2017 Year in Review: A Year of Change

Perhaps finding new paths to growth was why so many CEOs were replaced this year.

By Food Processing Staff

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  • With a separate added sugar listing and other changes on the updated Nutrition Facts panels, there's increased pressure to reduce added sugars and perhaps to reformulate certain products before the extended compliance deadline of January 2020. Along with stevia and monk fruit, a host of more natural and organic sweeteners are being developed to maintain the right sweet taste plus functional performance, some with calories and some without, such as agave, lucuma, monatin, sweet potato, allulose and coconut sugar.
  • Exotic herbs, ethnic ingredients, condiments, spices and bolder flavors are gaining traction in new products as international and regional and global cuisines become more prevalent.
  • Reducing salt in many foods is challenging but necessary. Replacing sodium in meat, soups, sauces and other products must be done carefully; in many cases, "natural" products such as vinegars, spices and herbs help enhance flavors.
  • We're snacking more, and more often. Both semi-indulgent and healthful snacks (including new jerky and meat snacks) and mini meals are occurring across the day, and require portability, convenience and sustenance to keep us on the go. That's a tall order for formulators, but they're making strides replacing unhealthy fat, sodium and sugar while boosting whole grains, fiber, fruits and vegetables, healthy fats and "good" carbohydrates.
  • Health concerns about artificial ingredients and preservatives are driving the use of simpler, preservative-free colors and flavors. Colorant and flavor suppliers are tapping fruits, vegetables and other natural sources for ingredients.
  • Pulses are still popular, thanks to their support of weight and blood sugar management and heart health. Low-fat and packed with protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals, they're grabbing the spotlight in main courses, smoothies, sides and snacks.
  • Plant-based diets and interest in plant protein ingredients are sprouting new product launches.
  • Product developers are tapping into trends like customization, vegan offerings, artisanal, provenance, locally sourced and authentically made.
  • Interaction on social media platforms, including Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, etc., is critical to stay in the game and keep tabs on the competition. More consumers are actively engaged in social media, so the spread of information (and misinformation) will only grow in volume and speed; food companies need to prepare their brands to react accordingly and efficiently.

As consumers change the way they eat and engage with food, food companies will likely enjoy a tremendous upside to promoting premium benefits and healthful, value-added ingredients to attract purchases.

Plant Ops: FSMA's final act

Sanitary design has emerged as a major, and quite possibly, the main consideration when purchasing new or replacement equipment for food and beverage production facilities.

Translating words into actions has profound implications, and that’s where the food industry found itself beginning in September 2016.

That’s when the preventive controls for human food under the Food Safety Modernization Act went into effect for companies with 500 or more employees. An even larger wave in terms of the number of food and beverage processors were required to comply with FSMA beginning in September 2017. Only organizations with less than $2.5 million in annual sales are beyond the preventive controls rules now, and those firms must comply by September 2018.

FSMA became the law of the food land in January 2011, though it took more than four years for FDA to promulgate the preventive controls regulations. Translating external rules into internal actions has, understandably, caused a last-minute scramble. As one company leader put it, “Technically, it’s in place; practically, we’re working on it.”
Altering work practices is the biggest change, and that has triggered extensive training, beginning with certification programs for staffers designated as preventive controls qualified individuals (PCQI) within the organization. It also has put sanitary design of equipment front and center in capital-project considerations.

Sanitary design standards for food processing equipment date back almost a century, although most were advisory-only and not a serious consideration for equipment manufacturers outside the dairy segment – that is, until 2002, when the American Meat Institute adopted 10 guidance principles.

While that locked up the dairy, meat and poultry segments, OEMs outside those food categories increasingly considered cleanability when designing equipment. End-user demands for equipment engineered to be cleanable to a microbiological level took on urgency with passage of FSMA. Processors now can specify various levels of sanitary design when purchasing new machinery, weighing need, cleaning and sanitizing downtime and other factors.

The quickening pace of automation puts even greater importance on machine designs that lessen food-safety risks. Some manufacturers are making a conscious effort to replace manual functions with machines, less for labor-cost savings than as a food safety consideration. They have identified humans as a contamination vector. Machines with robotic motion are rising to prominence in part because of their ability to emulate human motion, at least the less intricate motions.

FSMA forces manufacturers to reassess their processes in terms of microbiological risk, as well as chemical, allergenic and other contaminants. That in turn has created demand for additional interventions, in particular technologies that are compatible with consumer demand for minimal processing. Thus, high-pressure processing (HPP) moved to the fore in the past year.

There has been a rapid expansion of HPP presses throughout North America. For start-ups, early-stage and smaller manufacturers, HPP and other nonthermal technologies are cost-prohibitive. As a result, tolling centers are being established, spreading from a few geographically dispersed locations to virtually every region.
A key objective in crafting FSMA regulations was the involvement of senior management in food defense. Instead of after-the-fact remedies—notably recalls—ownership must do all in its power to prevent products with compromised safety from leaving the plant and, to some extent, entering the facility in the first place.

Executing the safety plan largely falls to the plant operations team. Capital budgets are finite, and staff training is the logical starting point for FSMA compliance, but as they purchase new and replacement equipment and components, operations personnel are keeping food safety considerations top of mind.

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