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FDA recalls continue on salmonella

Stimulus for food producers

Food and beverage manufacturers may get a boost from the government’s efforts to stimulate the economy. Food and nutrition programs will get more federal dollars in the recently passed American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. For example, page six of the Act specifies a multiplier (increase) of 113.6% of the June 2008 value for benefits covered under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)-commonly referred to as food stamps.

The US Department of Agriculture reports that more than 29 million people use SNAP at an estimated cost of more than $50 billion annually. USDA also reports that 12% of food stamps are used to purchase diary products, which equates to $6 billion annually. With the increased budget for SNAP in the stimulus bill, an additional $815 million would go to retail dairy purchases, according to these purchasing trends, said Ruth Saunders, IDFA senior director of policy and legislative affairs.

“With excess milk supply pushing down prices and demand for dairy products softening in some areas, it’s notable that the stimulus bill could indirectly support the dairy sector with additional funding for programs that support food purchases,” said Saunders.

Carbohydrates: Up to interpretation

FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN) released the results of its Experimental Study of Carbohydrate Claims on Food Packages. The report was designed to evaluate carbohydrate claims and related disclosures in terms of their effects on consumer understanding.

The study involved more than 9,400 respondents from a consumer Internet panel who saw one product/label condition. Some participants saw only a front panel, and others saw both a front panel and a nutrition facts label. Analysis of the data revealed:

·        Those who saw only the front panel with a claim that implied “low in carbohydrate,” such as “Low Carb,” “CarbConscious” or “1 g Net Carb,” perceived the product to be lower in carbohydrate than those who saw the same product without a “low in carbohydrate” claim.

·        Respondents who saw only the front panel often perceived different claims that implied “low in carbohydrate” as having a shared meaning. Participants rated products similarly whether they have “Low Carb,” “CarbConscious” or “Net Carb” on the front.

·        Participants who saw only the front panel perceived products with a “Good Source of Carb” claim differently depending on the product on which it appeared.

·        Adding a disclosure statement, such as “see nutrition information for fat content,” didn’t consistently affect product perceptions when respondents saw only the front panel.

·        Participants who saw both the front panel and the nutrition facts label rated products with the same nutrition facts label similarly and rated products with a more healthful nutrition facts label more favorably than those with a less healthful nutrition facts label.

For more on the study, visit

Smithfield restructures pork group

Smithfield plans to consolidate the corporate structure and manufacturing operations of its pork group to improve operating efficiencies and increase utilization. The new plan calls for a reduction of independent operating companies in the pork group from seven to three. John Morrell and Farmland Foods will merge their respective fresh pork sales forces. Patrick Cudahy, Inc. will become part of the John Morrell Group. Carando Foods, a unit of Farmland Foods, also will be combined with the John Morrell Group. Farmland Foods will assimilate North Side Foods Corp., and Cumberland Gap Provisions Company will integrate with Smithfield Packing Company. The international sales organizations of several independent operating companies will be consolidated into one international group. Smithfield Foods will close six plants by December 2009 and transfer production to more efficient facilities, increasing their utilization rates. In the process, approximately 1,800 jobs will be cut.

DOJ pleased with abandonment of JBS/National Beef liaison

The US Department of Justice (DOJ) welcomed the decision of JBS and National Beef to discontinue acquisition plans. DOJ plans to drop pending litigation, which would have blocked the proposed acquisition. DOJ alleged that the deal would have resulted in lower prices paid to cattle suppliers and higher consumer beef prices. Besides DOJ, attorneys general from 17 states had joined DOJ’s lawsuit to block the merger. The lawsuit was filed in October 2008 in the US District Court in Chicago.

Hoffa cites NAFTA for US job losses

In the wake of Hershey Food Corporation’s recent plant closing in Reading, PA, Jim Hoffa, Teamsters general president, said Hershey is moving nearly 300 jobs to Monterey, Mexico. Hoffa blames NAFTA as the cause for many companies moving American jobs out of the US. “Pennsylvania lost nearly 60,000 jobs in the last quarter of 2008 and the estimate for the month was well over 30,000 jobs lost,” he said. The Hershey facility, which manufactures York Peppermint Patties and 5th Avenue bars, is part of an overall plan to close six plants and cut 1,500 US manufacturing jobs, says Hoffa.

Automation News

Tighter security in automation

A second standard in the ISA99 series Security for Industrial Automation and Control Systems was approved by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). The new standard, ANSI/ISA-99.02.01-2009, Establishing an Industrial Automation and Control Systems Security Program, describes elements to set up a cyber security management system and provides guidance on how to meet the requirements for each element. Topics include policies, procedures, practices and personnel.

“The great value of this standard is that it draws together the best thinking on industrial cyber security management from experts at leading companies across the globe,” said Jim Gilsinn of the US National Institute of Standards and Technology. Gilsinn served as the lead editor of the standard.

The new standard follows last year’s publication of the first standard in the series, ANSI/ISA-99.00.01, which serves as the basis of all standards in the ISA99 series by presenting key concepts, terminology and models. Additional ISA99 standards under development will cover how to operate a security program after it is designed and implemented, and technical security requirements for industrial automation and control systems.

Real-time process optimization market on the rise

The real-time process optimization and training (RPO) market is expected to increase at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 9% over the next five years, according to a study from ARC Advisory Group. The study, Real-time Process Optimization and Training Worldwide Outlook, which reports the RPO market at slightly more than $1 billion in 2008, forecasts the market to reach more than $1.5 billion in 2013.

The RPO market grew significantly over the past couple of years because of the robust global economy and the need for safer, more efficient operations. According to the study’s author, Research Analyst Tom Fiske, Ph.D, “The economic slowdown will adversely affect growth over the next year or two, but the market will provide some opportunities as many of the issues facing manufacturers, like reducing costs, are addressed well with RPO solutions.”

The RPO market consists of three types of applications: advanced process control (APC), on-line optimization and training simulation and control validation software. APC includes model-based software to direct and control process operations. On-line optimization continually monitors the state of the process and through a reference model, predicts an optimum operation path. Training simulation and control system validation are real-time dynamic simulators designed to train process operators and verify control system functionality.

According to Fiske, "Currently, the food and beverage industry represents a small portion of the RPO market (well under ten percent)." The food and beverage industry  is looking for ways to cut costs and fine-tune their processes. "Leading companies have embraced some RPO tools, but the industry still lags way behind other industry sectors in terms of adoption," adds Fiske.

The financial crisis and credit crunch, however, are forcing companies to reevaluate their bottom line. Manufacturers looking to reduce costs and improve profitability are focusing greater attention on efficiency improvements and their customers’ needs. APC and optimization solutions play an important role in achieving endeavors that result in higher return on assets, says the study.

Energy reduction goals set

The US Department of Energy (DOE) and the Northwest Food Processors Association (NWFPA) set ambitious goals to reduce energy use and carbon emissions in the industrial sector. Together, they announced an industry-wide target of reducing energy intensity (energy use per unit of output) by 25% over the next ten years. A co-developed memorandum of understanding (MOU) provides a diverse range of opportunities for energy efficiency within the food processing industry and all manufacturers in the region. The MOU directly supports Save Energy Now, DOE’s national initiative to promote and support reductions in industrial energy intensity and carbon emissions throughout the US. Save Energy Now energy assessments have helped US manufacturers save an average of 8% of their total energy costs.

Food Safety News

FDA still under fire for peanut butter crisis

A key member of the US Senate is losing patience with FDA over food safety issues. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, is demanding FDA produce food plant inspection records showing its interaction with state governments. In an early February committee hearing, Harkin said FDA is deregulating federal oversight of food safety, and compared the result to the financial industry deregulation.

“I am nothing short of outraged at the increasing number of outbreaks of food-borne illness in this country,” Harkin said. “Everything from spinach and lettuce to beef products and, now, peanut products has been implicated. Within the last year, we had the biggest recall ever under USDA jurisdiction. And just in the last month, with the recall of peanut products from the Peanut Corporation of America, we had one of the largest recalls ever under FDA jurisdiction.”

The pressure on FDA over the tainted peanut butter extends to the White House as well. In a nationally broadcast interview earlier this month, President Obama criticized the agency for not reacting quickly enough to the outbreak.

“At a bare minimum, we should be able to count on our government keeping our kids safe when they eat peanut butter,” the President said.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association, a food industry lobbyist, issued a statement saying it has encouraged a thorough FDA review for some time.

“For the past 18 months, GMA has advocated strengthening America’s food safety system to put the teeth back in the FDA, America’s food safety watchdog,” the group said. “Those reforms will also help prevent problems before they arise, modernize our food safety net and significantly increase the odds of identifying bad actors, like PCA.”

GMA has called for increasing FDA funding to $900 million per year, so the agency can hire more scientific experts, increase the number of inspectors and modernize its laboratory and information technology systems.

The group also urged adoption of a food safety inspection approach so that resources are spent on the foods and facilities that pose the greatest threat.

Bisphenol A OK in packaging materials

On January 30, the US FDA and Health Canada’s Health Products and Food Branch hosted a meeting of US and Canadian manufacturers and users of food packaging materials containing bisphenol A (BPA) to discuss techniques in minimizing BPA levels in food.

The meeting covered the two regulatory bodies’ current activities and planned research to further assess the exposure to BPA. It also provided a dialog on how to reduce BPA migration into food. Those in attendance spoke of using alternative materials, especially in the manufacture of baby bottles.

Based on all available evidence, the consensus of regulatory agencies in the US, Canada, Europe and Japan is that the current levels of exposure to BPA through food packaging do not seem to pose an immediate health risk to the general population, including infants and young children.

Health Canada’s Health Products and Food Branch concluded that current dietary exposure to BPA through food packaging uses is not expected to pose a health risk to the general population, including newborns and infants. However, using a precautionary approach, the Government of Canada has taken steps to reduce exposure to BPA for infants and young children.

GMA says irradiation is safe

The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) released Food Irradiation: A Guide for Consumers, Policymakers and the Media, a science policy white paper. According to Robert Brackett, GMA chief science officer, irradiation can be a safe and effective tool in helping to control foodborne pathogens and can be incorporated as part of a comprehensive program to enhance food safety. More information is available at