New technologies, perspectives, and global standards are impacting packaging and providing increased options for food manufacturers. While some are brand new technologies still in the research phase, others are improvements on established methods, while still others are simply an increase in the awareness and use of traditional processing. On the following pages QA takes a new look at five of these packaging processes to relay what’s new; who’s doing it; ... and why.
Codex Committee Finalizes Food Labeling Standard
In late 2017, the FAO/WHO Codex Alimentarius Committee on Food Labeling met to address several proposed changes to international labeling standards used as the basis for arbitrating trade disputes by governments around the world. Codex Alimentarius is a collection of internationally adopted food standards and related texts which, though voluntary, often serve as a basis for national legislation. At the meeting, the committee:
- Resolved some remaining issues related to date marking including the agreement to retain the list of exemptions from the date marking provisions of the General Standard for the Labeling of Prepackaged Foods (GSLPF). They noted that the list was not exhaustive, but the exemptions would not apply if food safety were compromised. With the final revisions, the GSLPF was forwarded to the Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC) for final adoption at its July 2018 session.
- Agreed to take up new work on Front of Package Labeling (subject to approval by the CAC), but did not agree to new work on consumer preference claims or a number of other topics discussed in the plenary, including alcohol labeling. Several of these proposals will be the subject of discussion papers to be reviewed at the next session of CCFL.
- Will continue their work on a stand-alone guidance document for the labeling of non-retail containers by an electronic working group (eWG) that is led by India and co-chaired by Costa Rica and the United States. For a detailed report, visit https://bit.ly/2MQQbkR.
High Pressure Processing
High Pressure Processing (HPP) is a method of preserving and sterilizing packaged food, using cold temperatures and high pressure to improve food safety. It also helps assure the quality, taste, and texture of food products and extend their shelf life. To discover how HPP is being used and the extent of awareness among food processors and retailers, Universal Pure commissioned a third-party, online survey in October 2017.
Findings from the survey, for which 80% of respondents were food producers and 20% food retailers, included:
- Familiarity and use of HPP is increasing:
- 8% of retailers have a favorable view of HPP.
- 77% producers and 74% retailers see its benefit for eliminating pathogens, allowing cleaner food labels, enhancing taste, and extending shelf life.
- 85% said HPP used by a food producer positively affects their purchasing decision.
- 81% of producers reported their companies are using HPP at some level. This is a 21% increase over responses in a similar 2016 survey commissioned by the company.
- 67% food quality
- 59% food safety 5
- 6% food waste
- 73% shelf-life extension
- 63% food safety benefits
- 58% nutrient preservation
- 54% cleaner label enablement
- 96% of retailers are more likely to purchase a product with a longer shelf life.
- 94% of food producers could expand distribution range if their products had a longer shelf life.
Can Food Packaging Impart Antimicrobial Properties?
Gastroenteritis and hepatitis, caused by human noroviruses and hepatitis A, respectively, are the most common illnesses resulting from the consumption of food contaminated with human enteric viruses. But currently, food manufacturing processes that may inactivate human enteric viruses cannot be applied without adversely affecting food quality, according to a study by a group of scientists from the Institute of Agrochemistry and Food Technology (IATA) in Valencia, Spain. Therefore, the effective prevention of contamination, new food-processing strategies, new sanitation approaches, and consumer education could reduce enteric virus numbers and thereby decrease consumer risks of enteric virus infections, the study explained.
Among these strategies, one promising technology is the use of polymers and biopolymers with antiviral activity. Food-grade polymers can be customdesigned to improve food safety, either as novel food-packaging materials imparting active antimicrobial properties, applied in food contact surfaces to avoid cross-contamination, or as edible coatings to increase fresh produce’s shelf life. The incorporation of antimicrobial agents into food-grade polymers can be used to control the food microbiota and even target specific foodborne pathogens to improve microbiological food safety and to enhance food quality. With enteric viruses responsible for one fifth of acute gastroenteritis cases worldwide, the development of food-grade polymers and biopolymers with antiviral activity for food applications is a topic of increased interest, both for academia and the food industry, even though developments are still limited.
To provide some insights into the potential of these developments to improve viral food safety, the scientists reviewed existing studies in this widely unexplored area, including those which evaluate the potential of polymers or biopolymers with antiviral activity by exploring their efficacy against hantavirus A and human norovirus, mainly using norovirus surrogates.
Comparisons among studies were complicated by the use of different virus titers, inoculum-suspending matrices, and virus-recovery procedures, as documented in the review, and antiviral polymers have been mainly applied in in-vitro experiments with different levels of success. But the authors noted that the use of metals or metal nanoparticles to render antimicrobial polymeric materials has significant potential applications. This is particularly the case in food contact and packaging applications. But there are still issues, such as regulation and efficacy at low dosages, that need to be better addressed and resolved for this technology to be widely used in industrial applications. The most promising research is oriented toward the mastering of nanoparticles, which seems to offer better stability, efficacy, and cost effectiveness.
Although there is increasing interest in the use of antimicrobial packaging and edible coatings, motivated by the increasing consumer demand for safe and stable foods, the authors found little information available in the literature about how biopolymers could act as carriers of antiviral compounds in real food samples. Therefore, the development of biopolymers with antiviral activity and their applications in the food area is, today, an open field of research that needs to be fully addressed. Read the full report.
Putting Pasteurization Into Perspective
As food and beverage processing becomes more complex and food supply chains longer, the importance of pasteurization has increased, but pasteurization is not always well understood. Following are some pasteurization facts from HRS Heat Exchangers to put pasteurization into perspective.
- Simplicity. Many people think of pasteurization as a complex process, but in reality, it is relatively simple. Pasteurization requires that a material be held for a certain time at a certain temperature to kill micro-organisms. Although it adds a step to the manufacturing process, if well designed it should not slow down throughput or place additional management burdens on the plant. Additionally, the use of continuous pasteurization systems mean that the process is simple and the potential for product damage or change in quality is minimized.
- Variation. Pasteurization can be used on a variety of liquid and semi-liquid materials. While simple Newtonian fluids will be the easiest to work with and often can be effectively pasteurized with a simple plate heat exchanger, there are solutions for almost any material.
- Energy use. The amount of energy used in food pasteurization is highly variable depending on the process used, the nature of the material being treated, and the heat exchanger used. The bulk of any energy requirement is used to raise the temperature of the food. While traditional pasteurization units generally dump the heat afterward, new heat exchanger technology enables the heat to be recaptured and used again, increasing efficiency by up to 70%.
- Maintenance. Systems that use corrugated tubes, together with integrated cleaning-in-process (CIP), also can minimize the amount of fouling and therefore the amount of cleaning necessary to maintain efficiency. Careful design of static tubes also can help to keep down production (and therefore purchase) costs.
- Microbial reduction. Unlike sterilization, pasteurization does not completely eliminate micro-organisms which may be present in the food. Pasteurization reduces the microbial load by a significant factor (for example by five logs) which in normal circumstances reduces contaminating pathogens to a level at which they do not pose a hazard.
- Product quality. Pasteurization need not be overly onerous or detrimental to the quality of the product. With the correct choice of equipment, pasteurization does not need to have a negative effect on plant throughput or efficiency and a well-designed system can enhance the overall facility, helping to add flexibility to the business.
Ensuring Package Conformity
To stay ahead in the crowded packaged food marketplace, brand owners must ensure that they provide the highest levels of consistency and repeatability of conforming food products to consumers. As discussed in a Mettler-Toledo white paper, conformity of packaged food means organizations must comply with food safety standards, regulations, or legislation — national or international.
However, there is also an abundance of food safety guidelines that manufacturers, processors, and retailers should refer to or respect. Regulatory non-compliance can result in recalls and financial penalties, and be a barrier to trade for some countries, regions, or retailers.
For the consumer, the principle of conformity is to not mislead them into purchasing a food product that they would not have already bought based on the information displayed. Some areas of conformity are visible (e.g., all 10 hotdogs in a pack), but many are not, so nonconforming elements that can be digested are potentially harmful — hence, trust is paramount.
But conformity is much deeper than food safety compliance. It is ensuring that the package is accurately presented to the consumer in terms of their product and brand expectations. This could be as simple as ensuring that the label is in exactly the same position; or it can be as complex as all the chocolates within a box having the same amount of topping to filling ratio.
The objectives of conformity are fairly similar no matter where one is in the food supply chain.
Those include objectives to:
- Comply with food safety and labeling regulations and guidance.
- Fulfill retailer contractual obligations.
- Ensure products are safe and unspoiled during transportation.
- Combat anti-counterfeit and ensure security through the identification of authentic products through unique coding and securing of goods with tamper-proof seals.
- Improve traceability capabilities by accurate bar coding, lot codes, and label information.
- Prove due diligence through real-time recording of food safety activities.
- Ensure the presentations of the product and package are in perfect condition and as advertised.
- Display and check legitimate date coding on the packaged product.
Combining advanced product inspection technologies, robust food safety management programs, and quality assurance processes will enable manufacturers and brand owners to consistently produce conforming packaged food.
In maintaining this, they can secure a strong reputation in the industry as an advocate for food safety and, in the event of a product recall, will be able to quickly act and regain their position in the packaged food marketplace.Read the full white paper.
The author is Editor of QA magazine. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What does it take to transition an older feed or pet food (or people food) plant into a sanitary food plant?
Compliance with the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) is being discussed in many board rooms, and some companies are facing this question for their pet food or small animal food production facilities which face new requirements under FSMA. A transition into a sanitary operation with higher food safety can be overwhelming and typically begins with some design concepts. Following are 10 concepts that will help facilities assure a higher level of food safety, provide better microbial control, and enable greater compliance with FSMA:
- Crossover microbial contamination of the primary microbial control area (PMCA):
- Inadequately cooked pet or small animal food at the kill step (e.g., pellet mill of high incoming microbial load) makes implementing a successful PMCA impossible. Multiple conditioning cylinders or extrusion technology may be necessary for a reliable pathogen kill step.
- If a feed plant is to produce safe pet food, it must have an effective microbial control program.
- Segregating raw material from cooked pet food is critical to establishing an effective PMCA.
- Separate these with walls to control air and traffic for microbial control and eliminate co-mingling of ingredients with flavor enhancement and packing supplies.
- Design and build equipment access especially for cleaning of Zones 1 and 2 within the PMCA.
- Target problematic areas: leg boots and caps, flavoring application, coolers, and conveyor transitions. Prioritize these by problematic “hot” areas as indicated by a microbial swabbing program.
- A master sanitation program must be established for all zones, with zones 1 and 2 on a frequent schedule and zones 3 and 4 on a lower frequency.
- The cleaning program and procedures (SSOPs) should be developed with science and data history to maximize efficiency, effectiveness, and overall performance.
- Air going into the kill step area or beyond should not be sourced from an ingredient, raw material, or other “dirty” area and should be filtered adequately.
- An air-flow study with corrective action based on the results will improve air quality.
- Contamination from shoes (of employees, visitors, contractors) and wheels (of forklifts, pallet jacks, carts and dollies) must be controlled to prevent microbial and foreign matter transfer.
- Utilize shoe and wheel baths strategically positioned with approved sanitizer to reduce microbial transfer. Poor traffic patterns allow a microbial issue to become a bigger problem.
- Product temperatures should be measured to verify that process temperatures are sufficient to kill Salmonella or other pathogens.
- Assure that cooling of the product is sufficient to prevent condensation inside equipment. Product temperature should be within 20°F of the adjacent equipment temperature.
- Insects are a symptom that something is not right with exclusion, sanitation, and/or air flow.
- Flies in the packaging room are unacceptable; one fly is one fly too many.
- Establishing an effective cleaning program requires directional leadership, SSOP development, employee training, supervision, and timely evaluation.
- Reduce the plant to manageable zones with each having a food safety leader reporting to the chief food safety officer for efficient utilization of “production” labor.
- Many leaks create many hours to clean, which can be seemingly neverending and unnecessary. Some leaks create microbial and insect activity concerns magnified with moisture.
- Identify specific equipment leaks or lack of dust control to center on the best overall solutions.
If considering a transition to a higher level of food safety with better microbial control, action is required. Older facilities were not designed for optimal microbial control. To implement a successful microbial control program, one should examine these 10 concepts to identify solutions for short-term action and long-term budgeting.
The best long-term action might be an old building shutdown replaced with a new building with a new process designed the right way.
Inadequate pest control in food processing can lead to substantial fines, shutdowns, and widespread illness outbreaks. These types of facilities offer the perfect conditions for rodents, cockroaches, and flies to thrive, allowing them to spread illness through the adulteration of the food supply.
But by learning the habits of these pests, including what they like to eat and where they like to hide, as well as being able to spot the signs of an infestation and knowing when to call in a professional, facility managers can equip themselves with the knowledge needed to keep populations from disrupting operations and affecting the bottom line.
RODENTS. Responsible for spreading many diseases, most notably the plague that killed 25 million people in Europe in the 14th century, rodents present the greatest pest problem in food processing facilities. From fecal matter that can contaminate goods and harbor bacteria such as Salmonella and hantavirus to costly damage to drywall, plumbing, and even electrical wiring due to excessive gnawing, rodents are one pest your facility simply can’t afford to harbor.
Rodents are primarily nocturnal and tend to return to the same food source time after time, following the same pathway between their nest and food. While many prefer to nest in the upper parts of buildings, they also can be found under, in, and around structures, as well as in piles of debris.
When looking for indoor shelter, mice will enter structures through any access point larger than a dime, with rats fitting through holes the size of a quarter.
Signs of an Infestation include:
- Sightings. A female house mouse can give birth to a half dozen babies every three weeks, so if you spot a rodent, it’s likely there are more.
- Droppings. As one of the most common signs, mice alone are capable of producing up to 50 droppings per day.
- Gnaw marks. These can appear on anything from plastic and lead pipes to electrical wiring as rodents chew to access food or water.
- Tracks. Dark grease or dirt marks along walls and floorboards lead to a food source.
- Nests. Shredded paper products, cotton, packing materials, or wall insulation scattered about.
COCKROACHES. Cockroaches are especially common in larger commercial buildings such as food processing plants, restaurants, bakeries, and grocery stores. These pests usually will infest food storage and food preparation areas, as well as boiler rooms, steam tunnels, and basements.
Cockroaches pick up germs on the spines of their legs and bodies as they crawl through decaying matter or sewage and carry these into food or onto food surfaces, spreading at least 33 kinds of bacteria, including E. coli and Salmonella, as well as six kinds of parasitic worms and human pathogens.
In general, cockroaches prefer warm, moist, dark environments, and often enter structures by being brought in on human belongings, coming up from the sewer system, or occasionally, through mass migration from other structures during warm weather.
Signs of an infestation include:
- Sightings. Seeing the fast-moving insects themselves as they are usually fleeing to dark areas.
- Droppings. These are blunt on the ends with ridges on the sides and often mistaken for mouse droppings.
- Egg capsules. About eight mm long, dark-colored, and sometimes glued to a surface near food sources.
- Odor. A musty smell produced by pheromones.
FLIES. Capable of contaminating food and transferring more than 100 pathogens, including malaria, Salmonella, and tuberculosis, common house flies can quickly reproduce in large numbers, leading to large populations within a facility if not identified and effectively controlled.
House flies are usually only active during the day when they will congregate indoors on floors, walls, and ceilings. While they don’t have teeth, flies use their sponging mouthparts to liquefy many solid foods through spitting or regurgitation, and feed on a wide variety of substances such as human food, animal carcasses, and garbage.
In addition to defecating constantly, flies also contaminate food surfaces by spreading disease organisms picked up on their legs and mouths when feeding on trash, feces, and other decaying substances.
Signs of an infestation include:
- Sightings. The presence of the flies themselves, usually near decaying food or garbage.
- Larvae. Flies can be seen crawling out of their breeding material as they pupate.
Buzzing. An audible sound resulting from their two wings beating together.
Proper pest control in food processing rests heavily on the vigilance of facility managers to assess, discern, and act when signs of an infestation are present. Enlisting the help of a pest control professional when an infestation is suspected is crucial, as small problems can quickly become catastrophic nightmares for any facility — large or small.
To determine the best options for a particular pest problem, pest control professionals incorporate inspection, identification, and treatment into a holistic approach known as an integrated pest management (IPM) plan.
The success of an IPM plan hinges on the partnership between facility managers and pest control professionals, as treatments are based on each facility’s unique needs. By knowing the signs and working together, facility managers have the tools needed to stave off costly infestations and keep operations running smoothly.
The recent three-month outbreak of E. coli 0157:H7 tied to romaine lettuce from Yuma, Ariz., (contaminated by tainted canal water) resulted in 210 illnesses across 36 states confirmed by the CDC, including 96 hospitalizations, 27 victims developing Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (kidney failure), and five deaths. For those in the food safety sector, the frustration over this includes the fact that this took place 12 years after the notable 2006 E. coli O157:H7 outbreak tied to spinach. That outbreak resulted in 199 illnesses across 26 states confirmed by the CDC, with 102 hospitalizations, 31 victims developing Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome, and three deaths. Further, it resulted in a significant economic impact to the entire leafy greens industry.
Clearly, we need to be doing something different. Managing and communicating chain of custody, provenance, traceability, and transparency are all currently in high demand by consumers — to meet their requests for information about products.
Blockchain, which is new in terms of regulatory technology, could be “that something different” as it offers a decentralized eLedger; a collection of blocks of information from each step, farm to fork. It lives in multiple locations at once, making it extremely difficult to edit, change, or forge. Being immutable, blockchain creates a permanent record, which can be referenced quickly and with greater confidence than traditional records in the event of an emergency. Some talk of it as the “death of the document as we know it today” — as a data recording document shared between parties.
Though blockchain will not solve all our quality assurance and food safety concerns overnight, many leaders in food policy view this as being a part of the modern, digital toolkit within the next two to five years. They also anticipate that the industry will use blockchain to meet the demands that consumers are placing on retailers in terms of trust: label information, origins, temperature control, and more.
However, we must balance the talks of strengths and opportunities with that of weaknesses and threats. Strengths include its format as a digital record database, put together with information pertinent to multiple stakeholders. There must be consensus of all stakeholders for the blocks of data in the chain tied to a product. The ease of access to the multitude of documents (thousands of transactions within the supply chain for a product on the retail shelf) now made digital is seen as one of blockchain’s greatest strengths.
Smart contracts are also a strength of blockchain. Attaching terms and conditions to transactions that are automated, so a computer (artificial intelligence) can execute the terms (such as transportation temperature sampling data specifications), thus preventing a shipment from being finalized and sent out by a supplier if it did not meet buyer requirements. Blockchain also offers democratization of information with real-time visibility of the chain to all parties in a transaction at the same time. This is what can enable quick recalls.
Weaknesses include the fact that the inclusion of multiple parties opens the door to potential issues in how it is configured, who authors the blocks of information, and who controls (public vs. private) the blocks of data. As the size of the eLedger gets larger over time, it gets harder to manage and secure. This assumes 100% buy-in and participation. True recall traceback requires complete — and authentic — participation and accurate data from all participants. Further, all participants must be using platforms that can communicate with each other. As competitors might tend to use conflicting technology providers, then the ultimate goals of blockchain become weakened by a different set of principles, or commercial-driven decisions, as opposed to strengthened by cooperation.
Another weakness is the shift in supplier and customer culture, as we will see a much different, non-linear supply chain than currently. This will force changes in industry job roles as trust providers. Similarly, a weakness can be found in current certifications as this culture continues to shift. How do mangers or directors verify and validate information governance?
Also, blockchain is all about data. Data is great, but more important than data is information. For data to become actionable information, people (not just artificial intelligence) need to ask the right questions. To overcome this potential weakness, those who use blockchain for food safety and authenticity must have an understanding of the true burden of disease, not just the various aspects of the commodity. We also must develop a stronger understanding of this culture shift with the relationship between the supplier and the consumer. A third party or digital tool alone cannot achieve the goals associated with brand trust and public health.
Strengths and weaknesses aside, much progress can be found in building the understanding of blockchain’s use and potential. While there are already significant tests with food industry coalitions underway that are producing some great results, many experts continue to focus on the changes needed in the workforce to support blockchain. In addition to a focus on ethics, data management, and data security, organizations and universities are now developing training programs and certifications for blockchain leadership. Beyond data entry, many industry skill sets related to regulatory compliance can be blended with analytics and even project management.