Manufacturing News

Tech Flash Vol. 5 No. 6

March 26, 2009
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FDA recalls continue on salmonella



Manufacturing News



Congressional hearings put food processors in the hot seat

Should FDA conduct internal plant inspections and have the authority to close down a facility? Can third-party inspectors be relied upon to perform uncompromising food safety audits? Should food processors perform their own evaluations of potential suppliers? These were some of the questions raised at the February 11 and March 19 congressional hearing entitled, “The Salmonella Outbreak: The Role of Industry in Protecting the Nation’s Food Supply.”

Conducted by Rep. Henry Waxman, chairman of the Committee on Energy and Commerce, and Rep. Bart Stupak, chairman of the Oversight & Investigations Subcommittee, the March hearing brought live testimony from representatives of three companies affected by the Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) recalls. These were Martin Kanan, president and CEO of King Nut Co.; David Mackay, CEO, Kellogg Co.; and Heather Isely, co-owner, Vitamin Cottage Natural Food Markets, Inc.

In his opening statement, Stupak noted, while there is no question that PCA covered up positive test results for salmonella, “placing all the blame on PCA would mean that food processors have no responsibility for ensuring the safety of their ingredients.” Stupak’s Committee grilled the processors and retailer on four basic points:

  1. Why did their food safety procedures fail to prevent the contamination of their products?

  2. Should these companies have known or suspected problems with PCA before the outbreak?

  3. Why did none of these companies ask PCA officials to disclose their positive tests for salmonella?

  4. Why did they rely on audits conducted by AIB, a firm that was selected and paid by PCA?

Waxman reiterated comments from FDA’s Director of FSAN Stephen Sundloff, Ph.D., at the February hearing: “Each company in the chain of manufacturing has an obligation to ensure that the ingredients they are using, as well as their final products, are safe for Americans to consume.”

According to Stupak, Kanan stated in written testimony submitted for the March meeting that PCA’s president, Stewart Parnell, had informed King Nut on January 7 that he (Parnell) had no knowledge of any salmonella issues with his products. E-mails made public by the Committee show that Parnell knew there were problems. Yet Parnell did not inform his customers or FDA of any positive test results taken earlier meanwhile PCA carried on its own audits with third-party auditor AIB.

Producing unbiased results may not be possible when working with a third-party auditor. Stupak pointed out that on December 22, 2008, PCA’s auditor gave PCA’s Georgia plant manager, Sammy Lightsey, advance notice of an upcoming inspection via e-mail. He stated: “You lucky guy. I’m your AIB auditor. So we need to get your plant set up for any audit.”

“The result of that audit was a rating of ‘superior,’” said Stupak. “The conclusions were completely different when the auditors were not paid by PCA,” he added.

AIB’s audit was a standard good manufacturing practices (GMP) audit, which costs about $1,000, and is not as thorough as its $20,000-$30,000 Gold Standard audit. While the AIB report on the Blakely, GA, facility dated March 27, 2008 didn’t specifically report microbe contamination, it did cite “improvement needed” in cases of open containers of product. There also were recommendations for paste room hoist maintenance and cleaning and “cleaning and sealing gaps in vertical support beams and open ingredient containers in the peanut butter mixing area.”

The Committee pointed out that Nestlé USA ran two audits on PCA facilities-Blakeley in 2002 and Plainview, TX, in 2006-and found neither facility to be suitable for supplying peanut ingredients for its lines of confection and snack products. These audits were conducted by Nestlé in-house auditing personnel who found rampant rodent infestation and lack of pathogen monitoring.

When asked by the Committee how much it cost Nestlé to run its own audits, Nestlé replied that it did the audits at its own cost, paying normal employee salaries and travel expenses. Its audits lasted a full day, and the cost was about $1,800 per audit.

When asked by the Committee how much Kellogg has lost on its recalls so far, Mackay estimated about $65-70 million. Mackay also advised the panel that Kellogg now is conducting its own audits of suppliers with high-risk ingredients.



ConAgra products sport corn-based shrink film

ConAgra Foods has begun using a new shrink film that contains more than 50% post-industrial recycled material, reducing landfill waste, greenhouse gases and energy consumption. Based on polylactic acid (PLA), the film will be used for tamper-evident seals on table spreads and for printed shrink labels for Reddi-Wip and PAM cooking spray.

PLA material is manufactured using corn rather than petroleum products and contains post-industrial recycled waste, which is diverted from landfills. Because it uses a lower temperature to shrink, it requires 20% less energy than conventional materials.

The new technology was developed in partnership with Plastic Suppliers Inc., Bluepack and NatureWorks LLC. The conversion to PLA is expected to divert more than 350,000 lbs of non-renewable PVC and more than 50,000 lbs of PETG from the company’s raw material stream annually.



EPA recognizes Frito-Lay for excellence in environmental management

Frito-Lay’s Canton, OH, facility is the city’s first member of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) National Environmental Performance Track Program by demonstrating excellence in environmental management and committing to above-standard goals for continuous improvements in environmental performance. The Canton facility is one of only 15 Ohio companies to receive Performance Track status.

Performance Track recognizes facilities that have a strong record of environmental compliance, set three-year goals for continuous improvements in environmental performance beyond regulatory requirements, have internal systems in place to manage environmental impact, engage in community outreach and consistently report results.



Pilgrim's Pride divests Farmerville chicken complex

Pilgrim’s Pride Corp. has agreed to sell its Farmerville, LA, chicken complex to Foster Farms for $80 million. The complex includes a processing facility, cook plant, hatchery, feed mill, protein conversion plant and any associated inventory.


Automation News



ISA100 group seeks papers and presentations

The ISA100 Factory Automation Working Group (WG16) is seeking presentations and papers for new wireless technology and system architecture for the link between sensors/actuators and automation systems. While wired links between conventional sensors and actuators can often be used, many repetitive motion applications such as machine tools and robotics make wire replacement a major source of work flow interruption and high maintenance cost. WG16 is studying the feasibilities of replacing wiring with fast, low-cost wireless connections.

Topics can include:

  • Wireless sensing and/or actuating, possibly involving multiple hops

  • Low latency in the range of 2-50 milliseconds

  • Low power vs. line power trade-offs

  • Security comparable to ISA100.11a

  • Leverage of existing technologies including hardware (chip sets) and software (communication protocols).

Proposals must be submitted by April 28, 2009. Accepted proposals must be presented at an ISA100.16 meeting or teleconference.

For more information, contact Linda Wolffe at lwolffe@isa.org, 919-990-9257.



Wireless looks for home in European factory automation

The need for real-time data, workforce mobility, easy installation and commissioning are key drivers for wireless adoption across discrete industries (e.g., food and beverage, plastics) in Europe, according to a study from Frost & Sullivan. Despite potential reliability, security and interoperability concerns, the wireless market is expected to grow from $75.2 million in 2008 to $132.8 million in 2012 in Germany, France, Italy, Spain and the UK, according to the study, Wireless Devices Market in Factory Automation.

Technical issues such as signal mismatch, data loss, electromagnetic induction and disturbances from existing networks are wireless concerns. In addition, the study found the conservative mindset of the food and beverage and plastics industries is a hindrance to market growth.

For more information, visit www.frost.com.



EtherCAT Technology Group expands conformance initiatives

The EtherCAT Technology Group (ETG) is placing a priority on device conformance and interoperability. At its recent 7th European EtherCAT Interoperability Meeting, the group stressed the importance of its conformance test tool; plug-fests in Europe, Asia and North America; and availability of controller chips. So far, 50 devices have been certified and the first ETG Test Center in Nuremberg, Germany, has opened.

EtherCAT technology is used for high-speed, real-time applications such as in packaging machines and robotics. ETG has more than 900 members in 45 countries.



Food Safety News



FDA offers new salmonella guidance

FDA has released a guidance entitled, Measures to Address the Risk for Contamination by Salmonella Species in Food Containing a Peanut-Derived Product as an Ingredient. The document discusses environmental factors in which salmonella survives and what can retard its growth or kill it. The document provides considerations for evaluating the effectiveness of control measures and provides recommendations to food processors using peanut products as an ingredient.

For more information, visit www.cfsan.fda.gov/~dms/guidance.html.



Pistachios may have salmonella, too!

FDA has announced two pistachio recalls, which are not related to the ongoing PCA peanut recalls. Back to Nature Foods Co. announced a voluntary recall in the US of its Nantucket Blend trail mix containing pistachio nuts that may have the potential to be contaminated with the salmonella organism.

The Georgia Nut Co. also announced a voluntary recall of certain bulk wholesale and retail products containing shelled pistachio nuts that have the potential to be contaminated with salmonella. The company said it identified the risk as a result of a rigorous sampling and testing regimen it conducted with respect to shelled pistachios provided by a third-party supplier.



Extreme HHS makeover

The US Department of Health and Human Services needs a makeover, says a report from Trust for America’s Health (TFAH) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF). The report, Keeping America’s Food Safe: A Blueprint for Fixing the Food Safety System at the US Department of Health and Human Services, examines problems with the fragmented and antiquated current system and proposes ways to improve the food safety functions at the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

The report calls for the immediate consolidation of food safety leadership within FDA, and ultimately the creation of a separate Food Safety Administration within HHS. Currently, no FDA full-time food safety official has line authority over all food safety functions, says the report. A speedy effort by the Obama administration to consolidate leadership within FDA, followed by Congressional action to create a separate Food Safety Administration, would ensure immediate progress on food safety and create a platform for long-term success in reducing foodborne illness, the report stated.

“Food safety needs to be a priority on the prevention menu,” said Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. “We shouldn’t have to worry about our children getting sick from their school lunch or from a family meal at a restaurant. And we shouldn’t have to wait until people become sick to learn about food safety problems. We need modern, comprehensive ways of preventing and detecting problems before food gets to the table.”

Approximately 80% of the food supply-including millions of food producers, processors, transporters, storage facilities, grocery stores and restaurants- is regulated by FDA. The vast majority of known foodborne illnesses are associated with these products, says the report. Some recent problems include the 2009 salmonella outbreak in peanut butter and peanut butter products; potential imports of the 2008 melamine-contaminated infant formula and related diary products in China; the 2008 salmonella outbreak in peppers; and a 2008 salmonella outbreak from imported cantaloupes.

“FDA certainly needs a modern food safety law and more resources, but to make good use of these tools, HHS needs a unified and elevated management structure for food safety that can implement a science- and risk-based food safety program dedicated to preventing foodborne illness,” said Michael R. Taylor, JD, research professor of health policy at the School of Public Health at The George Washington University. “Major organizational change requires careful planning and implementation and should not be rushed, but the time is ripe for building sustainable solutions to the problems in our nation’s food safety system,” he added. Taylor is the former deputy commissioner for policy at FDA and former administrator of the Food Safety and Inspection Service at the US Department of Agriculture.

The report recommends:

  • Increasing and aligning resources with the highest-risk threats;

  • Modernizing the mandate and legal authority of the HHS Secretary to prevent illness, which would include enforcing the duty of food companies to implement modern preventive controls and meet government-established food safety performance standards;

  • Immediately establishing a deputy commissioner at FDA with line authority over all food safety programs, including the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, the Center for Veterinary Medicine, and the food functions of the Office of Regulatory Affairs, as an interim step toward creating a Food Safety Administration; and

  • Working through Congress toward the creation of a Food Safety Administration within HHS, strategically aligning and elevating the food safety functions currently housed at FDA and better coordinating regulation policies and practices with the surveillance and detection of outbreak functions at CDC and with food safety agencies at the state and local level.

The report was supported by a grant from RWJF and is available on TFAH’s Web site at www.healthyamericans.org.



Food pricing may help control weight

A new article published in The Milbank Quarterly explores how food prices can affect weight outcomes and reveals that pricing interventions can have a significant effect on obesity rates. Part of an 11-article series focusing on obesity, the article said raising the prices of less healthy foods (e.g., fast foods and sugary products) and lowering the prices of healthier foods (e.g., fruits and vegetables) is associated with lower body weight and less likelihood of obesity. Children and adolescents, the poor, and those already overweight are most responsive to the price changes.

Small taxes on unhealthy food items or small subsidies for healthy foods are not likely to produce substantial changes in body-mass index (BMI) or obesity prevalence. Non-trivial pricing interventions may have a measurable effect on Americans’ weight outcomes, the report states.

For more information or to read the article, visit Milbank’s Web site.

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