For its theme of “Continuous Improvement,” the Northwest Food and Beverage Manufacturers Expo and Conference is a model of continuity. This year’s annual Expo—which ran from January 11 to January 13 in Portland, Ore.—was the 102nd. And with over 400 booths and 40 hours of programming, there was a lot to take in.
This year, says Expo organizer Nan Devlin, “Attendance was up by 10 percent from 2015, with about 15 percent more food processors attending.”
While the Expo covered an array of topics, Devlin notes that the rollout of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) prompted a special interest in food safety issues this year. “The two-day Food Safety Forum was very popular,” she says. “It ended up being standing room only.”
FSMA is going to place added pressure on manufacturers to raise their safety standards, says Joe Stout, founder of Commercial Food Sanitation, LLC. Stout delivered a talk called “Win the Race to Zero Pathogens Using Sanitary Design and Environmental Monitoring.”
Noting the already-increasing incidence of warning letters and the high number of Form 483s the FDA has been generating under regulations as they presently exist, Stout says, “I expect the upcoming changes once the FSMA is implemented to definitely increase the level of difficulty and the details reviewed during regulatory inspections, resulting in more critical 483s and warning letters.”
In order to maintain drum-tight pathogen control in the processing environment, Stout counsels the need for sanitary design of both equipment and facilities, in order to eradicate pathogen growth and harborage sites.
“To maintain control of pathogens in your environment,” he explains, “you need to know the environment of your plant like the back of your hand. The way to do this is through an aggressive environmental monitoring program which can inform you of pathogen presence and potential harborage points. With knowledge of these points you can more effectively redesign or more frequently clean these sensitive areas. Once these areas are known then the goal is elimination.”
Robert E. Brackett, PhD, vice president and director, Institute for Food Safety and Health, Illinois Institute of Technology, delivered a two-part talk entitled “Are You Cultured? Passing the FSMA Requirements for Food Safety Culture” over two days. He explains that Food Safety Culture is one that recognizes a shared set of safety values and makes them an absolute priority for companies and facilities producing food. This is a necessary goal and one for which the FSMA will raise the bar.
However, Dr. Brackett warns, “Establishing a strong food safety culture will not be easy for those organizations new to the concept. They will need to establish an organizational and management structure that allows food safety values to influence and drive decisions in all other aspects of the business. The leadership of the organization will need to model food safety culture and set expectations for the same behaviors throughout the organization.”
Staniforth is a freelance reporter based in Montreal. Reach him at email@example.com.