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Food Manufacturing: How To Keep California Leading the Way

Posted by Steven Brand

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California is a food manufacturing powerhouse. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service, the Golden State has the highest number of food manufacturing plants in the nation—nearly 5,650. To continue to lead the country forward, it’s important that food manufacturers follow best practices when it comes to improving quality; reducing food safety mistakes; utilizing new technologies such as Machine Vision; monitoring consumer trends; and adopting an integrated approach to manufacturing.

 That’s a lot to digest (pun intended), so let's take a look at each of these aspects of food manufacturing one at a time. You’ll also notice that there is a lot of overlap between each of these best practices, so by following one you’re likely to improve in another area as well.

Improving Product Quality 

A poor quality product, or one that is consistently inconsistent, can be costly. At best, manufacturers waste labor hours and product; at worst, they lose customers or their entire operation. To eliminate waste and improve quality, manufacturers must take a strategic approach to improving product quality by incorporating each of the following:

Creating an Organizational Understanding of the Quality Cost

After a defect reaches a consumer, the cost is dramatically higher than fixing it at the source of the problem. So, it’s critical that everyone involved in the manufacturing process understands that poor quality in the plant results in a loss of customers, sales, and brand reputation in the matket. Once staff understands this, their desire to improve product quality will encourage them to drill down to the root cause of a problem and create a solution..

Implementing Automated Statistical Process Control Systems (SPCs)

Created more than 75-years ago as a method of quality control improvement, SPCs consist of weighing products and raw materials to reduce variations, defects, and overall waste within the production line. While there is still the aspect of human error, the statistical analysis provided by SPCs helps to decrease these incidences. An SPC is comprised of a scale system with integrated automated SPC software that can be configured to the required tolerances. By implementing such a system, manufacturers can improve product quality with consistent results and traceability of every measured batch.

Maintaining a High Level of Supply Chain Visibility

In many manufacturing environments, employees only have visibility at a few levels.  However, by creating a high level of transparency during the manufacturing process, manufacturers can significantly improve quality. For example, tracking and displaying Key Performance Indicators (KPI's) around the facility can give insight to all employees as to how the company is performing from a quality standpoint. This will motivate the line workers to be more vigilant to help improve product quality in food manufacturing.

Perform Regular Analyses

Safety and quality assessments are essential to improve product quality in food manufacturing. Manufacturers and their suppliers must have a clear understanding of food safety requirements. Although larger retailers have more resources for establishing a formalized auditing process, small and medium-sized companies should still implement an auditing system and maintain strict food safety practices that are performed and enforced.

Strive for Improved Sustainability

Students at the University of Wisconsin developed a survey that was mailed to 1,000 random consumers in five coastal California counties asking questions about their viewpoint on food sources. Nearly 60% responded that they wanted to know more about food safety, animal treatment, working conditions, wages, distance traveled, nutritional content, and environmental impact. The study determined that a majority of consumers are willing to spend more money to know that sustainability efforts have been used in the distribution and manufacture of their food. The good news is that sustainable practices also benefit the bottom line by lessening waste and non-value added manufacturing activities, which helps to improve product quality in food manufacturing.

Using Accurate Labeling

While the FDA is responsible for assuring that food sold in the United States is properly labeled, more than half of all Americans feel that food labels are sometimes misleading, and more than 80% feel they’ve been tricked by nutrition labels. Consumers are catching on to dubious claims of “natural,” “organic,” and “GMO-free,” and with Mintel’s 2018 Global Food & Drink Trends report revealing that today’s consumer wants “complete and total transparency from food and drink companies,” it’s important to accurately label ingredients, raw materials, country of origin, nutritional information, and allergens. 

Maintaining a high level of quality requires adherence to the process, auditing, and vigilance. The more an entire manufacturing plant is on board with promoting quality and awareness, the better the quality will be. All levels of consistency, from raw ingredients to the quality auditing of finished goods, are required. From a management perspective, by following the six aforementioned opportunities, you can work with your team to improve product quality in manufacturing.

Reducing Food Safety Mistakes

The Food Marketing Institute (FMI) and Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) estimate that the average cost of a recall for food companies is $10 million. That’s not even the worst of it; following a product recall, many people will take to social media to vent their frustrations, resulting in a public backlash that can damage a brand’s reputation. Other consumers will opt to switch brands, resulting in further revenue loss. Therefore, it is critical to eliminate any food safety issues from the processing industry by adhering to standards. Here are some ways food manufacturers can reduce food processing safety mistakes.

Following Good Manufacturing Practices

According to the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) are the controls, equipment, facilities, and methods of producing processed foods. The goal of GMPs is to create the minimum sanitary and processing requirements for the production of safe food for consumption. These are critical to regulatory control and help eliminate food processing safety mistakes. The best food processing manufacturers implement GMPs which should be used in conjunction with quality standards and inspection requirements as well as on the production line and throughout the entire manufacturing facility.

Implementing Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points 

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) created Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP) for the food processing industry to mitigate many food processing safety mistakes. The HACCP system requires food makers to follow seven principles:

1. Analyze the Hazards

Check for anything hazardous that could contaminate food, including chemical, microbial, or bacterial contaminants. The main hazards that can occur stem from contact-surface hazards (human touch on the product), overhead hazards (build-up from above that falls onto the product), proximity hazards (guide rails and sidewalls that touch the product), transfer hazards (contamination from structural elements), and environmental hazards (contaminants from the air or water).

2. Identify Critical Control Points

Create critical control points where any food safety mistakes can be eliminated or controlled during the manufacturing process such as cooking, cooling, packaging, or metal detection.

3. Create Preventative Measures Using Critical Limits

Develop preventative measures with critical limits at each control point within the manufacturing process. For instance, during the cooking process, establish minimum cooking times and temperatures.

4. Establish Procedures to Monitor Control Points

Generate procedures for monitoring each control point. For example, the procedure may include determining how the cooking time and temperature are monitored.

5. Generate Corrective Actions When a Critical Limit has Not Been Met

If one of the control points falls out of the set limit, create corrective actions as to how it can be resolved safely. For instance, if the minimum temperature is not met during the cooking process, the food could be discarded or reprocessed.

6. Create Procedures to Verify the System is Intact

Create procedures that verify the system is operating smoothly. For instance, the required time and temperature could be randomly tested to ensure the cooking unit is functional.

7. Establish a Record-Keeping System

Create an effective record-keeping system that includes records of the hazards and the monitoring of safety requirements.

While HACCP is intended to reduce the risk of unsafe food products, it can also have the benefit of leading to improved product quality. To implement a HACCP program, assemble a team and be sure to include one person who is HACCP-trained. Then, have the team document the method of production and distribution of the product and revisit the plan frequently.

Creating Supplier Contracts

In addition to the in-processing requirements that help eliminate food processing safety mistakes, it is also critical that suppliers follow the same set of rules. This can be enforced through incoming quality checks and by contractually requiring suppliers to implement safe food handling practices; this lowers the risk of food processing safety mistakes. If an issue does arise, the contract will cover the manufacturer as the buyer only, leaving the supplier liable for the failure of the food. Also, manufacturers can require their food suppliers to purchase insurance coverage to financially cover the risks. Coverage can even be taken a step further by requiring the supplier to name the manufacturing company on its policies. This covers all parties in the instance of a food recall or illness resulting from supplier food processing safety mistakes.

In general, to avoid any food-borne illness outbreaks, every aspect of the food supply chain must diligently follow GMPs and safety practices to provide the safest food to the consumer. By following these practices, food manufacturers can also protect themselves from financial ruin.

Utilizing New Technologies

Manufacturing technology is advancing rapidly, and not just in Silicon Valley electronics facilities. Today, food manufacturing technology is also moving forward, and it’s important that food manufacturers keep up in order to stay competitive. One technology that all food manufacturers should employ is Machine Vision.

What Is Machine Vision Technology?

Machine Vision technology, also known as “industrial vision” or “vision systems,” has made great advances in the food and beverage industry in recent years to increase efficiency and quality while also maintaining regulatory compliance. Once considered nothing more than a barcode reader, today’s Machine Vision technology uses automated cameras and software, often mounted over assembly lines, to inspect products, collect data, check for inconsistencies, scan labels, direct product, and more, all at high-speeds without the need for worker intervention. That’s not all; today’s Machine Vision technology can check for cleanliness of processing equipment, which can impact food quality. Machine Vision systems can also operate 24/7, increasing output while maintaining quality. Here are the five main ways that machine vision technology can help manufacturers: 

Safety Inspections

Foreign items that can make people sick or damage food quality can make their way into products during the production process, but Machine Vision systems can spot this and alert workers to the issue. The systems quickly and automatically identify material that doesn’t belong, even if it isn’t noticeable to the human eye. By identifying cross-contamination, Machine Vision can save your manufacturing business from potential lawsuits and negative media coverage. Machine Vision also checks for color, ripeness, and spoilage, further reducing the chance of introducing poor or unhealthy products to the masses.

Tracking and Tracing

Product codes, dates, lots, and barcodes can get mixed up during the production process, but Machine Vision tracks ingredients and coding through the entire production process to ensure this doesn’t happen. In addition, the systems keep a history of each package, so if there ever is an issue manufacturers can look through the log and find out where something went wrong.

Labeling

People have been known to experience allergic reactions to food that was mislabeled, resulting in government recalls and legal liability. Machine Vision spots any mislabeled products (often as a result of human error) and notifies workers of the issue so it can be corrected before the product goes out the door. Machine Vision also looks for misaligned or wrinkled labels, which can be corrected to protect the look of your product, and ultimately, your brand.

Packaging

This goes hand-in-hand with labeling. Machine learning can identify damaged packaging which could affect the consumer’s perception of the product when they see it on store shelves. It can also verify the integrity of recycled packaging materials to make sure they have been properly cleaned.

Container Integrity

Improperly sealed containers can lead to spillage or spoiled product, and it can introduce foreign material into food. With a Machine Vision system, any unsealed or damaged containers are immediately identified, and workers are notified. Machine Vision also checks fill levels, to ensure consistency between products and eliminate waste. It also confirms foils and tamper-proof seals are in place if necessary.

Food recalls are expensive, and bad product can result in brand damage and even death. The World Health Organization reveals that approximately 600 million people become ill each year after eating contaminated food, and 420,000 die. To be sure your company doesn’t contribute to these alarming figures, food and beverage manufacturers should consider a Machine Vision system to improve product quality and their standing in the marketplace.

Monitoring Consumer Trends 

Evolving consumer shopping and eating habits continuously transform the food and beverage supply chain. Consumers are ditching the fatty and salty foods of the past and are now in search of healthier and fresher food and beverage alternatives. Therefore, supply chains must also evolve to support the needs of the customer. One critical factor is sharing and using data generated from the point of sale to suppliers and other partners while simultaneously analyzing current events and weather patterns. This information is used to increase supply chain efficiencies and drive growth. There are four primary consumer trends that are impacting the food and beverage supply chain:

Convenience in Food and Drinks

Consumer demand for more convenient food and drink has resulted in a variety of new innovations and product developments, such as convenient packaging and higher quality frozen entrees. Maintaining this flow of new innovation is one of the greatest issues facing consumer packaged goods manufacturers. A major competitive goal is to enhance product value through greater convenience. But such innovation typically comes with a premium price tag as a result of rising ingredient costs and new regulatory frameworks. Fortunately, more consumers are becoming receptive to paying a premium for food if there is a convenience factor to the product.

Diversification of Consumer Preferences

There continues to be a trend in the food and beverage sector with consumers wanting products that align with their personal and nutritional preferences. As this trend continues, manufacturers should expect to experience a greater need to be more transparent in the methods of how their products are produced. In order to meet consumer personalization demand, supply chains must become more global, nimble, and collaborative. This requires full transparency throughout the supply chain to provide consumers with details about production methods and suppliers of raw materials.

Channel Fragmentation Increases Need for Traceability

As consumers continue to shop when and where they want, increasing channel fragmentation in food retail, technology is granting brands the opportunity to personalize customer experiences based on the way in which they shop and eat. This is accomplished through data collection and analysis which occurs virtually instantaneously. It is critical for companies to share this information with manufacturers and distributors to increase visibility, transparency, and collaboration across the entire supply chain. Traceability is accomplished using technologies that automate data collection and management. With a broader collaboration across supply chains, partially assisted by cloud computing, there is a much higher level of transparency and less of a technology cost to analyze and integrate the data, making it more accessible for small and medium-sized food manufacturers.

Sustainability with a Circular Economy

The circular economy is a system which closes material and energy loops in an effort to conserve resources and, ultimately, reduce the final cost of the product. This increased interest in the circular economy is due to consumer efforts to support companies committed to sustainability alongside increased environmental efforts to recycle and reduce food waste. Designing packaging that is more sustainable and environmentally-friendly is an ongoing management concern. However, as more technologies and effective processes become commercialized, companies are understanding the environmental impact as well as the cost-saving opportunities and long-term gains. A circular economy further aids in the efficient use of resources and the re-purposing of products throughout the supply chain.

As with any industry, regularly evolving consumer behaviors are driving the changes and trends in supply chain management. Companies must adapt to new consumer requirements in order to be successful in the food and beverage industry.

Adopting an Integrated Approach

Taking an integrated approach to food manufacturing helps create a sustainable and unbroken food supply chain. Successful food manufacturing is founded on a strong working relationship between food growers and manufacturers. These partnerships are essential in moving the agricultural and food manufacturing sectors forward through collaborative and supportive interactions. This integrated strategy also requires the regulative collaboration of government with growers and food manufacturers on shared operational values at different stages in the food supply chain. There are four main areas of the food value chain in which growers and food manufacturers can collaborate to sustain continuous food production:

Research and Development

Research helps improve agricultural productivity and resilience to meet the growing demand for food, mitigate risks, and maintain market competitiveness. Since R&D is expensive and time-consuming, it necessitates the collaborative effort of farmers, food manufacturers, and governments to transform key farming techniques and food processing methods. Research areas should focus on integrating advances in agronomy, soil fertility, water management, mechanized methods, livestock, pest control, and other agricultural technologies.

  • Training

Successful food manufacturing is dependent on a successful agricultural sector, which includes specialized skills and expertise in growing healthy and sustainable crops. The development and transfer of knowledge and skills through effective training programs in both the agricultural and manufacturing sectors are essential for sustainable food manufacturing. One example is the use of a “Train the Trainer” model, which creates opportunities that build on transferring knowledge and skills from trained individuals through workshops and other training initiatives. Experiential learning can be explored to create awareness of the necessary knowledge and skills in all aspects of food growing and food manufacturing. Additionally, it is important for manufacturers to continuously train for HAACP which was discussed earlier.

Storage

The storage of harvested farm produce and animal food products is an important commercial activity to sustain the continuity of the food supply chain. Efficient and effective storage helps preserve farm produce while waiting for food manufacturers, processors, and consumers to buy them. They come as either surface or underground structures that are cool and dry, cool and moist, warm and dry, or refrigerated. Storage facilities may vary depending on weather conditions and the type of crop that needs to be stored, such as grains, vegetables, spices and herbs, meat, poultry, and dairy products.

Marketing and Distribution

Marketing and distribution are important components of the food value chain. Food hubs are an important subset of the chain, especially for farmers and ranchers with small- or medium-sized operations who lack the capacity to put up their own service markets for their produce. Food hubs allow them to gain entry into large-volume markets through a combination of aggregation and distribution of their crops. Farm and dairy products need to be distributed to food processors and retailers, such as grocery stores, restaurants, and food camps. Distribution needs transportation systems that are reliable in terms of speed and safety of delivery, so that crops (especially perishables) are preserved until they reach their destinations.

While exclusive partnerships between growers and food manufacturing companies are not always possible, food manufacturers can collaborate with farmer organizations to discover innovative ways of producing raw food materials for more sustainable food production.

Keeping California Food Manufacturers On Top

Competition is increasing, consumer demands are changing, technology is advancing, and the government and other organizations have put food manufacturers under a microscope in an effort to ensure they’re following food safety standards and complying with regulations. By staying on top of trends and standards, and developing a model of continuous improvement, California food manufacturers can ensure that they will continue leading the country in this industry for the foreseeable future.

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Topics: Made in CA, Food Manufacturing

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