Putting safety first in food manufacturing

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Even discussing the possibility of a product recall is enough to send shivers down the spine of a food or beverage manufacturer.

Whether we’re talking about a small scale operation, or a highly reputable multi-national company with world class food safety procedures in place, the reality is that neither is immune to contamination scares. Only last year global food processor Fonterra embarked on a mass recall due to a botulism scare, while products from Victorian dairy processor, Jindi Cheese, were responsible for the death of three people, marking nation’s largest listeria outbreak.

Even with exceptional food safety standards, there is always a slim chance that pathogens could slip through the cracks. So what are the best ways to ensure optimal protection for smaller players in the food manufacturing game and a price that is realistic?

Food Magazine recently spoke to some of the leading food safety solutions players in the business to provide us with insight into the most effective ways to ensure best practice and conduct a successful product recall.

Advanced Oxidation from Dow

Global food safety company, Dow Microbial Control launched its Advanced Oxidation System (AOS) commercially in July 2013 at the International Association of Food Protection’s (IAFP) Annual Meeting. AOS is a whole room system used by food and beverage manufacturing/processing plants to sanitize all surfaces and the air. The system uses ambient air to generate Ozone and combines it with water to create a vapor that evenly fills the entire room.

According to Dow, AOS is a fully customisable solution that is designed to complement conventional cleaning and sanitisation practices, enabling food manufacturers of varying capacities to effectively sanitize hard-to-reach problem areas including; hidden areas in equipment, drains, vents and fabrics – and is even effective in dry environments such as bakeries.

“AOS Certified is particularly effective at reducing and controlling levels of the resilient Listeria monocytogenes in high-care, ready-to-eat (RTE) and prepared-food environments, as well as in spiral freezers and chillers. The technology is also very effective against Escherichia coli, and Salmonella, and against other bacteria, viruses, yeasts and molds,” Dow told Food magazine.

“The technology also runs automatically without relying on workers to do the sanitization so extra manpower isn’t required. The sanitizing agent is produced on demand using just air and water, so manufacturers also don’t have the burden of shipping and storing chemicals.”

The system took Dow over 12 months of intense R&D engineering collaboration to create, and in addition to excellence in sanitation, AOS also offers impressive sustainability credentials.

“Dow Microbial Control is fearlessly committed to revolutionizing how the world approaches microbial control and AOS technology is a chief example of our commitment to sustainable solutions.

“AOS uses ambient air and water to generate a non-condensing humid ozone atmosphere, which produces one of the fastest and most effective penetrative whole room sanitizers. Additionally, AOS does not involve the handling, storage or transport of harsh chemicals, nor does it leave any chemical residues.”

Extending food safety to the ingredients

Earlee Products has taken a slightly different approach to food safety by developing food ingredients that enhance the food safety of processed meat products against pathogens, particularly listeria monocytogenes.

“We saw an opportunity to develop some food ingredients that enhanced the food safety of processed meat products particularly against listeria monocytogenes; the scourge of ready to eat sliced modified-atmosphere meats,” Bob Hamilton, managing director of Earlee Products told Food Magazine.

“Good manufacturing practice is still important, but bacteria is so ubiquitous in plants that once it is there it is hard to get rid of.”

Hamilton says Earlee’s products which consist of ready to use liquids, starches and edible oil lubricants, provide a natural alternative to pathogen control and can be integrated into existing processes or as a decontamination dip for the finished product prior to slicing.

“The ingredients are bactericidal to listeria, staphylococcus aureus and E. coli. So whilst they are food ingredients, they promote food safety by eliminating potently fatal pathogens. The dip can also be sprayed on processing equipment such as slicers and dicers.”

Take the guesswork out of the recall process

In addition to employing exceptional food safety standards within the food manufacturing process, effective recall systems are also essential to have in place.

GS1 and SICK both offer comprehensive traceability solutions for both small scale and industrial sized food and beverage manufacturers.

Richard Jones, general manager quality services at GS1 talked Food magazine through the GS1 Global Traceability Standard.

According to Jones, the standard is inclusive of a number of key pillars including:

  • Global Location Number (GLN) – a unique identifier of any player in the supply chain
  • Global Trade Item Number (GTIN) – a unique identifier of a traded unit
  • Serial Shipping Container Code (SSCC) – uniquely identifies shipments of good

The GS1 Traceability Standard also utilises GS1 Bar Codes – Point-of-Sale (POS), Global Data Synchronisation (GDSN), or its local incarnation GS1net, to share master data between trading partners prior to conducting a transaction in addition to Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) – for conducting electronic transactions.

Jones says that the implementation of an effective recall system such as the GS1 Traceability Standard offers significant benefits to food manufacturers of any size.

“The first benefit is that it is based on standards businesses are already using to meet trading partner requirements. Therefore, no action is required to assign product identification or bar coding as the foundational elements of the system are already in place with GS1 standards.

“Secondly, communication of this information between SMEs and their trading partners means that, in the event of a recall, products and raw material components can be easily identified and dealt with according to the risk. Studies have shown that a large part of the delay in product recalls is due to a lack of consistency in product identification between trading partners. So when a supplier identifies an issue with an item and communicates if to their customer, they may identify it by a different code that needs some form of translation before it can be dealt with appropriately. Multiply this each time an item changes hands and delays can drag on for considerable periods.

“Lastly, they meet all of their internal traceability needs using the same tools that interface with their customers.”

By not employing effective traceability systems, Jones says that suppliers risk far more than a haphazard attempt at recalling product should the unthinkable occur.

“First is the legislative requirement to have traceability in event of a recall and be able to meet regulatory demands to demonstrate capability. In Australia, there is a base level of regulatory oversight whereas in Europe and the US stringent legislation exists that is quite prescriptive in how a manufacturer must apply solutions to meet these requirements.

“In addition, there is a reputational risk. Most customers acknowledge that mistakes will happen from time-to-time. But when a product recall event occurs, customers are looking for quick and decisive action. This is how manufacturers will be judged by consumers moving forward.

“If you do not have the information you need to effect a speedy and efficient recall this can be seen as more devastating to your reputation than allowing the original mistake to occur in the first place. A solid traceability system will allow you to have that information at your fingertips so that you can alert your customers and fellow supply chain partners in a timely manner, meeting the approval of all concerned – including the regulator.”

German sensor system company SICK are also in the business of recall systems. Food magazine recently spoke to SICK about why recall radio-frequency identification (RFID) solutions are an essential component to many food safety programs around the globe.

SICK say that effective traceability and code checking at each and every stage of the production and logistics process is not just desirable, it's essential.

“In terms of final inventory, the numbers in FMCG and food are staggering. One of the Australia’s major grocery players accepts 10,000 pallets of goods a day at distribution centres across the nation – that’s over 3.6 million pallets a year; each stacked two metres high with multiple products, all needing to be individually identified. A 1% inaccuracy or no read rate using traditional bar code label technology would mean breaking down over 36,000 pallets per year for manual handling and double-checking,” Sean Carter, product manager identification and measurement told Food magazine.

“Considering these sorts of numbers, and that the onus is completely on the supplier, the need for error-free tracking and code checking is pretty clear.”

Carter points out that in addition to inventory issues, the potential for error also abounds in food processing.

“Inaccurate labelling can easily lead to supply of the unsuitable product and make tracing incredibly difficult. In the worst case, a failure in process can result in contaminated product reaching the consumer, conceivably creating wide-spread food borne illness and even death,” he said.

SICK’s RDIF technology systems fall into two distinct types based on the technology that under pins them.

  • High frequency 13.56 MHz inductive coupling systems (HF) that are used in near field applications usually <30 cm. They are not affected by the presence of water or metallic objects and there is a large range of transponders and tags for all sorts of applications.
  • The other system that is available is ultra-high frequency 860-960 MHz capacitive coupling systems (UHF). These are typically used in longer range applications >30cm and the unique item identifier (UII) of the tag is programmable.
     

A number of high profile food and beverage manufacturers currently employ SICK’s RFID solutions including Fonterra New Zealand, however SICK say that although the technology is highly sophisticated it is also within the reach of smaller to medium sized manufacturers.

“RFID is very affordable. The transponders (or tags) come in many different shapes and sizes to suit almost every conceivable application. Additionally the cost of the tags has reduced to the point where most are now considered to be disposable,” said Carter.

No matter what sized business you are running, SICK say that food safety is not something that a manufacturer can afford to compromise on.

“If the cost of a complete solution with multiple interrogators at first appears expensive, food and beverage manufacturers should probably ask themselves whether they can afford not to have an effective track and trace system that minimises the chance of process errors and maximises the chance of tracking them when they occur.”