As the regulatory requirements of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) continue to roll-out, food safety and compliance with the new rules remains top of mind for food processors. Putting process control in place to enhance food safety but also improve food quality has become critical.
FSMA was signed into law in 2011 in response to high-profile outbreaks of foodborne illness. As of June 2016, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has mostly finalized FSMA regulations and begun their implementation and enforcement.
Most food companies looking to comply with the new rules are leaning on procedures and process control rather than new equipment purchases, according to the Food Safety Modernization Act Update Report released by PMMI, The Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies.
The report indicates that companies are largely making procedural changes, such as how the manufacturing environment is organized, operated, cleaned and maintained; what people are trained on and how activities are documented.
These process changes can be aided by new technology. Fortunately, the tools to fine-tune processes are much easier to use today, and they are capable of minimizing waste, finding process problems and improving throughput and quality while maintaining food safety. Provided of course if an effective Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP) plan is in place. Many processors have more of the necessary tools than they realize—they just don’t talk to each other, and making them talk often requires the help of suppliers or system integrators.
One approach equipment suppliers are taking to assist food manufacturers in their compliance efforts is implementing new interfaces and Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems that link to the customer’s database system to facilitate traceability, according to the report.
Most food companies focus on smart manufacturing processes to eliminate contaminants and minimize risk. They are implementing electronic data acquisition of key control factors through the use of sensors so equipment can monitor temperature, chemical concentrations, flow rates and other measures. With this added information, processors can maintain better control over their processes, thus enhancing food safety. Data collection on equipment performance is also critical for accurately measuring Overall Equipment Efficiency.
In addition to process monitoring, periodic testing to ensure cleaning and sanitation is effective is critical. To assist in these efforts, equipment includes enhanced contaminant filtering with screens, metal detectors and added ferrous material to conveyor belts so metal detectors can capture any belt fragments.
Over the last 12 months, food companies have primarily focused on food safety training, developing new protocols, documentation templates and control points, and complying with industry checklists to prepare for FSMA compliance. Preventative controls for allergens and critical control points have been created along the manufacturing line.
Real-time operating systems linked to enterprise database solutions are increasingly popular because they provide food companies with a real-time, clear picture of total operational performance and accurate record keeping of all machine inputs, outputs and issues that impact food safety, according to the findings of PMMI’s FSMA Update. Several OEMs report that food companies are looking for machines that connect to the Internet of Things (IoT) and the cloud or asking about technologies such as Linux or VX Works that provide real-time operating systems.
For a deeper dive into the technologies to assist with process control and enhancing food safety, plan to attend ProFood Tech (April 4-6, 2017 McCormick Place, Chicago). With more than 400 suppliers focused on all food and beverage sectors, this event will offer a full range of food and beverage processing solutions.