Who can blame them, considering there are an average of four product recalls per day, according to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration’s Web site.
But among dairy processors, food safety is just another part of their everyday tasks – one that isn’t taken lightly and never ignored.
That’s why food safety experts and manufacturers are developing new technologies and enforcing sophisticated screening methods to ensure that products meet the highest standards of quality.
For instance, retailers are seeking suppliers that implement food safety and quality management systems that are focused on prevention, says Jill Hollingsworth, group vice president of food safety programs for Food Marketing Institute, Arlington, Va.
In many cases, doing so revolves around securing a third-party certification, or the promise that the products are safe. “Suppliers, including dairies, need a way to demonstrate to their customers that they are meeting these high standards, and the most reliable way to provide this assurance is through an accredited third-party certification,” Hollingsworth says.
As a result, more and more dairy processors and food retailers are relying on the Safe Quality Food Program, administered by the Safe Quality Food Institute, a division of the Food Marketing Institute.
“The SQF program is a leading global food safety and quality certification program and management system designed to meet the needs of buyers and suppliers worldwide,” Hollingsworth explains. “Having met the rigorous requirements needed to obtain certification, the dairy supplier is assuring their retail customers that food has been produced, processed, prepared and handled according to the highest possible standards.”
SQF certification, she adds, is currently supported by a number of U.S. and international retailers and foodservice providers who have employed HACCP-based food safety systems. “Food retailers and manufacturers seek suppliers who are SQF certified because it serves as proof of commitment to safety management, a level of food safety beyond what is required by the government, increased brand protection and, ultimately, increased consumer confidence,” Hollingsworth says.
In addition, consumers are becoming more educated when it comes to practicing proper food safety etiquette, says Jim Bail, director of NSF International Food Safety Programs, Ann Arbor, Mich., which means they are in search of high-quality products that come with a trustworthy label.
“Safety and quality are becoming more important to consumers as public health takes a leading role in legislation and society,” he says. “Increased consumer demands for food product authenticity calls for higher transparency within the food industry. Nowadays, consumers want more information about the foods they are buying. They want to know where it came from, how it was made and who made it. An example would be country of origin labeling (COOL) law, which requires retailers to provide customers with information regarding the source of certain foods.”
Furthermore, the FDA considers most dairy products as high-risk, says Emil Nashed, vice president of quality assurance and R&D for Farmland Dairies LLC, the Wallington, N.J.-based unit of Lala Food USA. That’s why companies like Farmland operate by the principles of HACCP and participate in the Interstate Milk Shippers HACCP program, which is designed to ensure safe milk supply.
“At Farmland Dairies, quality and food safety is not only a set of SOPs [standard operating procedures] and standards, but it is a culture, a way of life through the organization,” Nashed says. “In our philosophy, the question is not what is the cost of quality, but is rather what is the cost of not having quality products. Though the food safety record of the dairy industry has been very good, the most recent recall [by the Peanut Corp. of America] has served as a wake-up call to the industry.”
Unlike other industries though, the dairy industry is unique in that most of the dairy products it makes contain few ingredients other than milk, says Brian Miller, quality assurance manager for BGC Manufacturing, the food and beverage processing division of Tyler, Texas-based Brookshire Grocery Co.
“Raw milk is already heavily tested for antibiotics, filtered for foreign particles, tested for excess water and tested for excess microbiological contamination. This is all done before the raw milk is even received into the plant,” he says. “The dairy plant also periodically tests other ingredients for micro counts, pH and titratable acidity to compare with the [certificate of authenticity] that each plant receives with every ingredient.”
On the other hand, though, foods that contain dairy ingredients are susceptible to contamination, Miller adds, much like finished products that contain nuts.
“The peanut scandal itself did not change many of our processes and procedures,” he says, “but it did force each of our plants, specifically our ice cream plant, to double and triple check all of the previous shipments of peanuts we received in from PCA.”
Technology that savesWith every new technology comes a new way of doing things, and the food safety sector is no different.
Farmland Dairies, for instance, developed a risk-assessment approach to all of its production procedures designed to produce greater consistency and quality standards, Nashed says. “It is important to establish QC testing requirements of raw material and finished product using well-recognized protocols,” he says. “We are the largest fluid dairy plant in the U.S. that is HACCP recognized by the Milk Safety Branch of the FDA.”
Farmland’s in-house lab follows the FDA protocols in testing incoming raw milk and other raw materials, and operators perform rigorous product sampling, Nashed adds. “Much effort also has been put in educating and training the employees regarding the importance of food safety and food handling,” he notes. “New rapid methods have been employed in our plants to ensure the effectiveness of sanitation procedures and to ensure the prevention of cross-contamination especially with allergens.”
Since 1999, BGC has been using a photon-initiated oxidation system, or PIOx, to increase efficiency in cleaning chemicals and water used per year. PIOx, created by Analytical Environmental Laboratories in Tyler, Texas, uses short-wave ultraviolet light to convert oxygen to ozone that in turn reacts with organic material left in washdown water and converts the organic material into carbon dioxide and water, Miller explains. As a result, effluence released to municipal systems by the dairy plant is clean, allowing the company to reduce its water and sewage charges from $20,000 to $5,000 per month.
“The industry continues to advance in technology and so our cleaning and sanitizing procedures and agents must advance as well,” Miller says. “Improving technology continues to allow plants to run faster and for longer periods of time, and with this advancement comes our job to make sure everything is cleaned and sanitized properly and verified by swabbing and testing for residues before running a new product.”
BGC also runs mock recalls every six months on different ingredients to review and assess discrepancies in the reports.
“These mock recalls are very good practice and allow our manufacturing plants to be confidant that in the event of a real recall such as the PCA recall from last year, that BGC Manufacturing can confidently pull back affected inventory and communicate appropriate information to the store level or outside customers in a short period of time,” Miller says.
Laying down the lawTo combat the spread of foodborne illnesses, the federal government has enacted a number of laws designed to prevent companies from producing unsatisfactory products.
For example, the Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009 mandates more frequent inspection of food manufacturing facilities, improves inspector access to plant records and requires facilities to develop and implement safety plans to identify and protect against hazards, Bail notes. However, the act does not pertain to farms, restaurants or retail food establishments.
Meanwhile, CIES-The Food Business Forum, an independent, global food business network in more than 150 countries, established the Global Food Safety Initiative, which was designed to ensure confidence in the delivery of safer foods while improving food safety supply chain management, says Robert Prevendar, director of NSF Food Safety Certification Systems.
“GFSI provides a benchmark to ensure consistency between countries and the products that have been certified,” he says. “NSF International also hosts an annual Food Safety Leadership Awards Program. The awards program recognizes outstanding leadership in foodservice safety.” The 2010 FSLA award recipients were slated to be announced at the Food Safety Summit, an annual conference produced by BNP Media, publisher of Dairy Foods, on April 14.
DCI Cheese Co.’s Santa Rosa, Calif., facility was recognized for meeting or exceeding GFSI standards and for embracing the standards of British Retail Consortium.
“In today’s world of global food production and distribution, assuring the safety of our food supply has never been more important,” says Tim Omer, president of the Richfield, Wis.-based cheese manufacturer.
Whether processors are fine-tuning their equipment or upgrading their facilities, the dairy industry continues to be proactive in its ongoing efforts toward full food safety assurance.
Suppliers Tackle Food SafetyWhile dairy processors are revamping their operations to ensure stricter food safety measures, suppliers also are getting into the ring with a range of equipment designed to improve nearly any dairy plant.
For instance, Fred Weber, president of Hamilton, N.J.-based Weber Scientific, says he’s seeing an increased use of instantaneous hygiene monitoring tests that evaluate the cleanliness of food contact surfaces.
“A surface may visually appear clean but these tests can determine, in nearly real time, that all food residue actually has been removed,” Weber says. “This gives assurance that there is no cross-contamination of one of the major food allergens, including milk, eggs, tree nuts, wheat, peanuts and soybeans. It is also an important indicator that all traces of food residue, which could provide a major nutrient source for microorganisms to grow including possible pathogens, have been effectively eliminated.”
Weber Scientific also developed SpotCheck swabs, which detect invisible amounts of glucose residue and lactose, and ProClean swabs, which identify invisible deposits of protein, Weber notes.
Meanwhile, Eriez Magnetics supplies equipment that is essential for most third-party-certified facilities, says Ray Spurgeon Jr., product manager for x-ray inspection systems at the Erie, Pa.-based company.
“Eriez equipment removes or inspects foreign objects and is integral to a comprehensive food safety program,” he says. “Accordingly, our experienced representatives will look at a process from raw materials (front door) throughout the process (to finished product at the back door) in identifying critical control points and where our equipment makes the most sense.”
Although recent product recalls haven’t dealt a crushing blow to the dairy industry, the food industry is still challenged by recalled products, says John J. Urh, product manager for CEM Corp., Matthews, N.C., maker of testing equipment.
“When people in the food industry are challenged through recalls, they do explore new ways of testing or assuring quality that reduce the chances of recalls,” Urh says. “Our equipment is used for proximal analysis of a large variety of raw and processed foods.”
Hold the Presses! HVP: A Reason to Track and Traceby Donna Berry Product Development Editor
Near press time, the number of recalled prepared foods potentially contaminated with salmonella-infested hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP) continued to grow. The Washington Post and others predict this could lead to the biggest food recall in U.S. history. Hopefully it will be the final nudge than manufacturers need to implement a reliable ingredient tracking and tracing program, as well as invest in appropriate rapid in-house tests and even third-party certification.
With two large-scale ingredient recalls (peanut butter in 2009 and the current HVP) impacting the dairy industry within a 12-month period, it is critical that the safety and quality departments of every dairy be able to track a finished product back through to a manufactured batch, through the ingredient control systems and finally back to the supplier. “To make our food safer, we must know as quickly as possible which foods are making people ill and why,” says USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety Jerold Mande.
A call to action
In a report issued in early March, acute foodborne illness is estimated to cost the U.S. economy $152 billion annually, when health care, workplace and other losses are considered. It’s no wonder that food safety has become a major political issue.
It’s also becoming a consumer issue. “Consumers are not only aware of food safety issues they are actually changing their shopping habits due to food safety concerns,” says Chris Peterson, director of the Product Center at Michigan State University, East Lansing, Mich.
According to an online survey of more than 400 consumers, Americans are highly aware of food safety issues, according to MSU researchers. In addition, U.S. consumers surveyed say they want to see evidence on product labels that the foods they are buying have passed some kind of independent safety certification process. Moreover, slightly more than one third of consumers indicate a willingness to pay a premium, upwards of 30% more.
“It is interesting and important to note that higher price alone is not a direct signal of safer food,” says Peterson. “Even brand name recognition is not the most powerful indicator of safety. Voluntary third-party certification compares favorably with mandatory government inspection and slightly ahead of traceability labeling in the mind of the consumer.”
But for a modern dairy, being able to efficiently and reliably track and trace ingredients prevents costly recalls and brand endangerment when something goes awry.
“In most scenarios, ingredients take one of four paths to the production floor,” according to Stuart Hunt, general manager, SG Systems LLC, Dallas. “Bulk ingredients are typically delivered to a mixer directly through a bulk-delivery system.” For the most part, bulk ingredients are readily tracked and traced. Tracking and tracing become more difficult when humans play a greater role in food production.
“Minor ingredients will be added manually to the mixer in the form of whole or part bags, while micro ingredients are typically hand scaled and added to the mixer manually,” explains Hunt. “Topping ingredients are added after mixing to the divided and portioned batch.”
According to Hunt, there are three common approaches dairies usually take to track and trace ingredients. “One can do the minimum, which is required by law to be in compliance with the Bioterrorism Preparedness Act 2002,” he says. “This involves simple record keeping of goods received and shipped finished goods. A manual process of paper records can achieve this, but of course, paper record storage consumes office space.
“Further, in the event of a recall of a raw ingredient such as salt, if you don’t keep track of ‘when and where used’ then you have virtually no way of knowing who it was shipped to,” he says.
Option two builds on the first option: more extensive manual record keeping, which may or may not include computer data entry. “Taking the Bioterrorism Preparedness Act one stage further and investing in more paper trails - or even inputting this information into a computer database - to keep track of ‘where used’ in the production facility is the common approach to satisfying retailers looking for damage limitation during the ingredient or finished product recall process,” says Hunt. “This allows a recall to be batch specific, limiting the recall times and providing the manufacturer with an opportunity to trace back where an ingredient has been used and more importantly, where and who is was distributed to.”
A more sophisticated third option comes in the form of automated data collection. “Taking the needs of the Bioterrorism Preparedness Act, the demands from retailers to reduce recall times and also the desire to keep administration costs low requires some out-of-the-box thinking,” Hunt says. “Such a system places the necessary controls on the production floor to capture and control inventory lot numbers and ingredient usage from actual production floor events. Lot numbers are captured at the receiving, weighing, mixing, portioning and shipping stages, eliminating all paperwork and administration. Usages at the bulk, minor and micro ingredient levels are recorded automatically as lot numbers are added into the mix. The system forces correct weights to be added and the inventory to be used in correct rotation.”
Please make sure you have a reliable track and trace program in place. As of March 22, 159 products made using the recalled HVP have also been recalled by manufacturers. The more detailed their track and trace program, the less product recalled and the smaller the loss.
The recall included select varieties of dairy-based dips and cheese breads produced by companies such as the Orval Kent Foods Co., Wheeling, Ill., Emmi - Roth Käse USA, Monroe, Wis., T. Marzetti Co., Columbus, Ohio, and Ventura Foods LLC, Brea, Calif., and sold under brands such as Culinary Circle, Spreadables, Great Value and Dean’s.
For more information, as well as an up-to-date list of recalled products, visit: http://www.fda.gov/Food/ResourcesForYou/FoodIndustry /ucm203201.htm.