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By their very nature, food processing facilities provide everything cockroaches need to survive and grow their populations: food, water, and harborage. While it is, of course, impossible to remove food and water from a food production facility, and nearly as impossible to ensure against cracks and crevices in which cockroaches could harbor, a thorough sanitation program can go a long way toward preventing infestations by these pathogen-carrying pests.
Any area with poor sanitation can contribute to the cockroach’s ability to obtain food, water and shelter, said Bayer Product Development Manager Alex Ko. This could be a leaky pipe or spilled food that can provide water and food for cockroaches, or undetected harborage that provides a safe haven for cockroach reproduction and population growth.
Then, added Central Life Sciences Entomologist and Director, Field Technical Services and Training Mel Whitson, “Once conditions are good for reproduction and development, cockroaches can expand their range to other similar areas in the facility.”
As also would be expected, the larger the cockroach population, the greater the challenge. Small populations are more easily eliminated, and larger populations are more likely to distribute widely throughout the area, making control difficult, Ko explained.
“Cockroaches are well-adapted to human life and the places where we live and work,” said Syngenta Technical Services Manager Nicky Gallagher. “We provide them with a plethora of harborage sites and food.” Because of this, sanitation is an essential part of the integrated pest management (IPM) program needed for cockroach control. Sanitation is essential:
- “To minimize (cockroach) food sources, since they feed on fresh and decaying food materials,” said Rockwell Labs Owner and CEO Cisse Spragins.
- To “remove harborage and food sources, and by limiting resources, competition and space limitations are increased and cockroaches can be become stressed,” said Control Solutions Technical Service Manager Janis Reed. That stress can then help reduce populations through cockroach in-fighting and deaths.
- To limit harborage, “because cockroaches exploit micro-environments,” such as zones in/around equipment and those that afford food and shelter with environmental conditions such as high humidity and temperatures, Whitson said.
SANITATION IMPLEMENTATION. For all these reasons, “there is no potential for long-term cockroach management without sanitation, regardless of which control products or tactics are applied,” said BASF Professional and Specialty Solutions — Pest Control Technical Services Representative Tim Husen. But just what is sanitation? Often referred to as “cleaning up,” sanitation is much more than that, he said. A food facility sanitation program must:
- Include removing potential food or water resources that would attract, sustain, and allow for cockroach population growth.
- Use exclusion, education, and monitoring practices.
- Preventive sealing of potential harborage areas to make it harder for cockroaches to find attractive places to live.
- Educate employees on the “who, what, where, when, and why” cockroaches can become a problem, and how employees play essential roles in detecting, documenting, preventing, and managing an infestation.
- Include regularly scheduled monitoring along with the interpretation, tracing, tracking, and trending of results.
Sanitation falls within non-insecticidal pest control options of IPM. While cleaning is key, this step can include the physical modification of facilities to make the environment less hospitable to cockroaches, Gallagher said. Altering the environment, such as sealing cracks and fixing leaks, can help reduce the essential resources needed by the cockroaches and, therefore, reduce population growth, she explained, adding, “These modifications also can help stimulate cockroaches to move, contact residual insecticides and feed on bait, leading to faster, more thorough control.”
Additionally, sanitation is critical for the efficacy of both pesticidal baits and targeted sprays. When baits are to be used for control, minimizing alternative food sources through sanitation helps ensure the cockroaches consume the bait. When targeted sprays are used, sanitation is needed to remove accumulated organic debris, as this debris can break down the active ingredients of the pesticide and reduce residual transfer to cockroaches, lessening the effectiveness, Spragins said.
Reed expressed a similar concept, noting that the removal of supplemental and auxiliary food sources from cockroach foraging areas will help with bait acceptance, reduce free choice of food sources, and encourage cockroaches to feed on insecticidal baits. In relation to targeted residual use, “When harborages are limited, and less access to harborage is available for cockroaches, they are more likely to enter treated areas,” she said. “Additionally, they can be more vulnerable to exposure, and focus areas for treatment are clarified.”
Those “secretive micro-environment” harborage sites of cockroaches are inherently difficult to reach and directly treat, Whitson said, so being able to effectively clean and dry areas is critical for cultural control. Cockroaches will leave their harborage to forage when hungry, but the presence of pheromones and fecal matter will lead them right back when they’ve had their fill. “In a perfect world, the pest control operator can place treatments in the foraging paths of cockroaches before they reach exposed food, or can inspect and apply products directly into the harborage.” But, she said, “Access for inspection and sanitation goes a long way for detection, treatment, and dissuasion.”
COMMON ISSUES. According to our experts, some of the most common issues seen in food plant sanitation include:
Crack and Crevice Buildup. Washdown procedures can force food and moisture into cracks and crevices which, when undisturbed, can create mini-fermentation environments which are very attractive to cockroaches and other pests, such as flies. “Moisture control is an important issue that tends to be overlooked as a strong contributor,” Spragins said. This is a particular issue because even a small amount of food particle buildup can support pests.
Incoming Goods and People. A common source of cockroach introduction, and subsequent infestation, is incoming people (e.g., staff or employees), as well as incoming goods. Thus, a key food plant sanitation focus should be placed on incoming goods and people. “Thorough incoming inspection programs, and subsequent rejection and proper disposal of infested goods are key steps in any food plant sanitation plan,” Husen said. “Beyond that, upstream supply chain facility inspection and pest management program accountability are a must.”
Common Areas. Although people are a common cause of cockroach introduction, general-use and personal-space areas are often overlooked as sanitation concerns, Reed said. Food storage, refuse disposal, and equipment storage areas can be missed or overlooked, even in food plants that are fastidiously clean. Thus, she said, “Preventive maintenance in these areas can make an impact on overall sanitation and pest management success.”
Additionally, Husen said, “Routine inspections of these areas coupled with employee education on cockroach detection and the processes for reporting a pest sighting often stop an introduction from becoming an infestation.”
Lack of Communication. An unsuccessful sanitation plan may be caused by a lack of cooperation between the pest control company and the food plant, Gallagher said. Successful sanitation requires a well laid-out strategy that is unique to each facility. Constant communication, documentation, and accountability for all parties should lessen the risk of issues falling between the cracks, enabling pest and sanitation issues to be resolved quickly.
Pest Conducive Conditions. Spilled and spoiled food, originating in, or brought into, flood plants with raw material shipments; infested incoming shipments; and standing water within the plant can all contribute to cockroach populations, Ko said. These can be particularly problematic when they occur in areas that are difficult to inspect.
With food, water, and harborage being the keys to cockroach survival, ensuring your sanitation program eliminates as much available food particles, moisture, and accessible cracks and crevices as possible will go a long way toward preventing the cockroach’s ability to survive — and thrive — in your facility.
The author is Editor of QA magazine. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Today, flatbreads have become standard fare at many restaurants. But 50 years ago, when two brothers, who immigrated from Aitaneet, Lebanon, decided to start a Lebanese bakery producing pita flatbreads in Cleveland, Ohio, few Americans knew what they were, and even fewer had ever eaten one. Likely of even greater challenge to the Nahra brothers, Carl and Gus, neither spoke English. Yet their bakery, Aladdin Baking Company, remains a half-century later, having expanded, grown, and become a Cleveland landmark.
It was the inspiration of the brothers to rent a section of a building next door to the downtown ethnoreligious Maronite Church for their business baking their khubz and operating a Lebanese diner, that started them on their road to success. The bakery was the foundation of the business, with the diner in front, primarily to provide funds for the bakery. (See 50 Years of Flatbread, page 14, for the complete history.)
Today, Aladdin owns the full building, doubling its operations to 10,000 square feet; has a separate warehouse; and continues to be an after-church destination for the congregation of St. Maron Church for both its flatbreads and Mediterranean cuisine. Its products have become a standard item in regional grocery stores, and the company is looking to add another manufacturing facility, with a goal to go national.
While the 50 years has seen tremendous success for the company, that same timeframe also ages a person. So, with Carl and Gus ready for retirement, their sons Mitchell and Rick Nahra bought out their fathers in 2019. “When your fathers built something that stood for 50 years, it’s hard to let it go. We want to continue the family legacy,” Mitchell said.
“And when we look at the 50-some employees we have,” Rick added, “we wanted to make sure we honor them also.”
“We wanted to make sure they never ever had to fill out another resume in their lives,” Mitchell said. “We see a lot of future here. We want to build the business for the next generation.”
FSQA. It wasn’t, however, just the strategic selection of location that enabled Aladdin’s success. Building today’s success included “hard work and strong family values within our leadership,” Rick said. Along with, “50 years of trial and error to make exceptional products,” said Director of Quality and Food Safety Paul Storsin. Fifty years that have led to today’s key food safety and quality assurance (FSQA) processes and practices, some of which include:
- Supply Chain Awareness. The facility only uses approved suppliers that are GFSI certified. “This assures that the suppliers’ facilities are held to the same standards as ours,” Storsin said. All ingredients and packaging supplies are required to provide a COA with each lot for assurance that it was inspected and met all FDA standards.
- Contamination Containment. The facility has a detailed sanitation program that is implemented daily prior to production. It is a preventive control that is validated by the pre-production inspection, weekly ATP testing, and monthly microbiological testing program.
- Foreign Material Detection. “The facility has a strict foreign material program that is controlled by metal detection prior to packaging,” Storsin said. The metal detector is checked prior to production, continuously during production, and at the end of production to assure the final products are compliant.
Most recently, Storsin sees some of the measures that were put in place to reduce the risk of the COVID-19 pandemic as having food safety benefits as well. (See The Aladdin Baking Company in QA May-June 2020.) For example, Aladdin changed its sanitation program to add dry-heat cleaning in high-touch areas of Zones 2 and 3 and to increase the number of sanitation stations. While some food facilities may cut back some on the enhanced sanitation of COVID-19 when those workers are needed for production, the pandemic brought about an industry change and heightened awareness.
He also has seen an increase in environmental testing from just microbiological swabbing for pathogens to include ATP and other TPC counts for viral and other such contamination. “People are more aware of what’s happening and are taking precautions,” Yaacoub said.
There also is an increased emphasis on the supply chain and acceptance of incoming goods, Storsin said. Without having been requested to do so, many of Aladdin’s suppliers started providing COVID letters, stating the risk management steps they had taken. “It was the suppliers who put it in place,” he said. “It’s something that just happened.” But Aladdin will now be requesting such letters from all suppliers, further enhancing its own risk management.
“People are now doing things, not because they are being told to, but to protect themselves,” he said. “And when it all dies down, I hope people will keep at it.”
CONTINUOUS IMPROVEMENT. As its 50 years illustrate, Aladdin is not a company that is content to rest on its laurels, rather it has a strong focus on continuous improvement. One aspect of this is its R&D group focused on developing new products to both increase healthfulness and meet trends. They have developed pitas with flaxseed, hemp, and/or high concentration of Omega 3 and are currently finalizing a garlic naan; all of Aladdin’s naan products are dairy free, and the company is “exploring what is hot,” Rick said. “But there’s only so much we can do, because we don’t want to impact the docking.” (See The Process section of this article for more on docking.)
The company also became fully GFSI-BRC certified last year, receiving a AA rating. “We were able to do it quickly because we are small, and everyone worked together,” Storsin said. To prepare, he said, the company invested a lot of money into the plant, purchasing a new mixer, proofer, and oven; enhanced employee training; validated preventive controls throughout the plant, requiring PCQI sign-off; and “wrote out SSOPs for everything. We didn’t have this binder before,” he said, holding out a fat binder of standards. “We wanted to have it in writing so it could be visually seen that we are doing everything we said we would.”
Automation also has played a major role in Aladdin’s growth, enabling increased productivity, profitability, and employee retention, said COO and Engineering Manager Jean Yaacoub. Some steps still require manual labor, but he said, “We are in the process of acquiring new equipment to further automate the process.”
THE PROCESS. What, exactly is that process? The first step is the delivering of ingredients to the facility, including the primary ingredient: the bulk flour that is stored in a 75,000-pound capacity silo, which is “built inside our facility to protect the flour from the elements,” Yaacoub said. Consistency of each truckload is required, with a COA to ensure consistency of the final product. Next:
- An automated system dispenses the specified weight of bulk flour into a hopper above the mixer. The flour, water, and other separately mixed ingredients are then dispensed into the mixer, which is set to the specified mixing time.
- Once mixed, the dough goes into a bin, is covered, and sits for about 30 minutes to rest, ferment, and rise. A mix averages about 500 pounds, from which 820 packages of pitas are produced.
- Once the dough rises and is ready for processing, it goes into a chunker, then through a rounder — in which it is divided into individual doughballs. Each product has its own size and weight specifications, and weights are recorded as the dough balls exit the divider to fall into the cups of an intermediate proofer. The dough balls travel on the timed conveying system for about 15 minutes to “de-stress and relax.”
- The balls are then flattened into rounds in a two-stage sheeting system, in which a roller sheers the dough one direction into an oval, then turns it 90° through a second roller to shape the rounder. The sheeted/flattened dough then goes into the second and final proofer.
- It is at this point that a flatbread (or naan) and pita diverge. The flatbread is docked — with divots stamped into the dough to release the steam generated during baking, keeping the top and bottom sealed together. The pitas are not docked, so that steam is trapped within, causing the split between the top and bottom surfaces, and creating the distinctive pita “pocket.”
- Both products are baked at extremely high heat of over 700°F for about a half minute. Aladdin also produces a foodservice pre-oiled flatbread, which is partially baked at a slightly lower temperature of about 600°F, allowing for the final grill at the foodservice establishment.
- Once baked, the pita or naan travel on an overhead cooling conveyor, which flows in tiers back and forth across the packaging area for the specified amount of time. The cooled product is stacked and bagged, tagged with a lot code closure, measured and weighed to meet specifications, and run through a metal detector to ensure no foreign material is in the bread.
The final product has a distinctive lightness of texture and flavor, Yaacoub said. “The taste is different because of the ingredients we use and the way we do the process; the way we mix and bake. We try to keep a very clean label,” he said. If more aspects of the process were automated, the products could be sold at a lower price, but the quality and taste wouldn’t be as good, he said. Additionally, he said, “We’re always pushing for continued improvement to keep it softer longer.” The goal is to have a 14-day shelf life, and that, he said “has a lot to do with the ingredients.”
CONTINUED GROWTH. “Our fathers perfected the pita brand,” Mitchell said. “They built a brand known throughout Ohio.” And now cousins Mitchell and Rick are in the process of expanding to a larger headquarters and developing new products and lines for continued growth, while also maintaining the downtown Cleveland facility. “We are in the process of moving to and redesigning a state-of-the-art pita chip, crouton, and crostini manufacturing facility,” Rick said. Aladdin currently produces these at another facility on a small scale, but is now looking to purchase a large headquarters building — which it would have up and running by 2021.
While maintaining the downtown setting may not seem ideal for a food production facility, the decision to retain it is based on both its retail store having become a fixture in downtown and its workers’ desire to stay in that area. Being a family business, Mitchell said, “Our family is very tight. Family comes first; and our employees’ families are our family.”
“As long as we make decisions as to what’s best for the business, not as individuals, I think we will always do well,” Rick said. “We want to take everything our fathers had done and take it to the next level. And since they worked so hard to build it, they’re very proud that it’s staying in the family.”
The author is Editor of QA magazine. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
There no question that the world is different today than it was at the start of 2020; and there’s no questions that it will be still different when we move into 2021. But what are the key pandemic-produced shifts that have and will impact the food industry, and what can we expect as life continues on? In consulting a range of experts, the following shifts, predictions, and impacts were identified.
IN-STORE GROCERY SHOPPING
Christopher Simons, Associate Professor—Sensory Science, The Ohio State University CFAES Department of Food Science & Technology
The Shift. The COVID-19 pandemic had a substantial impact on grocery shopping behavior. With increased social distancing and limitations on the number of shoppers allowed in a retail space, multiple studies indicated a significant increase in online grocery shopping. Consequently, grocery pick-up and delivery also increased.
The Prediction. On the one hand, Simons believes grocery stores overcame early logistical issues and shoppers were generally pleased with the experience. Some of the minor inconveniences were likely outweighed by the decreased risk associated with shopping. However, many shoppers like to pick out their own foods, especially fresh products, so he can envision a scenario where consumers continue to shop for processed foods online and have them delivered, while shopping for fresh products separately. With most people being time poor, convenience is a driving force behind behavior, but consumers still want safe foods that meet their quality expectations. Additionally, he expects that the continued risk of COVID-19 and the presence of regional spikes in cases will interact with these other drivers to impact consumer behavior.
The Impact. Because COVID-19 is not foodborne, its impact on food safety and quality is minimal. However, the supply chain needs to be intact to get foods from farm to table, and that is impacted by the pandemic. Even when restaurants began to do business again, people continued eating at home a lot, which has an impact on the food supply and can result in some shortages. However, Simons thinks that, by and large, food manufacturers have overcome most of the shortages and supply chain issues.
ONLINE GROCERY SHOPPING
Max Pedró, Co-Founder & President, and Curt Avallone, Chief Business Officer, Takeoff Technologies
The Shift. The pandemic has accelerated online grocery shopping by several years, with a level of online penetration being seen that wasn’t expected until 2025. Grocers are recognizing the need to invest in economical e-grocery solutions, so micro-fulfillment is coming to the forefront.
The Prediction. Pedró feels that the most difficult aspect of getting shoppers to adopt online shopping is changing deeply ingrained behaviors. Now that shoppers have had several months of “practice” buying groceries online out of necessity, this behavior can be expected to continue beyond the risk of COVID-19.
The Impact. The significant out-of-stocks for various brands and manufacturers created new customer trials across multiple product categories, but micro-fulfillment solutions allow consumer packaged goods (CPG) retailers to utilize retailer loyalty data to try to retain customers who began utilizing new products during the pandemic. The increase in online sales for CPG products will also require food manufacturers to increase attention on digital marketing and consider micro-fulfillment centers for their direct-to-consumer programs.
Betsy Booren, Senior Vice President, Regulatory and Technical Affairs, Consumer Brands Association
The Shift. With millions of consumers staying home over the past several months, the demand for CPG products was unlike anything before seen. Simultaneously, consumer trust in CPG manufacturers rose as the industry delivered high-demand products essential to consumer health time and time again.
The Prediction. It remains to be seen what the future holds as it relates to the virus, but Booren believes one thing is for sure: COVID-19 has only reinforced what we already knew to be true — consumers trust and rely on CPG products to power their everyday lives. In fact, 46% of Americans say their trust in the industry has increased during the pandemic.
The Impact. The elevated levels of demand by consumers in their homes, instead of at an office, school, restaurant, etc., have forced manufacturers to be extremely nimble. Booren has seen manufacturers switch their commercial product lines over to retail to meet that demand, and has seen manufacturers reduce product variations (flavors, sizes, etc.) to focus on getting the maximum amount of product they can to market. The crisis also poses new challenges to typical business operations (such as in-person meetings and audits) that the industry, regulators, and customers have all had to adjust to and overcome — by implementing new processes and technologies.
Paul Cuatrecasas, Founder and CEO, Aquaa Partners and Author
The Shift. COVID-19 is driving the technological transformation of the grocery sector in several ways — meal-kit services have become a substitute for some grocery shopping; grocery retailers are trying to reduce their dependence on human capital; and they are ramping up online to meet increased consumer demand while reducing consumer risk of exposure to the virus. This means using automation with technology, such as automated check-out and click-and-collect, as well as dramatically increased use of e-commerce solutions. These trends are not new, they’re just being accelerated.
The Prediction. The trend of depending more on technology will continue to grow even when the pandemic ends. The increased demand for e-commerce solutions, for example, is fueling an increased consumer desire for a more personalized end-to-end experience. To meet this demand, augmented and virtual reality are key growth areas. The technology allows customers to use digitally enhanced goggles to view and select items before putting them in their virtual shopping basket. In-store, the virus fueled the development of automated checkouts and delivery services. The market for frictionless self-checkout technology is forecast to rise 13.3% year-on-year to $7.8 billion and does away with the need for a physical till. Cuatrecasas also is seeing the growth of “robo-grocery” shopping — on-demand self-driving mini grocery stores that deliver goods to residential communities.
The Impact. Technological developments are also being seen throughout the grocery supply chain, with artificial intelligence technology increasingly being used to monitor stock and customer behavior and automate the warehouse sorting and dispatching of food. Additionally, advances in food technology, particularly lab-grown and plant-based meats, are beginning to offer consumers clean and viable alternatives. The demand for and consumption of plant-based meat has taken off in the pandemic, enough that industry leaders in this area expect to achieve cost parity with grocery store meats and mass market their product within the next few years. As such, Cuatrecasas expressed confidence that within his lifetime — or that of his children — the majority of meat will be either plant-based or cultured in a lab.
Mark Brandau, Group Manager, Datassential
The Shift. There are many ways that the pandemic has shifted consumer trends toward foodservice, but perhaps the biggest one is the prevailing need for safety. A recent Datassential dining-out survey showed that consumers are now more likely to indicate safety as more important than anything else, from sustainability and healthful eating to affordability and food quality. It is the first time that cleanliness was rated as a top consideration in choosing a restaurant. But Brandau has been struck by how little some parts of consumer eating and restaurant habits have changed. For the most part, food was a place where people tried to hang on to old routines; so while there was an initial move toward comfort foods cooked or baked in the home, consumers indicated that their food choices reverted back to normal levels as the pandemic wore on. The most popular foods, or those they missed from restaurants, were the typical favorites: such as pizza, burgers and sandwiches, pasta, and the like.
The Prediction. Moving forward, consumers will want to use restaurants like they did before, but they’re very cognizant of the health risks inherent to being out of their homes before a COVID-19 treatment or vaccine is widely available. Brandau thinks that means social-distancing strategies are here to stay and will need to be part of restaurant and foodservice operators’ long-term plans — as will masks, gloves, and increased sanitation. People don’t necessarily distrust restaurants and staff; it’s other people they don’t trust. That will affect their desire to be in crowds and around others, especially if people are not wearing masks or staying apart; and they’ll probably avoid shared-service or self-service food stations like buffets, salad bars, and soda fountains.
The Impact. Because it is harder to execute dine-in service as safely as delivery or takeout, food manufacturers need to explore ways they can help operators reassure consumers. Nearly two in five operators said they will need more convenience-focused products to simplify food prep and work with fewer people in the kitchen and the front-of-house. More than three in five operators overall will continue ordering bulk items (this is significantly greater among traditional restaurants), but nearly half of on-site operators have or are considering switching to single-serve condiments, beverage creamers, etc. Any new solutions that help with sanitation, food safety, and cleanliness will get a look from operators. Most don’t know if they’ll return all pre-pandemic purchases, or if they would continue with the new purchases of the past few months, but many are ready to discuss that with manufacturers.
What foodservice providers most need now are lower purchase minimums, flexible product delivery schedules, and general flexibility from suppliers. The best relationships between the operator and the supplier involve an ongoing conversation to understand the operator’s needs, help that person innovate, and maintain flexibility for the long-term strength of both parties.
Deb Gabor, CEO, Sol Marketing
The Shift. With massive changes already occurring this year with COVID-19 and its impact on every part of our lives, the changing social environment and subsequent protests against racial injustice have made it even more clear that brands must get in touch with their customers’ needs — and fast. Our current social environment has had far-reaching consequences for every brand, and has given many of them an opportunity to re-examine their core values and beliefs. That has meant a lot of upheaval in the food industry as many major brands discover that branding doesn’t come from the company, it comes from the customers. Brands live in their customers’ needs, desires, bonds, and barriers. What Gabor is seeing is an industry-wide moment of course correction as food brands recognize the emotional needs of their customers. In some cases, that has meant acknowledging and responding to a massive disconnect between increasingly race-conscious consumers and brands that have not been vigilant in evolving to reflect the values of their audience.
The Prediction. Gabor expects that brands will continue to learn more about who they are by learning about their audience. Branding is not a one-and-done shot; it’s a continuous process of updating the relationships, emotional connections, and promises that brands make to their customers. However, Gabor feels encouraged that food industry brands are doing the hard work of understanding their customers and making changes that will strengthen their chances for long-term success. Brands that commit to reflecting their customers’ passion for acknowledging and actively fighting systemic racism will be better prepared for the next challenge that comes their way. If 2020 is any sign of what brands can expect from the future, you will need to be ready for some major challenges.
The Impact. Food manufacturers and processors have an opportunity to engage in rigorous self-examination and align themselves with the core values of their audience. Brands that jump on this opportunity now will show themselves to be leaders and position themselves for greater success. A brand can remain relevant to its customers by answering three brand questions: What does your brand say about your customers? What is the singular thing your brand delivers that customers can’t get elsewhere? How do you make your customer a hero in the story of his or her own life? Brands that answer these questions (now and into the future) will find themselves in a much better position to create loyalty in their audience and survive future challenges. Turbulent times are full of opportunities for brands to show their strength. People are looking for guidance, and brands that step up will make a lasting impression on their customers.
Kevin Coupe, Content Guy, MorningNewsBeat
The Shift. The pandemic has caused consumers to have a lot of conflicting emotions going back and forth, not the least of which have been fears of physical effects if infected, and depression from the lack of normality and isolation. Because of this, Coupe sees it as important for the food industry to be aspirational — not harp on the tough stuff, complications, and item shortages. It is an important moment for the food segment and retailers.
The Prediction. Some retailers turned to restaurant suppliers when they faced product shortages. As a result, some of those restaurant suppliers found ways to convert to consumer products and provide foods for the retailer to private label. Consumers who purchased these, and were thrilled that they tasted just like their favorite restaurant’s product, will be unlikely to return to the national brand they were buying before.
The Impact. Before the pandemic, many people were eating away as much as at home. With the restaurant closures and stay-at-home orders, some retailers and food suppliers saw the best quarters of their lives. But Coupe advises that noone become complacent. Retailers need to continue to innovate and raise their game to keep these consumers, and food producers need to reach out to retailers and help them do so. Look at ways to help retailers figure out how to keep these customers. Determine how the relationship can work so both sides win. Be aspirational; continue to communicate with your customers — the restaurant industry will come back and will want its customers back.
Every company should have a “two-pizza” team (i.e., the size of which can be fed with two pizzas) charged to consider how the business will be fundamentally different coming out of this than it was going in. This will not be the last pandemic or the last crisis. Use the situation to improve: How can you deal with or mitigate your weaknesses and focus on what makes you different and strong? What do your customers find to be valuable about what you do? We all need to come out of this differently.
PFSBrands CEO and Author Shawn Burcham
The Shift. COVID-19 has disrupted the entire food industry and presented new challenges throughout the supply chain. But the industry has responded by pivoting to new business models and implementing new operating procedures to safely deliver quality products to consumers, which Burcham sees as truly inspiring. The day-to-day operations of individual facilities have dramatically changed. More employees have been asked to work from home; pandemic plans have had to be fully vetted and sometimes exercised (i.e., keeping individual employees “on the bench” in case they need to be brought in for “relief” of a sick employee); many facilities have re-evaluated shifts and working hours to keep individuals as distanced as possible; and the routine temperature and wellness checks of critical food workers is commonplace.
The Prediction. Moving forward, Burcham believes safety and sanitation will remain top-of-mind for many. Grab-and-go products will be in high demand and the use of online pickup and home delivery services will accelerate. While the future will look different, Burcham is confident that the food industry will continue to evolve to meet consumer needs. In general, wellness checks for both employees and visitors will continue to be common. The benefit is always having a pulse on your employees’ welfare and needs; the fear is that if an employee is sent home because of an illness, they won’t receive the short-term benefits they need (pay, social structure), so may not report an illness to the company to avoid that. So creating a culture of trust from management to workers will continue to be paramount.
The Impact. There’s no question that food manufacturers (particularly meat plants) are feeling very hard hit. Production facilities are built on producing the most pounds with the resources available — labor, capital, and space. Much of the food industry is still very manual and having employees shoulder to shoulder, cutting, grading, inspecting, etc., is common. But the industry will need to continue to find ways to keep individuals working while keeping them healthy and safe and implementing automation. But there will be trade-offs, which may be in product quality and the likely loss of some jobs replaced with automation. Thus, Burcham sees it as essential to balance these trade-offs and find the correct intersection of quality, safety, employee welfare, profitability, and efficiency.
The author is Editor of QA magazine. She can be reached at email@example.com.
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 has thrust the importance of hygiene to the forefront of both organizational and home practices. “Both businesses and the general public now have immediate knowledge of the level of disruption and danger a pandemic poses, therefore companies need to adopt more stringent hygiene practices,” said Meritech Chief Technology Officer Paul Barnhill. But, he added, “COVID-19 is just one of the many risks that food processing plants have faced over the years. For processors, the threat of pathogens has always existed and illness from poor hygiene has always been a life or death matter.”
So it’s essential that food processors continue to build on the added hygiene practices and, Barnhill said, “Ensure that these measures remain standard practice going forward to further protect their consumers.”
With handwashing and sanitizing being a fundamental personal protection against the virus, Eagle Protect Vice President of Marketing Lynda Ronaldson sees such practices as continuing beyond the pandemic with improved hand and glove hygiene training, stations, and monitoring as part of the industry’s “new normal.”
It’s important to leverage the newfound awareness for hygiene advancement, Barnhill said. “Businesses have long played an integral role in affecting change in society, and with hygiene now being recognized as crucial in ensuring safety and consumer trust, businesses need to step up and support its importance, even after coronavirus news leaves the headlines.”
A Hygiene Culture. Maintaining a food safety culture, with a Food Safety Committee that includes individuals from all departments and all organizational levels, has become an industry best practice.
One aspect of this should be hand hygiene excellence for which employees are empowered to uphold themselves and others to best practices, be comfortable addressing poor practices, and be responsible for maintaining the cleanliness and supplies in hygiene zones, Barnhill said. “In an effective food safety culture, each individual should feel like they have a part to play in hygiene and are encouraged to do the right thing for food safety, even when no one is watching.”
In doing so, the facility can provide a “flat line of leadership when it comes to hygiene” for which employees are encouraged to think and act like owners, Barnhill said. One way to begin implementing this is by using a hygiene social contract that empowers employees to take personal responsibility for their part in maintaining the quality and safety of food they produce. For example, if they see non-compliance, they should be encouraged to address and report those situations to ensure that SSOPs are followed.
The food safety committee can play a part by supporting and bringing attention to hygiene issues that can affect food safety, and finding new ways to communicate the importance of hygiene throughout the year.
Additionally, he said, “All hires should be assigned a hygiene mentor to help them properly navigate hygiene zones and follow SSOPs.” Some team members may be better at mentorship than others, but it’s important to rotate this, as it will encourage employees to lead by example; ensure that everyone stays knowledgeable on proper hygiene behaviors; and know how to teach the protocols to new teammates.
Most personal hygiene practices rely heavily on human behavior, and one of the most effective ways to overcome the variability of that behavior is through automation, Barnhill said. Everyone washes their hands differently every time they do it. But, he said, “By implementing automated stations, you can standardize that handwashing process, providing consistent pathogen removal, every time.”
Because of this, he said, hand hygiene practices at a facility should continuously be monitored to ensure their effectiveness. “Human behavior is among the top causes of the spread of pathogens, so for the safety of your consumers and employees, it’s critical to overcome the variability of human behavior in order to ensure health and safety.”
A combination of regular training, monitoring of the handwashing process, and re-training on the proper steps throughout the year increases the likelihood of instilling good hand hygiene practices among your team. Then, he added, “Automated handwashing technology can improve the effectiveness of hygiene processes by taking human behavior out of the equation.”
While handwashing must be a basic compliance practice in all food-handling businesses, glove hygiene must also be considered when discussing hand hygiene, Ronaldson said. “Hands are an ideal means of pathogen transmission, especially when handling food; gloves should provide an effective barrier against viral and bacterial transmission.”
Training. As such, Ronaldson sees glove hygiene practices as an essential topic to be covered in employee hygiene training. If hand hygiene is inadequate and poor-quality gloves are used that do not provide sufficient barrier protection (micro holes, permeability, etc.), there is a definite chance of pathogen transmission, she said.
So, training should include best glove barrier protection knowledge; dispensing, donning and doffing advice; when to change gloves; and how to prevent cross-contamination of surfaces, she said. “This must be highlighted on a weekly basis to reinforce the seriousness of this.”
In addition to that, however, “an employee hygiene training program should cover everything that an employee should do and be aware of to ensure food safety,” Barnhill said. Training should increase employee awareness and understanding of proper personal hygiene including the importance of coming to work with clean and trimmed fingernails; removing soils and pathogens in handwashing; correct donning of personal protective equipment prior to entering production areas; and the linkage between contamination touch points and unconscious actions, such as adjusting hairnets or smocks, that will require hand hygiene afterward.Employee hygiene best practices should be taught during onboarding training programs and reinforced throughout the year, Barnhill said. During huddle talks at the start of each shift, production team leaders should highlight good hygiene behaviors, consistently reminding everyone of the hygiene basics or calling out good or bad hygiene behaviors seen to help reinforce hygiene practices and its relationship with the food safety culture of the facility.
A matter of Life and Death. While the pandemic has impacted every aspect of our lives, including a significantly enhanced focus on personal hygiene, the potential of foodborne illness from poor employee hygiene has always been a life or death matter for the food industry.
Thus, Barnhill said, businesses — which have far-reaching influence and massive impacts on the communities in which they operate — have to be socially responsible to themselves, their employees, and the public to reinforce hygiene best practices and encourage their continued adoption.
The author is Editor of QA magazine. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.