Retail Food Safety Forum

Solving Food Safety Challenges in Today’s eCommerce Driven World

By Greg Balestrieri
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GREG BALESTRIER, Green Rabbit

Think about this number for a second: Consumers spent more than $19 billion on online grocery in 2019. While this is still a small segment of the overall $800 billion U.S. grocery market, more consumers than ever before are turning to eCommerce for the fulfillment and delivery of perishable goods, positioning the grocery delivery market to grow dramatically, especially as companies like Amazon continue to innovate in this area.

Adding to this, a recent survey found that 68% of consumers feel the freshness of perishable items is the number one quality they look for in online grocery retail. This is where things become complicated, as shipping perishables introduces an entirely new set of quality challenges for eCommerce brands. This is hindering the market from reaching its full potential until the biggest problem is solved: Ensuring food safety and freshness in every order.

This is a double-edged sword for retailers, grocers and CPGs: Interest in their service is taking off, but it takes just one package of spoiled meat or wilted vegetables to potentially lose a customer to a competitor—or even worse, get someone sick.

Today, spoilage and food safety issues are primarily driven by breakdowns in the cold chain, and it only takes one mishap to affect the quality of food throughout the rest of the delivery lifecycle. To achieve optimal freshness and keep customers happy, grocers, retailers and their trusted partners need to focus on three primary food freshness factors: Temperature, storage and packaging.

Controlling each of these issues starts at the warehouse.

Freshness Starts at the Warehouse

For most parcels, such as clothing, books and other commonly ordered goods, temperature control is rarely an issue. However, facilities that store perishable foods have a constant component to manage—temperature fluctuation.

According to the NRDC, cooling and refrigeration inconsistency is one of the biggest contributors to food spoilage and waste. This is because every food item has a definable maximum shelf life, and storing them at less than optimal or constantly changing temperatures can exacerbate and drastically shorten its timeline.

Mistakes with heightened temperatures on items like meat and poultry can also lead to bacteria growth and foodborne illnesses. In fact, the CDC estimates that 48 million people get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die from foodborne diseases each year in the United States, putting a spotlight on how seriously food safety issues need to be taken.

The Need for Proper Rotation Processes

First expiration, first out (FEFO) is a motto all organizations should live by when stocking inventory. In addition, it is a critical process when working to avoid the food spoilage crisis. It may come as a surprise, but not all distribution centers have this type of rotation system in place. This means organizations could send spoiled food to consumers because an item was pushed to the back of a refrigerator during the re-stocking process and unknowingly shipped passed its expiration date. Not only does this create massive amounts of food waste, tarnish a brand and eat into a company’s profits by replacing low margin products, but consuming a spoiled food item can also be detrimental to one’s health.

While it helps to keep these types of costly errors in mind, as warehouse operations grow, there’s no possible way to manually scale this system.

Luckily, breakthroughs in cold chain technology have produced automated solutions that help organizations track everything from expiration dates to potential recalls. These types of technology support the entire cold chain lifecycle and ensure that warehouses and their grocery partners have the visibility they need to ensure freshness from fulfillment to the customer’s doorstep.

However, when the product is ready to leave the warehouse, it’s arguably about to enter the hardest portion of the cold chain lifecycle: Delivery.

Key Considerations for Packaging

For fragile items, packaging is all about keeping the item protected from drops and damage, but for food the focus should be on keeping the item fresh and at optimum temperatures throughout the duration of transit.

Given many grocers outsource delivery, they have little interest in whether food spoils, mainly because they are unaware of the package contents and are more focused on getting the item to the right location fast and effectively.

Yet there are many obstacles that need to be addressed during the last leg of delivery. What is the temperature in the delivery vehicle? If no one is home or at the office, will the package spoil outside in the heat?

For perishables, it is imperative that spoilage rates, delays in shipping schedules and unattended delivery scenarios are important factors in determining the amount of cold pack and protective stuffing that goes into the package. If these factors are not considered, customers could return to spoiled, melted or even crushed perishables.

Getting Food Fast and Fresh

Today, grocers and retailers are bullish on building out omnichannel food initiatives. However, balancing brick and mortar locations while developing profitable and efficient online delivery systems is often more than one organization can take on. While there are trusted partners designed to support eCommerce fulfillment and delivery, few are purpose-built to handle perishable foods.

Either way, in order to see wide-scale adoption of online grocery initiatives, grocers, retailers and ecosystem partners need to start prioritizing the key temperature, storage and packaging considerations and challenges associated shipping perishable foods. Acknowledging these challenges and implementing solutions for them will not only keep your products and deliveries fresh, but they will also keep customers coming back for more.

RS Spectra

Using Raman Spectroscopy to Evaluate Packaging for Frozen Hamburgers

By Gary Johnson, Ph.D.
No Comments
RS Spectra

Raman spectroscopy (RS) can be used to identify layers in polymer food packaging films to better understand the laminated plastic’s chemical composition. A Raman spectrum is obtained by illuminating a sample with a laser and collecting and measuring scattered light with a spectrometer. Coupling the spectrometer to a microscope with a mapping stage allows an accurate way to create a chemical map of a film’s composition and structure. The map provides valuable information to better understand the packaging’s barrier properties, structural integrity and layers.

The RS method can be useful for conducting failure analysis (why did a food package fail to meet standards), supply chain validation (is the plastic what the supplier claims), decision making (which plastic should be used), and evaluating package appearance (why is there discoloring, haze or particle inclusions in the film). It provides important information for design, purchasing, product success and other decisions that food manufacturers and packagers regularly face.

Take for example the packaging used for frozen hamburger patties. The film used must be transparent to display the hamburger patties, but it also needs to provide an oxygen barrier in order to prevent the ground beef from turning brown. As such, a polymer layer with low oxygen permeability must be incorporated into the laminated film, along with other components like nylon for strength and polyethylene for heat sealing and water barrier. The most common polymer used as an oxygen barrier is ethylene-vinyl alcohol copolymer (EVOH).

It is important that the film used to package these hamburger patties includes a good heat seal as well as a proper oxygen barrier layer. The possible absence of either of these could result in the undesired effect of ground beef turning brown. Manufacturers may want to test packaging for an EVOH layer to make a purchasing decision or verify a supplier’s claims. Additionally, if the packaging fails, an analysis can determine if the failure was due to having no EVOH barrier layer in the product or if there is a need to investigate other potential issues with the packaging. Regardless of the reason, RS provides a preferable method for rapidly evaluating the plastic for an EVOH oxygen barrier layer.

The RS method can be used to determine the construction of the laminated film and confirm that it meets specifications. Using the combination of RS with microscopy and mapping allows both identification of the polymers and the evaluator to correlate the composition to the layer structure of the laminated film. This method provides a map showing the composition of each layer in the film. In some cases, the Raman map will show layers that are not resolved in the visible micrograph image. Thus, with RS, one test provides both the structure and composition of each layer of the laminated film.

Laminated film, packaging, Intertek
This sample table illustrates composition and thickness of each layer of a laminated film. Table courtesy of Intertek.

To start, a small section of the film (5 x 10 mm) is cut and mounted with a photocuring resin. A cross section of the mounted film is then cut to expose the layers for analysis. This cross-section is placed on the mapping microscope stage of the Raman instrument. A micrograph image with a 100X objective is obtained and a Raman map of the cross-section with 1 µm2 pixel resolution collected.

A map image is obtained by classical least squares (CLS) fitting example spectra to each of the spectra collected from the cross-section. The example spectra for the CLS fits are averages (mean) of the spectra in the center of each layer with a unique composition as determined by the data (see Figure 1). The final result is a color-coded map that can be superimposed on the micrograph image to show the composition and thickness of each layer in the laminated film. For example, a film with six layers composed of Nylon 6, polyethylene or EVOH would have varying thickness and placement of each layer to achieve the desired result for the product.

RS Spectra
Figure 1. Example spectra used to create the CLS model for map image.

The composition map can confirm the presence of an oxygen barrier layer of EVOH, as well as the overall construction of the laminated film. Knowing the thickness of the barrier layer is important since the gas permeability is a function of the film thickness. Determination of the overall film structure allows the end-user to confirm the film meets the specifications from the supplier. In turn, this can be used to make important purchasing decisions or insights into what caused a packaging failure.

While good, successful results will confirm the presence of an EVOH layer, the RS map may also show only polymers that don’t have the required oxygen barrier properties (see Figure 2). The manufacturer would need to check it against a supplier spec sheet. It may ultimately show that the lack of an EVOH layer is what caused the issue with the packaging. If the test is being used for decision-making purposes, the manufacturer would know not to use the product. If a supply chain validation is being run, after checking the spec sheet, the manufacturer may need to correct the situation.

Raman spectroscopy
Figure 2. Raman map overlaid with image of film cross section. Green = nylon; Red = polyethylene; Yellow = ethylene vinyl alcohol copolymer (EVOH).

What if the analysis confirmed that an EVOH layer was present, but the test was done for a failure analysis, meaning the packaging did fail at some point? If the EVOH later is present but the meat is still turning brown and/or spoiling, other potential problems would need to be evaluated. In this case, the issues would most likely be with the heat seal and additional testing of the heat seal would be necessary. Thanks to the RS analysis, the investigation into the packaging failure can proceed, and the issue with the heat seal identified.

By giving a chemical image of the packaging, RS analysis provides a wealth of information about a film that can be vital to a food manufacturer or processor. Knowing why certain films may not be working, either due to faults in chemical makeup or the need to look elsewhere, such as the heat seal, RS quickly and efficiently provides information and answers to help get products to market and meet consumer demand.

Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Food Fraud Quick Bites

In That Wine, There Is No Truth

By Susanne Kuehne
No Comments
Susanne Kuehne, Decernis
Wine, Decernis Food Fraud database
Find records of fraud such as those discussed in this column and more in the Food Fraud Database.
Image credit: Susanne Kuehne.

Booze bootleggers are still quite active since there is a lot of money exchanging hands in the high-end wine and liquor business. Fake premium Penfolds wines, which can fetch several hundred dollars per bottle, as well as acclaimed brands of adulterated whisky, were discovered and seized in a liquor store in Cambodia. Besides the fake beverages, the raid also uncovered fake labels and packaging materials.

Resource

  1. Australian Associated Press (November 28, 2019). “Fake Penfolds wine seized in raid on bootlegging operation in Cambodia”.The Guardian.

 

 

Salami, plastic packaging

Using Raman Spectroscopy to Evaluate Laminated Food Packaging Films

By Ellen Link, Gary Johnson, Ph.D.
No Comments
Salami, plastic packaging

Laminated plastics are common and popular food packaging options. They are strong and flexible, making them ideal for both packing and presentation, and can be used for cooking, frozen foods, drink pouches, snack products and even pet food. Yet, unreliable plastics can create a problem for food packaging and the safety of a product.

If a grade of plastic is not what was promised or needed, there can be issues that lead to spoilage, spills and messes, crystallization, mold or other risks. Additionally, there may be concerns about how laminated films will interact with the product itself, as it could impact food safety or lifecycle. For these reasons, it is critical to have accurate information when evaluating the plastics films used in food packaging.

Raman Spectroscopy

Raman spectroscopy (RS) is a powerful method of identifying and characterizing chemical compounds based on light scattering by a sample. It can be used to identify layers in food packaging films to accurately understand the chemical makeup of the laminated plastic. The effect is named for its inventor, C.V. Raman, who was awarded the Nobel prize in physics for its discovery in 1930. It is a non-destructive method that uses an induced-dipole mechanism to probe the vibrations of the chemical bonds in a molecule. The Raman spectrum shows a pattern of molecular vibrations that represents a detailed chemical fingerprint of a material, providing insights into the product composition.

A Raman spectrum is obtained by illuminating the sample with a laser and collecting and measuring the scattered light with a spectrometer. The molecular vibrational modes vary depending on the geometry and electronic structure of the chemical compound present in the sample. By controlling the position of the laser focus point on a sample, a map of the composition can be created. This provides valuable information on the plastic film related to its composition, such as number of layers, thickness of each layer and overall make-up.

In the food packaging and safety industry, this technique can be used to evaluate laminated plastic films by examining polymers, minerals, and/or inorganic fillers and pigments present in the film. Specific food packaging products that can benefit from RS assessments include heat seals, containers, lids, films and wrappers both for durability and performance and for diffusion, permeation or other concerns.

Benefits and Limitations

There are numerous benefits to using the RS method. A major advantage is that there is virtually no sample preparation necessary; spectra can be obtained without direct contact, such as through the sides of glass vials or through windows in reaction cells. As a non-destructive technique, it allows an easy, highly accurate way to take a sample, create a chemical composition map and better understand films’ barrier properties, structural integrity and layers. It has broad applicability and works using conventional microscope optics.

There are, of course, limitations to the approach, as well. Fluorescent components or impurities in a sample can emit a photoluminescent background that overwhelms the Raman scattering. Samples can also be damaged by the laser if too much power is used, or the sample absorbs light at the laser wavelength. Samples that do fluoresce and samples that are photolabile act as common interferences for the RS method. In many cases, these interferences can be overcome with the proper choice of laser and sampling techniques. Additionally, while RS provides an accurate analysis of laminated films, the technique cannot be used on metals or metallic compounds (which can be assessed using scanning electron microscopy or light optical microscopy) or organic pigments or ink layers (which can be assessed with other infrared techniques).

Using RS for Food Packaging

RS can offer a variety of insights for food packaging films:

  • Failure analysis. If a plastic used for a heat seal in a fruit or yogurt cup fails, it could result in a mess for manufacturers, stores or the consumer. Exposure to air or elements could also lead to spoilage, particularly for refrigerated foods. Inconsistent plastic packaging could result in weak points that break, crack or puncture, which could also result in mold, mess or other spoilage concerns. If a manufacturer experiences a failure in a heat seal or packaging leading to leakage or spoilage, RS analysis can help determine why the failure occurred (was in the plastic film or something else) to help prevent future issues.
  • Supply chain validation. It is extremely important that the plastic films coming from suppliers are what they are promising and what the manufacturer needs. RS analysis can be used to determine the chemical make-up and morphology of packaging to confirm a supplier’s claims before proceeding with use of the film in food packaging and products.
  • Simple decision making. If a manufacturer is trying to decide which material to use, RS can provide answers. For example, if there is a need for moisture non-permeating films and there are multiple options available, an RS chemical map can illustrate what to expect with each option, aiding in the decision-making process when combined with other known factors such as cost or timing. If there is an additive in the food product that may diffuse into the film, RS can determine which material might best resist the potential problem.
  • Packaging appearance. If there is a swirl or haze in the packaging, RS can compare the area with the issue to a clear section to determine if the defect in the film is a foreign polymer or an inorganic pigment or filler, identifying the source of the problem.

RS analysis provides a wealth of information in a manner that is non-destructive. Giving a chemical fingerprint to identify composition with extremely good spatial resolution gives manufacturers valuable information that can be used to mitigate issues, correct problems or make important decisions. These actions in turn can help ensure food safety, which builds brand image and manufacturer equity. Ultimately, RS analysis can play an important role in the success of a product, a brand or a company.

Sanitizing Food Manufacturing Equipment a Big Responsibility

By Kathy Avdis
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How much work you have to do to clean up after you prepare a meal at home depends on how many people you served. The more people you served, the more dishes you have to wash, generally speaking. You may only need to load a couple of dishes into your dishwasher, or you may need to roll up your sleeves and spend some time scrubbing pots and pans at your sink. Now, consider how much work it takes to clean up for the average food manufacturing or packaging facility, which produces enough food to serve hundreds, if not thousands, of people every day. Cleaning up at the end of the day for these manufacturers and packagers is more involved than running a dishwasher or getting out the sponges and brushes.

Sanitizing food manufacturing equipment is a much bigger responsibility than washing up after preparing a meal at home, as well. That’s because manufacturers and packagers have an enormous responsibility to keep their equipment clean. The potential for foodborne illnesses is something that all manufacturers and packagers need to guard against at all times. Meaning, they must follow strict food safety protocols that include cleaning and sanitizing all equipment every night. This is essential not only because it keeps them compliant with food safety regulations, but also because consumers put their faith and trust in them. An outbreak of foodborne illnesses that originates at one of these manufacturers or packagers means that trust is violated, resulting in severe consequences beyond the legal repercussions they may suffer. For these companies, keeping their equipment clean is more than a matter of good hygiene — it’s also good business.

Food manufacturers and packagers must follow a detailed, complicated series of steps to ensure that every component and element of their equipment will be safe to use in the next day’s production cycle. However, because of the complexity of the process, it can be difficult for employees to adhere to the process every time. Sometimes, certain steps may be forgotten or overlooked, which is why it’s necessary to keep a reminder of the proper protocols around at all times.

The following checklist details all of the necessary steps food manufacturers and packagers should follow to stay in compliance with food safety requirements. The responsibility they have is immense, so there’s no margin for error.

The following infographic is courtesy of Meyer Industrial.

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Avoiding Total Recalls: Regulatory Labeling for the Food and Beverage Industry

By Josh Roffman
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In recent memory, no time has more effectively demonstrated the challenges facing the food and beverage industry than spring 2018. In addition to a widely publicized recall of romaine lettuce, several other companies have instituted noteworthy product recalls. For example:

While demoralizing for food and beverage manufacturers, these recalls may also be an unavoidable part of doing business. Plants are grown outdoors, livestock lives outdoors, and no method of sterilization or disinfection is perfect. This is why regulations exist, such as FSMA or EU 1169, so that when recalls do occur, companies can efficiently find and eliminate their contaminated products, and then find the point in the supply chain where the contaminants were introduced.

Despite their necessity, food labeling and packaging regulations represent a huge challenge for food and beverage (F&B) manufacturers—and these challenges don’t exist in a vacuum. The labeling and packaging process is already a huge challenge, which includes customer requirements such as branding, cultural and linguistic localization, 2-D barcodes, and more. How can F&B companies enmesh their regulatory requirements with these existing challenges without adding to the complexity and expense of the entire undertaking?

Challenges of the Regulatory Environment

Since 2011, FSMA has been changing the way that F&B manufacturers produce, package, ship and sell food. In a departure with previous tradition, government inspectors no longer form the first line of defense against contaminated or mislabeled food. Rather, food producers and manufacturers themselves must bear the responsibility to implement procedures that prevent foodborne illness.

In short, FSMA will force F&B manufacturers to implement full transparency and traceability within their supply chains. Artwork and product labeling must be used to support these endeavors—ideally, one would be able to scan the barcode on a food package to instantly determine its origin as well as the chain of distributors that it passed through in order to reach your hands. Right now, the industry standard is well below this benchmark.

Right now, a seven-day timeline is the best-case scenario for traceability throughout the F&B supply chain. Although the endpoints of the supply chain—grocery stores and restaurants—may use modern digital records, you’ll find growers and transportation companies still using Excel and paper records.

In the meantime, a new European Union regulation known as EU 1169 went into effect in December 2016. It made a number of changes to food labeling laws, creating a uniform standard for nutritional facts information. Manufacturers must meet minimum standards for legibility, attain a minimum font size, and notify consumers about potential allergens.

Purely by coincidence, a new FDA food labeling law has also recently gone into effect. Announced in May 2016, this rule will update serving sizes found on most food packaging, alert consumers to added sugars, and more. Although these rules were originally slated to take effect in 2018, they’ve been delayed to 2020 for companies with more than $10 million in revenue, and delayed to 2021 for smaller F&B manufacturers.

To encapsulate, F&B manufacturers must now adjust to the following factors:

  • The FDA is becoming much more serious about preventing foodborne illnesses
  • To this extent, it’s begun to demand instant traceability from F&B manufacturers
  • In addition, the EU will force manufacturers to update their nutritional labeling
  • Manufacturers must update their nutritional labels in the United States as well—but differently

Barcodes and labeling already pose a complicated challenge for manufacturers, causing product recalls and packaging write-offs. Putting additional regulation on top of that solves problems in one sense, by making recalls less likely, but also creates problems in another sense—by putting pressure on artwork and labeling departments that are already overworked. After all, regulations alone aren’t the only sources of change and challenge when it comes to labeling and packaging.

Other Stressors on Labeling and Packaging within F&B Manufacturers

Changing consumer tastes, changing marketing methods, and changing technologies all play their role in adding stress to the job of labeling and packaging within the F&B manufacturing industry.

  • New Branding Needs. Packaging drives 36% of purchase decisions, which means that new and eye-catching label designs are always a must. Good design is subjective, however, and tastes change. For example, most Americans are now driven towards brands that are driven towards social and environmental causes. In other words, many F&B manufacturers may soon reorient their product artwork design to reflect this new concern.
  • International Expansion. If EU 1169 is a concern for you, it probably means that you’re selling into countries where English isn’t the only language. It’s easy to make missteps in this realm. For example, it’s possible to accidentally approve poorly translated copy, or to approve copy that’s in the wrong language entirely.
  • New Technologies. In addition to the UPC, many brands are now incorporating 2-D barcodes (such as QR codes), which provide product information when scanned by a smartphone. Although these codes are supposed to provide more information to consumers, only 34% of consumers actually scanned them as of 2014. The challenge for the labeling department is to make these codes more useful and user-friendly.

These new techniques, regions and branding requirements pose challenges. Think about the possibility of approving the right logo for the wrong country, approving out-of-date artwork, or substituting an FDA-compliant label for one that should comply with EU-1199. These things will happen, and they will necessarily lead to recalls. Here’s the question: How do you structure your artwork and labeling departments to minimize these risks?

Minimize Risks with Standardized, Centralized Labeling and Artwork Management

The secret to producing compliant labeling with up-to-date branding and correct localization is to create a system that gives you as little choice as possible. In other words, you should not find yourself wandering through a nest of file folders wondering which asset is the most up-to-date or find yourself developing separate label templates for each separate region you sell into.

Instead, your labeling and packaging artwork should be able to integrate with other business applications and content libraries to ensure your accessing the correct, most up-to-date approved content and assets. In an ideal world, if you start creating a label and select “Spain” as your target market, your labeling solution would immediately retrieve the relevant content for that target market. With the right kind of integrated, dynamic, data-driven solution you can be confident that you’ll only be dealing with complete with approved Spanish-language content for your packaging and your labeling. You would have peace of mind that your solution would generate an EU 1199-compliant nutrition label template, auto-populated with the appropriate nutrition facts. Additionally, if this label is intended for food sold only by a particular supermarket chain, you would feel confident that your solution would retrieve all of the correct content, images and barcodes required for that brand.

Improve Traceability by Replacing Sources of Confusion with Sources of Truth

To ensure accuracy and consistency, your labeling solution should integrate with your “sources of truth,” namely your ERP systems, but also potentially including your manufacturing execution systems, warehouse management systems, and more. You should be able to leverage existing business processes and vital data sources to drive labeling—to avoid replication of data and potential error, and instead automate and streamline your processes.

Recalls may be a fact of life, but using the right labeling and packaging solution will let you narrow their scope—and trace contamination to its source within a much faster window. The fastest solve for this problem involves creating a true “closed loop” for artwork and labeling—a comprehensive, integrated and automated solution to provide accurate and consistent labeling.