Answering the call

by Shane Whitaker and Dan Malovany
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Sometimes the worst nightmare can be the biggest wake-up call. That certainly became the case five years ago when Peanut Corp. of America (PCA) dragged bakers and other food processors into one of the largest salmonella outbreaks in recent memory. Not only were peanut butter packers involved, but so were cookie and snack manufacturers, retailers and several of the most respected brands in the food industry — only because they unknowingly used PCA’s tainted ingredients in their products.

Even though PCA was just a small player in the industry — Wikipedia listed the company with $25 million in annual sales and only 2.5% of the peanut processing market at the time of its collapse — the incident resulted in millions of dollars in recalls and untold damage to popular household brands. Indeed, any product made with peanut butter came under suspicion for months afterward.

That incident plus episodes of contaminated produce helped birth the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). Such concerns inspired a flurry of audits that continues to this day. Altogether, these led to wide acceptance of the Global Food Safety Initiative (GSFI) and the associated British Retail Consortium (BRC) and Safe Quality Food (SQF) protocols for food safety and quality assurance.

In the baking industry, these concerns also played out in a revised standard for the sanitary design of baking equipment, namely ANSI/ASB/Z50.2-2012 (formerly referred to as the Baking Industry Sanitation Standards Committee, or BISSC, standard), which has had a growing influence over the future of equipment design, as evident at the 2013 International Baking Industry Exposition, held in Las Vegas in October.

 “The ANSI Z50.2 standard is different from others in that it focuses specifically upon the types of food manufacturing equipment used within the baking industry,” noted Jennifer Frankenberg, vice-president, Sage Food Safety Consultants, Cincinnati, which helped spearhead the rewrite and updating of the standard.

To improve ANSI Z50.2, more than 70 bakers and allieds stepped forward to revise the original “BISSC standard.” The original standard has been updated with almost 300 line changes, the addition of 63 sections and the removal of another 34, according to Ms. Frankenberg.

“These revisions reflect bringing the equipment standard up-to-date and having it fulfill the changing hygienic requirements,” she said. “Many other segments of the food industry have been plagued by substantial and costly food safety problems much of which was related to equipment and facility design. They have identified innovations that enhance hygienic design to meet consumer expectations for food safety. The ANSI Z50.2 committees expect this document to advance bakery product safety.”

Potential long-term savings

Sanitary design, however, has initial upfront costs. But as with sustainability initiatives, the initial investment can yield long-term gains in return on investment (ROI). “The key is to look at the holistic ROI by looking at the operational cost reductions over the life of the equipment,” Ms. Frankenberg said. “With proper sanitary design, time needed for cleaning results in less downtime, and you generate greater efficiencies and less waste. You also extend the useful life of the equipment, spreading your operational cost reductions out for a longer period of time.”

Another factor, she said, is the reduction in defective products due to the inability to effectively clean a piece of equipment. Allergens, specifically, have been a huge problem for the baking industry. In 2012, Ms. Frankenberg noted, the Food and Drug Administration reported that 80% of all recalls related to bakery items involved allergens. “While many were mislabeling issues, several were also due to ineffective cleaning methods,” she observed. “Niches and harborage points within equipment can retain and pass on allergenic materials despite cleaning of equipment.”

Hygienically designed equipment, however, can minimize the risk of product contamination that can lead to the need for a recall. “The costs associated with a recall include product loss, product retrieval, destruction costs, wasted labor and utilities, wasted transportation costs and legal settlements — just to name a few,” she noted. “In this age, product recalls generate losses in the millions of dollars, as well as damage brand equity.”

The recall can easily branch beyond operational costs, noted Jon Anderson, a member of the BISSC board of directors, Manhattan, KS. That’s why many other products, such as peanut butter-filled sandwich crackers, took an unexpected hit because of the recall.

 “What keeps food production managers up at night is that a foodborne outbreak related to their products will damage the company’s brand name,” he said. “When you look at the worth of a company, you look at the worth and value of a brand name. Any foodborne outbreak can really damage that company’s reputation among consumers.

“The other thing that keeps people up at night is that a foodborne outbreak and its resulting impact are not company specific,” Mr. Anderson added. “If a company is responsible for a foodborne outbreak in this industry, the overall product [segment] suffers.”

Even products not involved in a recall can see a drop in sales as frightened consumers stay away from the category as a whole. “With any foodborne outbreak, the consumer is not going to discern whose company was responsible,” Mr. Anderson said. “They are going to look at the product itself and be hesitant to purchase that product, regardless of who it was from. All the efforts toward food safety do not give a company a market advantage.

“If I were the president of a company and one of my competitors was responsible for a foodborne outbreak, I may not breathe any easier,” he added. “I still have to face the impact that the outbreak will have on sales because the consumer is not going to differentiate the brand name of a safe product from that of the offending one.”

What’s the answer?

By investing in the sanitary design of equipment, the baking industry is taking a fundamental and proactive approach to food safety, according to Mr. Anderson. “We feel that if the design is done correctly, it’s not going to impact the price of the equipment that much,” he said. “Even if it did, on the bakers side, you have reduced cleaning costs because you are not using as much labor, time, chemicals and energy. You have reduced labor and downtime for maintenance — all of these things will impact ROI.”

According to Mr. Anderson, confusion remains over the difference between BISSC and the ANSI/ASB/Z50.2 Baking Equipment Sanitation Standard. The BISSC Office of Certification, based at AIB International, Manhattan, KS, handles the certification process for bakery equipment.  The ANSI/ASB/Z50.2 standard is the benchmark by which certification is granted; however, BISSC does is not manage the standard.  The standard and the ANSI standards writing process is managed by the American Society of Baking (ASB).

Equipment certification through BISSC involves having a person on site at the equipment manufacturer’s facility who has been coached through a joint effort by AIB International and BISSC to understand the ANSI standard and how it applies to design. The on-site person will then attest in writing that the equipment has been designed and built according to the ANSI standard. Third-party verification through BISSC requires an independent inspector to analyze the piece of equipment and determine if it meets the design specifications identified in the new ANSI Z50.2 standard.

The ANSI Z.50.2 standard can be found on ASB’s website at www.asbe.org. Unlike other sanitary guidelines, the ANSI Z50.2 standard is a living document and open to continuous improvements, according to Ms. Frankenberg. “Users and equipment manufacturers are encouraged to take part in future committee deliberations,” she said. 

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