With all the sophisticated technology advances made in food manufacturing over the past two decades, I think it is odd that our industry seems to be suffering frequent and more devastating food recalls.

I have to wonder if recent recalls are due to aging facilities or perhaps processors cutting too many corners in the quest to gain production efficiencies. Could some manufacturers’ charge for better sanitation actually be spreading dangerous airborne bugs that find their way to vulnerable places? Is the industry hitting the accelerator too fast with its speed-to-market mandate at the expense of food safety?

Maybe it’s time to take a giant step back and look at processing and operations methodologies. In most plants, staffing remains a major issue. Fewer engineers are on the payroll due to budget cuts, and senior engineers are retiring, taking with them their knowledge and years of experience that will never be recovered by the incoming generation.

I’ve written before about the diminishing pool of engineers and the lack of interest by the younger generation to pursue engineering as a career. If a decreased number of qualified engineers has a relationship to food recalls, we’re in for a much more challenging future in food manufacturing than anyone can anticipate.

In any event, food and beverage manufacturers must prepare themselves to deal with the next generation in more ways than one.

The “Millennials” generation caught the attention of marketers and manufacturers alike during a presentation by Neil Howe at last month’s Worldwide Food Expo in Chicago. For those of you who haven’t heard, the Millennials were born between 1982 and 2002. The first ones came of age at the turn of the century and have never lived in a world without cell phones, computer gaming, text messaging or constant multitasking. Some communicate more effectively via electronic means than by face-to-face encounters. They demand not only healthy food, but fresher food. They also expect frequent and positive feedback-one reason why I’m sure many of them will never become food engineers!

Food and beverage manufacturers must be ready to address this new generation not only in terms of fresher, more sophisticated products, but also with leading edge technology and innovative, multitasking engineering minds to ensure food safety from farm to fork.