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From: Food Quality & Safety magazine, August/September 2014

A Six Pack of Safety and Quality Questions for Beverage Manufacturers

by Troy Matteotti

The beverage market’s increased focus on product safety and quality has manufacturers thirsty for new strategies to protect both their customers and their wallets.

According to CDC research, 1 in 6 Americans contract an illness from food or beverage sources each year. Additionally, a 2011 Grocery Manufacturers Association, Ernst & Young, and Covington & Burling study found more than three-quarters of companies who faced a product recall in the preceding five years estimated an average financial impact of nearly $30 million.

With regulations growing stricter, and retailers and customers becoming more engaged in all stages of the production process, beverage manufacturers face greater pressure to eliminate contamination threats that can diminish product quality and—in the most severe cases—affect consumer safety. With so much at stake, even the slightest negligence can generate significant financial and reputational damage.

As beverage manufacturers refine their risk mitigation strategies, keeping the following “Product Safety and Quality Evaluation Six Pack” in mind can help identify areas for improved operational efficiency, brand protection and the delivery of safe, quality products.

1. Where is contamination likely?
Beverage processing plants exemplify the warm, wet, and potentially uncontrolled environment ideal for bacteria and pathogen growth. Human hands, equipment, and incoming air can all introduce contaminants to workspaces perceived as “clean.”

For both open plant and clean-in-place sanitation approaches, beverage processors must ensure that proper cleaning solution volumes, compositions, and applications are correctly used on each operational component. The mix of cleaner and water needed to sanitize a conveyor will likely not perform at the same level when applied to pipes or tanks. An in-depth look at cleaning procedures can uncover operational gaps and eliminate potential surface contaminants before they reach beverages.

In-depth air and surface testing can provide an accurate view of facility contamination. As a result, a rigorous testing schedule should be included in any operational improvement plan. Ideal testing windows will vary based on product composition and volume, but regular monitoring will indicate irregularities and enable faster issue resolution.

2. Are production measures standardized?
Previously, the lack of standardized beverage production guidelines left safety precaution development and implementation up to individual plant managers. As a result, distributors and retailers could potentially offer two variations of the same product processed through entirely different means—and through entirely different safety standards.

As more retailers demand safety controls through vendor assurance programs, such as Global Food Safety Initiative or Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points certification, beverage processors can leverage such opportunities to demonstrate due diligence and protocol uniformity. Each plant should verify that its certifications are thorough, up-to-date and compliant with prominent industry standards. Aside from regulatory guidelines, processors within beverage brands can work together to exchange best practice recommendations and create a set of company-wide production, safety, and quality standards.

Standardizing safety measures will not only promote a proactive approach to risk mitigation and reduce the complexity of ensuing audits, but build stronger trust with retail partners and their customers.

3. How does the water flow?
Water is a critical component for successful beverage processing operations, both as an ingredient and as a catalyst for processing raw materials to their final packaged state. While it’s important for processors to ensure operational efficiencies that reduce costs and enhance sustainable brand images, it’s also important to consider water contamination risks. By failing to evaluate the origin and contents of water utilized during processing, a beverage manufacturer could unknowingly invite unwanted contaminants into plants, or worse, products.

Assessing contamination risks and processing safety opportunities should include added visibility of water sources. Is the water derived from underground or surface sources? How is it treated before reaching the plant? What natural or chemical additives might the water supply contain? To truly remain sanitary, processors need to understand any factors that could impact water quality before it is used as a product or cleaning component. A complete view of water withdrawal and utility can identify possible risk areas and ultimately deliver safer, better quality products.

4. Is lubrication making product quality less smooth?
As processing machines grow more complex and more automated, plants rely on lubrication solutions to keep tracks, conveyors, and gears moving. Despite their functionality benefits, oil and grease lubricants could threaten product quality. In some instances these additives are released through compressed air or drip into beverages as they move down the line. Even with the greatest diligence, lubricant contamination can be difficult for processors to detect in a fast-moving plant workflow.

To eliminate these risks, beverage processors can evaluate opportunities to implement dry lubricant programs or solutions (such as Diversey’s Dicolube Sustain program) rather than traditional, slicker alternatives. Most dry lubricants can be applied in concentrated forms and do not require dilution, which further reduces dripping risks and necessary water use. As a secondary benefit, using less water enhances worker safety by reducing slippery surfaces in the surrounding area.

5. Can we accommodate new products?
Changing consumer tastes have facilitated the introduction of more natural, “clean labeled” beverages into the retail marketplace. While a potentially valuable profit source, expanding production lines to accommodate new ingredients and preservation needs can create logistical challenges. As more low pH products are introduced, and workers must familiarize themselves with new operational guidelines and packaging and sanitation standards, the likelihood of a slip in safety and quality enforcement increases.

For both processors experimenting with new product lines, and those who may face such expansion at a later date, communication will prove critical to ensuring product safety and taste. Consultation with industry partners can identify specific pasteurization procedures, temperature controls, and packaging needs for natural, organic, and specialty products. Likewise, as new products are introduced, plant managers must relay these unique needs to floor workers to make sure that each individual beverage is processed according to standard.

6. How can Best Practices be reinforced?
While audit findings and contamination testing are valuable for successful, safe plant operations, beverage processors’ greatest asset is continued practice reinforcement with employees.

Transparency and discussion around best practices can foster a sense of responsibility among employees and motivate them to contribute to overall plant goals. As audits are completed, plant managers can review findings with their teams to highlight areas to work even more diligently. Encouraging employees to provide their own safety improvement recommendations to ensure the production of high-quality products will not only maintain interest, but also expose managers to previously undetected opportunities.

As more beverages enter the retail marketplace, and suppliers and retailers demand high product volumes at accelerated turnaround, it can be challenging for processors to balance production speed with quality and safety compliance. However, even within a busy plant, beverage processors can benefit from taking a few steps back and evaluating how to make their operations even stronger and more sanitary.


Matteotti is a strategic account executive with Sealed Air’s Food Care division. Reach him at troy.matteotti@sealedair.com.


 

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