September 13th, 2013
Product transfer and dispensing requires key safety and performance benefits for food and beverage processors
By Iuliana Nita, Global Marketing Manager, Food & Beverage, Process Systems division at Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics
Global economic challenges have caused most manufacturing sectors to focus heavily on optimizing cost-control and labor issues, with rising energy cost speculation driving concern; however, leading food and beverage processors have more pressing concerns. What could be more important than the bottom line? In a word: safety. As global economies grow, progress relies on demand, consumption and investment--therefore, manufacturers in both emerging and developed economies in Asia, such as China, Japan, and South Korea, and need to act conscientiously to meet international regulatory requirements as well as to encourage brand loyalty through safety for food and beverage applications.
China represents a fast-growing market for both domestic and exported food and beverage products in the global marketplace. Along with this growth, comes an important emphasis on food safety. According to a 2013 manufacturing industry trends survey, food safety topped the list of processor concerns for the coming year – ahead of cost controls and labor . While always a priority, incidents of food contamination have caused a marked decrease in consumer confidence regarding safety precautions taken by food and beverage processors.
Consumers have developed a powerful voice and are asserting more influence over how their food is handled and processed, driving increased oversight and regulations, worldwide.
A significant link in the supply chain, food and beverage processing involves the use of complex equipment to process, transfer and dispense food from various raw materials and ingredients, to the packaged brands that consumers see on the shelves at the local grocery store. As part of this manufacturing process, tubing is often used in food contact applications from milk transfer to flavoring and syrup dispensing. Typically made using various polymers, including silicone and plastic, these tubing solutions often come into direct contact with the food we eat during the manufacturing process. When specifying a food contact tubing solution, food and beverage processors need to look for benefits that include safety, as well as optimal performance and sustainability.
Because of the potential for bacteria and other pathogens to enter the food supply chain at the manufacturing stage, food safety in the processing facility is a primary concern for processors and consumers, alike. Due to widespread media coverage of occasional product recalls due to contamination and the rare occurrence of foodborne illnesses, manufacturers are taking a closer look at the food and beverage supply chain, scrutinizing food-handling at every stage of the farm-to-fork supply chain. Driven by consumer perception, states and countries are taking greater measures with new, more stringent regulations.
For China, former Premier Wen Jiabao set a 2013 economic-growth target early in the year, when he reported to the National People’s Congress that China will perfect the safety supervision system for the nation’s food and drugs. The new Premier, Li Kegiang, has pledged to crack down on food safety offenders during his time as leader of the world’s second largest economy. This drive for reform comes amidst questions regarding safety and accountability in the country, which includes excessive levels of antibiotics in chicken meat and concerns over contaminated milk. Because the Chinese Ministry of Health is overhauling the country’s food safety standards and regulations in order to more closely align with international standards, it is clear that the global regulatory climate converges on the topic of food safety. Not only does China need to restore consumer confidence, but as a major international manufacturing power, China’s overhaul will likely have a strong impact on food and beverage processing, worldwide.
Elsewhere in Asia, the legal climate is pushing for more stringent sanitation code. Japan’s Food Sanitation Law 370, for example, regulates the prevention of health hazards and requires that food businesses (handlers, manufacturers, importers, processors, etc.) secure the safety of food, food additives, and packaging, thus protecting the safety of the food supply chain. In South Korea, the legislative body has been proposing amendments to strengthen standards and specifications for ingredients and food processing, precipitating from the Framework Act on Food Safety from 2011. Overall, food safety in Asia is of utmost importance to manufacturers and industry regulators, both domestically and for the companies that interact with and within the market globally.
Meanwhile, in North America, preventative controls and regulations set by the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), signed into law by President Obama in 2011, are in the early stages of evaluation. These regulations grant the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) the authority to act preventatively rather than reactively, and places significant responsibilities on farmers and food processors to prevent contamination. Training, oversight and inspection of both foreign and domestically processed food are all required by this set of regulations, which means increased accountability from food and beverage processors, their materials suppliers, and up the global supply chain. Although one of the most stringent examples of government oversight on food processing regulation, the FSMA controls will likely set the example for other international governing bodies in the future.
In Europe, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has adopted the General Food Law Regulation, created to protect all EU member nations. A European regulation for plastics in contact with food, the Plastics Implementing Measure (PIM), is also in place.
Ultimately, these controls will be a good thing, allowing processors and brands to ensure global product integrity. However, compliance – foreign and domestic – is the challenge at hand. Food and beverage processors operating in more than one region must seek out solutions that meet or exceed food handling regulations in multiple markets, while also reducing costs and minimizing downtime. Advanced solutions should be compliant with global regulations, including those in Europe and China.
With several different regulatory bodies enacting different sets of standards, global manufacturers must invest significant resources to ensure that their products meet the criteria set in each market where their products are sold. And it gets more complicated for manufacturers that may source ingredients from China, purchase their production equipment in Germany and manufacture in the U.S. Now more than ever, ensuring compliance with a range of international regulations is a complex process that takes a great deal of time, expertise and an inventory of many different materials and machines. Compliance is important on a global scale for manufacturers, so significant resources are allocated to meet market-specific criteria.
High-Performance as the New Standard
While meeting food safety regulation is a key concern, food and beverage processors need to specify tubing material that will not only ensure product safety, but also perform a specific function effectively and efficiently within a processing facility. Advances in materials science have yielded innovative materials with various performance properties, resulting in tubing solutions that provide dependable food safety and effective performance.
For example, in numerous filling, draining, transfer and processing applications, food and beverage processors need tubing that can provide a sanitary fluid path. Tubing solutions with non-porous inner surfaces minimize the potential for bacterial growth, limiting product exposure to bacteria and other pathogens as it passes through. In addition, clarity is vital for visual inspection. Tubing with good clarity will not inhibit visual inspection, preventing potentially dangerous blockages from going unnoticed.
In an environment that features extreme temperatures, corrosion, abrasion and varying pressures, durability, flexibility and chemical compatibility are vitally important in food and beverage processing. Chemical resistance is also important in ensuring that tubing solutions stand up to aggressive cleaners.
When choosing an advanced material for their tubing solutions, food and beverage processors need to think proactively– identifying potential issues and mitigating any risks and reputational damage and that of their customers’ brands. Largely, this can be handled by focusing on existing concerns, such as food safety. However, this can also include unforeseen concerns driven by consumer speculation. Getting ahead of potential consumer concerns can help proactively deal with any future safety issues– real or imagined. One less hurdle in the race-to-market, for brand owners and processors choosing the right tubing material now will help ensure brand protection and risk management for the future. In effect, this limits total systems cost, reduces maintenance and repair expenses, and ensures product safety through the integrity of connections between systems and operations.
The sustainability of a brand can be measured in many ways, including the reduction of greenhouse gases, minimizing material waste or harmful by-products, or higher efficiency equipment and operations. When looking at tubing solutions, at the end of its useful lifecycle, tubing must be disposed of. Typical disposal can require incineration, which has far-reaching negative effects on the environment, releasing hazardous and corrosive hydrochloride gas which can produce acid rain. Tubing made from environmentally sound materials can be safely disposed of without releasing unsafe by-products. It is important that tubing solutions for food processing operations help brands reach their sustainability goals to minimize carbon footprint and inspire confidence from consumers, partners and investors.
As the global regulatory environment evolves and is enforced, food and beverage processors need to focus on many moving parts and maintain compliance within the manufacturing markets they operate in. With more and more attention paid to the issue of food safety, processors must be equipped to keep up with the many different regulatory requirements throughout the world. Quick and cost-effective globally compliant solutions for food processing tubing applications are needed to ensure product safety and protect brand equity. In addition, these same tubing solutions must maintain high levels of performance and sustainability. Believe it or not, advanced material solutions exist that can meet this extensive list of performance criteria, supporting the continued success of food processors and increasing their ability to compete in a complex global marketplace.
i Food Processing "2013 Manufacturing Trends Survey"