According to the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), more than 13 million pounds of beef, pork, poultry and mixed-meat products were recalled in 2013 alone. More than 12 million pounds of these were “Class I” recalls, which means that there was a real threat to consumer safety and the potential for outbreak of illness as a result of eating the recalled food.

Many of the recalled products include packaged food such as frozen meals and snacks, and ready-to-eat (RTE) meats, and the majority were removed from store shelves because of the presence of dangerous bacteria, including shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC), listeria monocytogenes and salmonella. Just as hazardous to some consumers, other causes for recall in 2013 included the presence of undeclared allergens and foreign materials that found their way into finished food products. In addition to the primary importance of product and consumer safety, recalls are also extremely costly to brand owners and can result in irreparable damage to brand reputation resulting from a loss of consumer confidence.

As food and beverage brand owners know, manufacturing consumer packaged goods is a complex process involving many steps, equipment and personnel. In an extremely crowded and competitive marketplace, brand owners need to bring products to market in a hurry. However, from processing and packaging to storage and shipping, there are many potential sources of contamination that can jeopardize the safety and integrity of consumer food and beverage products.

The good news is that processing and packaging equipment suppliers are helping brand-owners fight back with engineered solutions that make sterilization easier, minimizing the risk of human error and preventing the cross-contamination of ingredients. As PACK EXPO International 2014 (McCormick Place, Chicago; Nov. 2-5) approaches, manufacturers look forward to exploring the latest packaging technologies and insights to meet safety demands and prevent contamination.

Plan for Prevention

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) enacted the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) in 2011, structuring it to take a proactive, rather than reactive, approach to ensuring the overall safety of the U.S. food supply, and giving the FDA authority to mandate safety measures, regulate how food is processed, and even recall food products.

Food and beverage processing facilities implement several methods for contamination control. On the regulatory end, the USDA has mandated putting Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) programs in place for RTE meat and poultry processors. HAACP protocols monitor, verify and validate the safety of manufacturing operations. In addition, the physical lay-out of many food and beverage manufacturing facilities is being organized according to strict zoning principles that can identify and rate appropriate areas of focus for contamination prevention measures.

While food safety programs and zoning principles are key tools in maintaining a contamination-free facility, it is equally important to take a close look at where most of the direct food contact in a manufacturing facility takes place – the processing and packaging equipment, itself.

Get Modular

Occam’s Razor, the well-known problem-solving paradigm, asserts the simplest answer is often the right one. Maintaining a contamination-free facility often comes down to simple, yet key, factor – keeping equipment clean. While it might sound obvious, food and beverage manufacturing equipment can be large and complex with many difficult-to-reach areas. It’s no surprise then, that in keeping with Occam’s Razor, equipment design and material specification can play a major role in making required cleaning easier to accomplish effectively. Several recent advances in manufacturing technologies are specifically geared towards helping brand owners deal with the issue of contaminants in their food and beverage processing facilities. Equipment is being designed with sanitation in mind, resulting in processing and packaging machinery that is easier to disassemble and clean with very little operational downtime.

For example, the RPF Rotary Piston Filling Machine from Cozzoli Machine Company (Booth #S-2541) has been re-designed for fast, flexible and reliable performance.  This machine features a quick-change format, allowing operators to easily remove its pistons and fillers for cleaning.

“Changeover can take about 15 minutes,” said Jeff Ringel, director of Sales and Marketing, Cozzoli Machine Company. “The simple removal and replacement of components can help manufactures streamline their cleaning process, minimizing downtime on the line, while ensuring proper sanitization and preventing any cross-contamination of ingredients between batches.”

The automatic rotary piston filler accommodates a wide range of containers and products of most viscosities at high production speeds of more than 600 units per minute. This series is available in different frame sizes and models; from four to thirty-six filling nozzles. To further prevent instances of cross-contamination, the RPF Rotary Piston Filling Machine can come equipped with an automatic clean-in-place feature to flush out product and safely move onto the next run without residue from the previous batch.

Design with Safety in Mind

The most common causes of food and beverage recall – E. coli, listeria and salmonella – can quickly spread throughout a facility from one process to another. Efficient and effective cleaning can eliminate the presence of harmful bacteria and decrease the potential for cross contamination in facilities with multiple processes, products and production lines.

Beyond modularity, there are many ways machinery manufacturers minimize the risk for contamination through equipment design. For example food and beverage conveyors for food and beverage processing operations are increasingly made for quick and effective cleaning. Features range from in-process wipe downs to comprehensive high-pressure cleanings with specialized cleansers. Equipment made from stainless steel is easier to wipe down and can withstand the harsh chemicals used to eliminate contaminants, decreasing downtime and extending its useful product lifecycle.

Applied to touch surfaces, antimicrobial coatings utilizing polymers with bacteria-resistant additives or metal-based coatings containing copper or silver ion, are another increasingly popular element in food and beverage processing and packaging equipment design.

Additionally, equipment is being designed with fewer and shorter exposed cables, as well as other areas where bacteria settle and grow, such as exterior slots and holes. However, the need to eliminate areas where water can pool and bacteria can thrive isn’t limited to machinery.

Bonar Plastics (Booth #L-7661) will display its MonsterCombo® Bins at PACK EXPO. The stackable bins are designed to eliminate flat, horizontal areas where water can pool. Rotationally-molded from polyethylene material approved by the USDA, FDA and CFIA, the bins are lightweight, durable and can be used for handling and transport of many food, pharmaceutical, chemical and other bulk materials. Drains can be added as an optional feature and specialty versions of the bins include the Duracart, which can be wheeled for easy handling, and the Versa-Totes and Tra-Totes which offer a 1,500 lb capacity for uses in field agricultural harvesting or the handling of seafood, meat, poultry and other processed foods.

“Bonar Plastics has the widest offering of single wall and Insulated Boxes for handling of food products,” said Cullen Jones, director of Sales & Marketing, Bonar Plastics. “Additionally we have an extensive line of containers for liquid applications.”

Automate for Efficiency

While a well-trained staff is vital to reducing contamination in a food and beverage manufacturing facility, the human element is always going to be somewhat unpredictable and people can inadvertently make mistakes resulting in contamination. Advances in automated packaging machinery are playing a big part in taking human error out of the food and beverage processing equation.

Automated production and packaging lines can increase throughput while removing the potential for contamination through the handling of product by facility personnel. Automation can remove the threat of direct food and beverage contact, as well as user error from the entire process, including side- and top-loading case packing, horizontal and vertical cartoning, stretch/shrink wrapping, tray forming and loading, and even palletizing.

Other automated food safety-related processes can include metal detection and x-ray inspection of raw materials, as well as finished food and beverage products, to check for the presence of foreign matter that does not belong in the final product.   

In addition to various vision, x-ray and scale inspection techniques, vibratory separators also help manufacturers remove unwanted materials from their products during production. At PACK EXPO, Russell Finex (Booth #L-7128) will feature the Finex Separator™. Designed for accurate grading, scalping or sizing of wet and dry materials up to five fractions in one operation, the Finex Separator™ can quickly remove undesirable particles and contaminants – or classify different sizes of product. A combination of powerful motors and advanced weights enable the separator to move material through four different mesh screens for accurate grading nearly twice as fast as market alternatives.

“In addition to serving as a highly effective tool to enhance quality control, the Finex Separator™ is simple to use and the patented rubber suspension emits much less noise than spring suspension systems,” said Sarah Morris, marketing executive, Russell Finex. “Superior quality control starts with the individuals on the floor. Minimizing noise makes for a more pleasant work environment and enables operators and inspectors to focus their attention where it needs to be – on preventing contamination.”

Find it All in One Place

From raw material processing to packaging and palletizing, manufacturing packaged food and beverage products is a complicated process with many moving parts. With such a wide array of specialized processes and equipment comes the potential for contamination. The primary concern for any food and beverage brand owner is consumer safety. Product contamination is not only potentially harmful to consumers, but it can also result in a recall, which can be costly and extremely harmful to any brand. In short, people won’t buy a food or beverage product that they do not trust.

Regulatory bodies, such as the USDA, have taken an active role, implementing mandatory food safety programs, and facilities are being designed from the ground up to protect against contamination. However, there is room for improvement. Food and beverage manufacturers continue to make strides in food safety, implementing processing and packaging technology to help prevent contamination outbreaks and protect the consumers – as well as their brand equity.

Whether they’re searching for new efficiencies in cleaning, eliminating bacterial growth and remove contaminants, manufacturers can find the technologies and insights they need at PACK EXPO International 2014 (Nov. 2-5; McCormick Place, Chicago). The show will be North America’s leading resource for packaging and processing technologies this year. Located in the South Hall, The Food Safety Summit Resource Center (Booth #S-2962), sponsored by the Food Safety Summit and GE Intelligent Platforms, will offer information on the latest research and advances technologies to improve cleaning, allergen control and traceability. Subject matter experts will be on hand to respond to attendee questions on FSMA and related topics.

Additionally, PACK EXPO will offer free educational programming on and near the show floor with multiple Innovation Stage locations which will address the advancement of food safety initiatives.

Visit to register for the show today. Registration is $30 prior to October 3, 2014 and $60 thereafter.