Bakers and snack producers must weigh equipment purchase price vs. the long-term cost of ownership.

'Mass customization'

In addition to adapting equipment to meet demand for new packaging options, suppliers are stepping up to develop new designs to help their customers achieve clean-label status. A 2013 report released by the National Center for Health Statistics indicated that food allergies are a growing public health concern. An estimated 15 million people are affected by adverse reactions to certain foods or ingredients. As a result, an increasing number of consumers are scrutinizing labels on packaged food products with a more discerning eye.

Major food companies, including Campbell Soup Co., Camden, NJ, have taken great measures to comply with these new consumer standards. “The baking and snack industries will continue to be challenged like never before as consumers become better educated about the foods they buy and consume,” explained Dave Watson, vice-president, engineering, global biscuits and snacks, filling and packaging. “They’re looking for clean labels, products that are GMO-free and organic, products with recognizable ingredients on the label. Consumers want to know what’s in their products.”

In the name of transparency, Campbell’s launched, which enables consumers to see what ingredients are in products. Key ingredients are defined along with those for flavor, texture, color and leavening, as well as GMO ingredients and any allergens. The site features a “real food index” that scores the company’s progress toward its commitment to using 100% real ingredients. Mr. Watson noted that Campbell Soup also has a timeline for phasing out artificial colors and flavors.
Equipment suppliers such as ProMach are helping their customers address the growing demand for clean labels. “Over the past year, we have worked on several new products geared toward clean labels. This includes reduced ingredient lists and products free from certain allergens. For instance, we have helped companies implement switching systems to package products that contain nuts in one area and are nut-free in other areas,” Mr. Tamborello explained.

Specifically, more and more equipment suppliers are committed to preventing cross-contamination during the processing and packaging steps. CPGs and OEMs are well aware of the hazards of cross-contamination and are taking steps to address them with sanitary designs.
Sanitizing or cleaning equipment involves an entirely different process than simply washing it down. Much of cross-contact prevention depends on the way the equipment was initially designed. “We continue to modify equipment designs to make sanitation easier. This involves minimizing surfaces where product can accumulate, making our machinery easier to disassemble, improving visibility into the machinery and improving access for cleaning,” Mr. Tamborello said.

The Food Safety Modernization Act requires companies producing ready-to-eat food to justify that production processes reduce or eliminate pathogens to an acceptable level. This means establishing science-based evidence defined as validation and verification. Validation proves the thermal process prevents food-borne illness from raw materials that may harbor a pathogen. Verification measures the associated process parameters to affirm the minimum acceptable standards are achieved.

Developing and implementing this required documentation is particularly challenging for baked and snack food manufacturers that may not have food safety or microbiology professionals on staff. Resources may be found at local universities and extension offices and from food manufacturing support organizations such as the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the American Spice Trade Association and the International Association for Food Protection.

At the upcoming ProFood Tech tradeshow, to be held April 4-6 at Chicago’s McCormick Place, the ProFood Tech Learning Hub and the Regulatory Matters program will feature experts to discuss solutions to some of these regulatory challenges and provide an opportunity to discuss with peers in a roundtable format.

Bakers and snack manufacturers can also take advantage of expertise found in “Spotlight on Baking,” a report recently released by PMMI’s OpX Leadership Network, a consortium of CPGs and OEMs sponsored. The report is derived from the more comprehensive publication, Validating the Reduction of Salmonella and Other Pathogens in Heat Processed Low-Moisture Foods. The guideline focuses on validating processes and reporting findings, implementing process controls, conducting verification activities and documenting control measures in food safety plans.

Read on to learn all about operational efficiency on the packaging line.