What you produce should be tasty, enjoyable, and nutritious. The consumer expects an experience every time a food product package is opened–the smell of the product, the familiar taste, and the enjoyment the product brings. It’s what keeps them coming back for more. Workers in food factories have to ask themselves this question, “if my customer watches me handle the ingredients, process the food, and packaging, would they still buy my product?” This question should apply no matter where you are in the world. In today’s economy, brands and reputations are global. Specific regulations may differ from location to location.
However, if you hold yourself to your consumer’s standards then there will be little difficulty adapting to the regulations of one locality or another. Sometimes in food production it is easy to get lost in the complexity and technical challenges. Producers should always keep in mind that their product is food, which feeds the world. Stay focused on understanding what consumers expectations are for freshness, quality, and nutrition–that will go a long way in enhancing food safety.
Regulations, such as the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) are requiring greater responsibilities and accountability on the part of America’s food factories.
Let’s ask ourselves a question, is your food factory compliant with the Food Safety Modernization Act? If you can’t point to your corporate engineering standards or define the word traceability as it relates to your IT system, then chances are you are not fully compliant. Regulations can seem very onerous at the plant level.
FSMA and other industry regulations aim to enhance food safety and quality for the consumer, which is a major factor in producing great products. The key to understanding FSMA is asking yourself two questions:
- Does my food factory have its engineering standards clearly defined?
- Can my IT system support traceability of my batches and ingredients?
Engineering Standards in Food Factories
Proper planning, collaboration and organization of your engineering standards takes effort. Engineers that fight fires at the plant level have to set aside time to develop and define standards while taking into account the technologically advanced times we live in. The standards have to set aside time to develop and define standards through today’s advanced technology. These standards should be ready for print, web and mobile-friendly.
Technical manuals are ancient history and today’s plant engineers are much more mobile with less time. The key to success is to plan, act, do and follow-up. Each new capital project your company undertakes should begin with an engineering charter. This identifies existing standards the project will follow in order to create new standards.
Engineering Standards: Challenge or Opportunity?
If food factories are leveraging the creativity and knowledge base of employees, standards will enhance food safety (Refer to Part 1: Food Safety, Power of the People). When best practices and teachings are shared from factory to factory, the entire network of factories benefits from the collective wealth of knowledge. As previously discussed, allowing for innovation at each factory provides a feedback loop for the company’s benefit and individual business units can share best practices with other parts of the company.
Standardization doesn’t limit innovation. Standardization can serve as an “un-lock” for innovation by setting guard rails around core competencies of the business, which will allow the engineering talent to focus on solving new ways of doing things in other areas of the business. The corporate team can identify what works well then focus the attention on areas in need of improvement. The end goals of standards are to enhance productivity and efficiency, which helps the bottom line.
“Be a food safety advocate by adopting the attitude of one product, one standard, one customer!”
In our final piece of this 3-part series on food safety, we will explore traceability and the impact it has on IT systems.
MATTHEW CHANG, PE
Market Sector Leader-Food, Beverage & Consumer Products
Managing Director, Solution Engineering and Project Management CO., LTD