From wherever contamination comes, China or our own fumbling of the food safety ball, processors are reasonably confident it won’t come from terrorist sabotage: Security hovered at the bottom for the third year in a row, with only 10 percent choosing it as their primary concern.
That doesn’t mean to say security doesn’t matter. When asked about their concern about terrorism/bioterrorism, 31 percent say they are “very” or “extremely” concerned. That number is only a couple percentage points lower than last year. When the 44 percent who are “somewhat” concerned about terrorism are added in, though, the total of those so worried dipped from last year’s 84 percent.
Fewer respondents than last year – 44 percent vs. 54 percent – increased security measures, and only 38 percent will be implementing new security measures in the new year compared to 46 percent who promised to last year. A number of respondents noted the reason new security measures were not on the table for 2008 was because their facilities had numerous security measures already in place.
The steps processors are taking to make their plants more secure are pretty much the same as last year. Two-thirds will secure/restrict external access, half will do the same for internal access. Just over half will focus efforts on employee I.D.; the same number will implement surveillance methods.
Nearly 16 percent will go high-tech via security application software, compared to just under 13 percent last year. Other post-9/11 security measures discussed included “any of the other technologies suggested under the DHS [Dept. of Homeland Security] or by various ASIS [formerly American Society for Industrial Security] groups, (such as) RFID of transports, bio-scanner/sampler hardware and software,” from a processor of specialty foods in Prairie Village, Kan. A similar direction was pointed out by a Cleveland-based consultant to a national baked goods maker: “Scan contents of (all) product entering and leaving; scanning and other inspection of carrying truck to ensure a match and no erroneous additional or missing items.”
Coincidental to the security responses was one of the biggest labor issues in the past few years: immigration. Several respondents note how concerns about illegal immigration mesh with security. That said, the only change from last year in how stricter immigration laws would affect business was a decrease in the number of those for whom the problem of illegal immigration doesn’t even apply. At 16 percent, it was almost double last year’s figure of 9 percent. As with last year, about one-eighth would be affected by such laws “a great deal” and one-fifth or so somewhat affected. Half wouldn’t be affected by stricter immigration laws at all.
But overall, labor worries are limited to the usual concerns of: not enough qualified workers, not enough money to keep good workers and the growing salary and benefit squeeze on the middle class. This is reflected in projected hiring practices. There was nearly a 10 percent drop (from 44 percent) in the number of processors expecting to take on new workers. And 7 percent vs. 5 percent last year expect to actively reduce their workforce.
Separating salary and benefits for 2007’s survey, we found 48 percent of processors expect salary increases this year, with 55 percent having received one last year. Salaries are expected to stay the same for one-third – possibly the same third not anticipating a raise this year either.
Two-thirds saw benefits stay the same in 2007, and nearly as many – 61 percent – anticipate no change this year. Nearly 11 percent saw benefits decrease last year and 10 percent expect a decrease this year. But there’s more to the compensation picture. As a Linden, N.J., olive oil processor warned, the issues of salary and benefits can have an adverse effect on safety: “As inflation increases, it will be harder to maintain compensation levels (and) train[ed workers]. [Effective] food safety training will be very important.”
For the second year, we compared categories of staff regarding growth and status quo. However, in addition to previous years’ categories of Engineering, R&D and Management, we added Marketing. In each case, between one-fifth and one-quarter said staff for those groups was larger than in 2004. Between 43 and 50 percent said levels stayed the same.
Staff reductions for the three groups showed Management will fare worse than the others – a hair over 20 percent expect a reduction in that department this year. The other categories were in the 11-13 percent range for weeding out.
Some laborers work 24/7 and never complain. Automation levels stayed roughly the same as in last year’s surveys. Any changes were too small to be statistically significant and likely due to the differences in respondents this year over last. There were some stand-outs, however, which might point to an automation trend, especially considering those categories’ connection to energy and environment issues. Logistics, maintenance and waste operations percentages were all much higher than last year. (See chart.)
Processors are still automating in the same manner. PLC integration was tops at 45 percent, and custom software second place with 39 percent. Off-the-shelf software accounts for 22 percent of automation methods and robotics about one-fifth. PC centralization makes up 11 percent and RFID 9 percent.