Food manufacturers face immense industry pressures, from eliminating production inefficiencies to reducing waste to maintaining profitability when costs continue to rise. But among the laundry list of concerns, food and plant safety ranks at the top of the list.
Foodborne diseases have always been a concern for manufacturers, but with the advent of the Internet, social media and the 24-hour news cycle, any outbreak that occurs can quickly become breaking news and put the public on high alert. The cost of a food product recall on both reputation and revenue can be swift and devastating.
Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified that 65 percent of disease outbreaks occur in restaurants, with seeded vegetables as the number one offender, the public still looks to the food processing and manufacturing plants when an outbreak first occurs.
All processors know that a proactive approach to quality, compliance and safety while diligently adhering to established guidelines is essential protection for both the consumer and the company.
There are a few key proactive measures that food processors can take to ensure quality, compliance and safety.
Proper Plant Equipment
For most food processors, product safety begins in the plant. With product running constantly, equipment and facilities that are easy to clean and durable are essential parts of any safety program.
When it comes to equipment, it is universally accepted that stainless steel is the preferred choice. From the production line to shrink packaging equipment, stainless steel has numerous benefits for the processing plant:
- Easy to Clean — Stainless steel’s smooth, non-porous surface is easy to clean and sanitize as it doesn’t have cracks that could harbor potentially dangerous bacteria.
- Corrosion Resistant — Over time, the harsh chemicals used in the wash-down process can cause areas of corrosion on some materials, creating potential danger spots for bacterial growth. Stainless steel is highly resistant to pitting and corrosion even after extended heavy use and repeated cleaning.
- Non-Reactive — Stainless steel will not take on flavors, odors or colors from the food, making it easier to clean and eliminating the worry of transfer of flavors to other products.
- Long-lasting — Stainless steel stands up to rigorous abuse, resists corrosion and requires minimal maintenance and repairs.
Once the proper equipment is in place, processors can take their commitment to safety one step further by employing packaging and ingredient advancements into their operations.
Addressing Shelf Life
Ensuring that products can remain safely on shelves is another concern for processors. While the average product shelf life can vary depending on how a product is packaged — 20-90 days for meat and poultry — processors can maintain product integrity by using packaging advancements and functional ingredients to help extend salability and safety.
Modified-atmosphere packaging enables processors to inject packaging with carbon dioxide to minimize oxidation and preserve product freshness. Similarly, post-pasteurization packaging destroys unsafe bacteria by applying a thermal or pressure treatment to products like processed meats. Finally, a bulk packaging system helps to extend the shelf life for case-ready meat and poultry in retailers by placing proteins in overwrapped trays and only bringing out product as needed.
In addition to using innovative packaging to reduce spoilage and extend shelf life, processors may also consider incorporating functional ingredients and additives into processing operations to help enhance product freshness.
In place of traditionally used phosphates, an increasing number of processors are turning to phosphate alternative solutions to eliminate organism growth, reduce free moisture and improve product yields and safety.
While stainless steel plant equipment and packaging technology empower processors to take control of safety, food packagers are also stepping up their efforts to satisfy their customer base and to instill confidence and trust.
Committing to Quality & Safety
Food processors have a responsibility to provide safe, quality products. In a world where food safety issue after food safety issue makes headlines nearly every week, it’s not enough for food processors alone to make food safety a priority. They need to partner with suppliers who share their commitment to safety.
One way that processing and packaging vendors can show that they’re on board is by earning quality certifications. There are several global food safety certification programs, such as ISO 22002 or the Food Marketing Institute’s Safe Quality Food certification program, that are widely recognized by both retailers and foodservice providers.
Certified suppliers are able to provide verifiable evidence showing that food safety control systems and monitoring procedures have been implemented. Food processors should raise the expectations for their suppliers and insist that they have one of these global quality certifications.
The priorities and demands of food safety are driving change in the industry, and forward-thinking processors are taking notice and taking charge. By proactively tackling food safety head on, processors have the opportunity to instill consumer confidence and provide the highest quality and satisfaction.