Food Engineering

Tech Flash Vol. 5 No. 18 -- Food Engineering's E-Newsletter

September 23, 2009

JBS to purchase majority equity in Pilgrim's Pride

Pilgrim’s Pride Corporation, along with six of its subsidiaries, entered into an agreement to sell 64% of the common stock of the reorganized Pilgrim’s Pride to JBS S.A., through its JBS USA Holdings, Inc. subsidiary for $800 million in cash. JBS S.A. is a worldwide beef producer and exporter located in Brazil.

Under the terms of the plan, all creditors holding allowed claims will be paid in full, either in cash or by issuance of a new note. All existing Pilgrim’s Pride common stock will be cancelled and existing stockholders will receive the same number of new common stock shares representing 36% of the reorganized Pilgrim’s Pride in aggregate.

“Over the past 10 months, we have fundamentally restructured Pilgrim’s Pride as a market-driven company clearly focused on delivering the best service, selection and value to our customers as efficiently as possible,” says Don Jackson, president and chief executive officer. “Thanks to the shared commitment and hard work of our employees, we believe that Pilgrim’s Pride is positioned to emerge from bankruptcy as a stronger, more efficient competitor. We have returned to profitability, the quality of our asset base has improved significantly and we are gaining additional business. While we recognize that some of the changes made during our restructuring have been painful for our employees and contract growers, these decisions were absolutely necessary in helping Pilgrim’s Pride to operate more efficiently while protecting the greatest number of jobs in the long-term.”


SignalDemand’s optimization engine pulls together forecasting, demand, supply and cost data from several years of operation to deliver demand forecasting.  Source: SignalDemand.

ConAgra Mills implements new forecasting system

ConAgra Mills is optimizing sales operations, including demand forecasting, in its flour mills with a new system from SignalDemand.

“We recognized an opportunity to improve alignment with the large number of variables present in the flour milling industry. ConAgra Mills will customize and engage SignalDemand’s systems to coordinate our raw material inputs, production capacity and demand forecast to improve sales execution with our customers. This new system will enable us to develop more winning contracting and delivery scenarios for our customers,” says Paul Maass, president of ConAgra Mills.

“ConAgra Mills’ progressive thinking about the value mathematical models can bring to the grain milling industry helped us significantly in defining our solution for the market,” says Mike Neal, CEO and founder of SignalDemand.

The software system automatically evaluates every product and plant on a daily basis, working to allocate demand to ConAgra Mills’ products and customer channels. By decreasing the time required to analyze information and generate quotes, the system also supports faster decision-making and enhanced customer relationships.


Flax seeds.

Organic Trade Association calls GE flax seed foul

The Organic Trade Organization (OTA) in Canada called the recent discovery of genetically engineered (GE) contaminated flax seed in Europe “unacceptable,” and says biotechnology companies must take responsibility for damages caused by their lack of appropriate containment protocols. OTA is based in Canada and the US.

The European Commission’s Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed discovered an illegal GE trait in German food products, which originated from Canada. Although no organic products have been implicated at this time, the discovery of this unauthorized GE trait in food products is a major concern for the Canadian organic sector, and for consumers around the world. The GE flax in question, called Triffid, was designed specifically to withstand applications of synthetic chemical pesticides.

“It’s time for biotech companies to be good parents and take responsibility for their children,” says Matthew Holmes, managing director of OTA in Canada. “The owners of GE crops need to assume the liability for loss of market access due to their technologies appearing in countries or products in which they are not wanted,” adds Holmes. “As GE products are not permitted under organic standards, the organic sector in Canada is extremely concerned by the prospect of losing access to its essential markets in Europe, Asia and around the world.”

The controversial illegal contamination of flax comes on the heels of recent activity to fast-track new GE crops into North America, including GE sugar beets, Monsanto and Dow’s “SmartStax” GE corn, and current proposals to allow GE alfalfa and GE wheat to be grown in Canada.

The OTA has repeatedly called for a moratorium on new GE crops introduced into North American markets until more research has been done on the impact of these technologies on human health and the environment, as well as the economic impact of their introduction.


Automation News



Food processor rolls out its own open-source ERP system

Not every food processor sets about designing and developing its own enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, but when it comes to saving $300,000-400,000 per year in licensing fees and not being tied down to a particular ERP vendor’s software, building an ERP system in house makes a lot of sense. Not only did the project save an Australian processor money, it also kept its intellectual property (IP) within its four walls.

Established in 1984, Peerless Foods has become Australia’s largest producer of edible oils, fats and margarines. Peerless chose Ingres, an open source database, as the platform to build a custom ERP application. In addition to being able to manage and automate every aspect of the company’s planning, production and distribution, Peerless saved hundreds of thousands of dollars per year in licensing fees.

With business growing, Peerless needed a more consistent, flexible platform to modernize its production environment and support future expansion. The processor began exploring commercial off-the-shelf (OTS) ERP products and underlying databases. While most companies choose proprietary vendors, Peerless decided to create its own ERP system from the ground up.

With a team of a half-dozen developers, Peerless CIO Adrian Hamilton and his department developed a fully featured ERP platform that would automate every aspect of the company’s business processes-from forecasting and ordering to production, packaging and distribution-to enable a highly-optimized, just-in-time manufacturing process. To support this environment, Peerless required a flexible, scalable database system that would be easy for developers to optimize around the evolving ERP platform.

“We needed a number of features specific to our industry, and the OTS products just didn’t have what we needed,” explains Hamilton. “Developing the system would deliver quite a large savings on license fees, but would also be more operationally favorable to do what we want,” he adds.

After evaluating a range of proprietary and open-source solutions, Peerless decided the Ingres Database offered the best functionality at one-sixth the price. Hamilton selected Ingres as the underlying database for its mission-critical business systems. Developers were equipped with the Ingres OpenROAD application development environment to build Peerless’ ERP system.

By the time the application was completed, it was clear that the database had been the best choice. “Ingres was appealing because it’s a solid, industrial-strength database that comes at a significant cost reduction to other options,” says Hamilton.

Peerless complemented its ERP environment with the Ingres Icebreaker Business Intelligence Appliance, a comprehensive system that combines the database with the Jaspersoft Business Intelligence Suite. The combination allows two dozen business managers to analyze production, forecasting, planning and sales.

The Ingres-based application environment has met expectations so well that Peerless has also repurposed the platform for a number of other applications, for example, Peerless  sells the platform through its PeerCore business arm as a customizable solution that leverages the same development innovation that made it successful.

“Having open source at the database level promotes innovation-and we can innovate at a database level as opposed to spending thousands of dollars on individual tools. Whatever we want to do, we can just do it,” concludes Hamilton.

For more information, visit the Ingres Web site.


Preventing back injury pays off in added safety, capacity and productivity at a Great Lakes Cheese plant. AirOlift lifting systems are approved for use in food-grade, washdown clean-room environments. Source: AirOlift.

Ergonomics eases the pain at Great Lakes Cheese

Great Lakes Cheese received the Silliker, Inc. “2005 Audit Platinum Award” for food safety in its Hiram, Ohio headquarters facility. It was one of the top 10 food plants in North America to earn the highest scores in Silliker GMP (Good Manufacturing Practices) Food Safety audits. Out of a total of 100 possible points, Great Lakes scored a near-perfect 99.1%.

“When Great Lakes Cheese opened the Hiram plant about a decade ago, the goal was to make its safety, capacity and productivity state-of-the-art,” says Dave Ortego, the plant’s maintenance manager.

Previously, manually lifting, flipping and shaking 250-pound blocks of cheese from wooden boxes required pairs of workers, who had to be rotated frequently because the work was so strenuous. Another labor-intensive process required lifting and positioning nearly 700-pound blocks of cheese with a chain hoist, readying the cheese for cutting equipment.

“The old processes were too slow, strenuous and imprecise,” says Ortego. “As we grew, we sought more efficient processes to meet demand, with less physical wear and tear on employees. But there were no off-the-shelf products we could buy for the job.”

For a base unit, Ortego turned to a pneumatic lift-assistance device made by AirOlift Lifting Systems, an Akron, OH-based builder of ergonomic clamping and vacuum lifting systems.

To customize the lift equipment to his operation, Ortego collaborated with AirOlift’s engineering staff to make this job safer, less strenuous and more efficient. The collaboration produced two custom attachments: a cheese block rotator and a cheese/box extractor attachment. The operator-controlled cheese block rotator pneumatically clamps each 700-lb. cheese block, lifts and rotates it, readying the cheese for cutting. With dual controls, the operator has complete control. Similarly, the cheese/box extractor attachment vertically lifts each 250-pound cheese block and extracts the box, readying the cheese for processing.

“The design is operator-friendly and ergonomic,” says Ortego. “The controls are built into the machines’ handles so there’s no lifting, bending or lever pulling for the operators.”

Ortego also collaborated with Handling Concepts, Inc., an Akron, OH-based expert in ergonomic and material handling equipment, on integrating a track crane system and other material handling equipment with the lift devices.

“Since the lift devices are integrated with an enclosed track crane system, operators can pull them where needed by just a finger,” adds Ortego. “There’s no strain; the operator can work an entire shift without rotation. One operator essentially does the work of three previously, so we’ve expanded capacity tremendously without adding staff.”

After buying its first pneumatic lift-assistance devices about a decade ago, the plant has added several more over the years. Ortego is pleased with a number of features that make the lift devices especially appealing to the food industry.

Because the lift systems are all pneumatic, operated by a single shop airline, they eliminate electric hazards such as shock from frayed wires. They also eliminate running costly, unsanitary electrical connections in the working area. With fewer moving parts, there’s nothing to grease, which aids cleanliness and minimizes maintenance.

Since the lift devices are constructed of stainless steel and FDA-compliant Dupont Delrin, they can be can be used in production processes and food-grade washdown, clean-room environments. Delrin is a high-performance acetal resin that bridges the gap between metals and plastics with strength, toughness, abrasion resistance, low wear and low friction.

“The lift systems’ all pneumatic, stainless steel Delrin construction is a big plus,” says Ortego. “This allows us to conduct daily washdowns, which helps keep our food safety and quality assurance standards among the highest in the industry.”

Ortego appreciates safety features built into the equipment. For instance, if there’s ever catastrophic air loss, the devices hold their loads in place, protecting operators from dropped loads and eliminating product damage.

“The lift devices are extremely well designed and made,” concludes Ortego. “Not only are they protecting our operators from injury, they’re also designed for direct food contact and made to last. After hundreds of lifts per shift each day, the originals are still working fine a decade later, and we expect them to last at least a decade more.”

For more information, visit AirOlift Lifting Systems.

For more information, visit Handling Concepts, Inc.



Food Safety News



A total of 89% of Americans want the federal government to adopt additional food safety standards. Source: Make Our Food Safe.

Most Americans want tougher food safety rules

Among likely voters surveyed across the country, about nine in 10 support the federal government adopting additional food safety measures, and 64% believe imported foods are often or sometimes unsafe, according to a Pew-commissioned poll by the bipartisan team of Hart Research and Public Opinion Strategies.

The concern about imported foods reflected a significant jump compared to the 53% of voters who expressed such concerns in a 2008 survey by the same group. FDA is equipped to inspect less than 1% of the imported products it regulates, according to agency data.

Overall, 58% of voters are worried about bacterial contamination of the food supply-with about a third of those saying they worry a great deal.

The survey shows American voters overwhelmingly believe the federal government should be responsible for protecting the food supply, and that the voters support numerous new measures to ensure it has the authority to do so. Those surveyed also support more frequent inspections of many businesses that supply food and are increasingly skeptical of imported foods’ safety.

A total of 83% of likely voters interviewed believe the federal government should be responsible for ensuring food is safe to eat, and an even higher percentage of those surveyed (89%) support the federal government enacting new measures to better protect people from contaminated food.

The survey also found 91% of those polled favor annual or semi-annual inspections of facilities that process food that is at a high risk of contamination.

For more information visit, Make Our Food Safe.


Federal rules govern processor food safety, not produce

Private industry food safety protocols for produce farmers are not always based on independent science and are biased against smaller-scale, diversified farms and those using sustainable production methods, according to a report from Food & Water Watch and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP). The report, Bridging the GAPs: Strategies to Improve Produce Safety, Preserve Farm Diversity and Strengthen Local Food Systems by Elanor Starmer and Marie Kulick, analyzes common, non-regulatory food safety protocols for produce growers including the federal Good Agriculture Practices, the Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement, industry “super metrics” and international food safety protocols.

In the absence of federal regulations governing food safety at the farm level, a growing number of wholesale and institutional produce buyers are requiring farmers to comply with a food safety protocol and pass a third-party audit to sell their product. Though audit requirements differ among buyers, most require documentation and testing, and add other costs; many of these requirements conflict with environmental programs supported by state and federal agencies, states the report.

“Many small, diversified or organic farms can’t pass these food safety audits, but that’s not because they’re unsafe,” says Elanor Starmer, researcher and policy analyst at Food & Water Watch. “It’s because the audits require them to do things that are completely inappropriate for their production systems, like remove vegetation they’ve put in to protect water quality. The safety of our food system is enhanced by diversity. The last thing we need is a one-size-fits-all approach to food safety on the farm.”

Instead, the report recommends the development of a federal on-farm food safety standard for produce production that can provide assurance to a broad range of wholesale and institutional buyers without compromising the ability of a wide range of farms to compete in the marketplace.

“Most produce-related food-borne illnesses have been traced to processors, not to the farm,” says Marie Kulick, policy analyst at IATP. “For farmers, it’s important to have transparent, inclusive standards that reflect the diversity of US farm operations. A nationally supported produce safety program can benefit everyone- more farms participating, safer food for consumers.”

For more information, visit Food & Water Watch, IATP or download the document.