Change in cookie dough process avoids contamination

After a potential E. coli contamination reported by the FDA in June 2009 and a positive E. coli test on unshipped product in early January of this year, Nestlé USA’s baking division has converted its process to use heat-treated flour in the manufacture of Nestlé Toll House refrigerated cookie dough.

“Consistent with our quality standards for Nestlé Toll House refrigerated cookie dough, this change will only further enhance the safety of our products,” said Paul Bakus, general manager, Nestlé USA Baking Group.

In June 2009, Nestlé USA voluntarily recalled refrigerated cookie dough after FDA and CDC notified the manufacturer they were conducting an investigation into reported E. coli O157:H7 illnesses that may have been related to the consumption of raw cookie dough. The product was re-launched in August following an investigation at the Danville, VA, manufacturing facility and implementation of a new testing protocol. The QA protocol includes testing ingredients before they enter the facility, rigorous environmental sampling throughout the facility and testing of finished product before it is shipped to customers.

On January 11 of this year, Nestlé informed the FDA that two samples of the cookie dough manufactured at the Danville facility did not pass the new QA protocol and had tested positive for E. coli O157:H7. Consistent with the new procedures, the finished product involved never left the factory or entered the supply chain.

According to a Nestlé spokesperson, flour is a likely suspect in the contamination since it is a raw agricultural commodity, and raw ingredients can carry risk.  The switch to heat-treated flour was made to improve product safety and minimize this risk.

The process of converting to heat-treated flour began on January 13, and production with the new ingredient began January 25. Product made with the heat-treated flour is expected to appear on grocery store shelves in early March. Nestlé will continue its new protocol of testing ingredients and finished product.

New York City takes the lead in lowering salt levels

The single most dangerous ingredient in the food supply is salt, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), which praised New York City health officials for pressuring food companies to reduce salt levels in packaged foods and restaurant meals by 25% over the next five years. CSPI called New York’s program “smart, sophisticated and timely.”

Excessive salt can be a major contributor to hypertension, stroke, heart and kidney disease and other ailments. Starting in 1978, CSPI has been urging FDA to treat salt, or sodium chloride, as a food additive, as opposed to classifying it as an ingredient that is generally recognized as safe (GRAS).

CSPI filed lawsuits against FDA in 1982 and in 2005 to try to compel it to take action, and later in 2005 filed a regulatory petition that asked the agency to set maximum levels of salt in various food categories. The agency held a public hearing in 2007 but hasn’t taken any action since.

“Reducing sodium levels in packaged and restaurant foods could save thousands of lives a year in New York City alone,” said Michael F. Jacobson, CSPI executive director. “Food companies should cooperate with New York City authorities and set achievable targets to reduce salt nationwide. If companies don’t cooperate, they can certainly expect other state and local governments, and perhaps at long last, the Food and Drug Administration, to begin regulating in this area,” he added.

Seventy percent of the population-a group that includes the elderly, African Americans and people with existing high blood pressure-should consume no more than 1,500 mg of sodium per day, according to the federal government. Others should limit their intake to less than 2,300 mg per day.

In 2009, CSPI analyzed the salt content in several popular chain restaurant meals, finding several with sodium levels between 5,000 to 7,000 mg. A high scorer, for example, was Red Lobster’s Admiral’s feast with creamy lobster-topped mashed potato, Caesar salad with dressing, a complimentary Cheddar Bay biscuit and lemonade-topping out at 7,106 mg of salt-enough to satisfy almost five day’s-worth for those on the lower, restricted levels of 1,500 mg per day.

CSPI found Chili’s Buffalo Chicken fajitas and Honey-Chipotle ribs with mashed potatoes, gravy and seasonal vegetables provided 6,916 mg and 6,440 mg sodium respectively, while two Olive Garden meals came in at 6,176 mg and 5,735 mg of sodium.

TerraCycle transforms Malt-O-Meal cereal bags into useful objects such as pencil and accessories bags. Source: TerraCycle.

When a cereal bag is something else

Minneapolis-based Malt-O-Meal Company formed a partnership with TerraCycle, an up-cycling company that takes packaging materials and turns them into affordable, high-quality goods. The partnership will create 1,250 Malt-O-Meal cereal bag brigades in elementary and secondary schools across the country. 

The brigades will function as collection sites for post-use Malt-O-Meal cereal bags and help prevent a significant amount of packaging waste from going into landfills. Individuals or school groups can sign up to sponsor a brigade, with proceeds to benefit a designated school, school-sponsored club, or school-sponsored special interest group. There is no cost to start a brigade, and all shipping costs are paid. For each Malt-O-Meal cereal bag collected and upcycled through TerraCycle, the designated school will be paid $.02 from TerraCycle.

To learn more about TerraCycle or to sign up to sponsor a Malt-O-Meal cereal bag brigade, visit TerraCycle’s Web site.

Automation News

PLC data written to a database is used to create this downtime report. Source: Inductive Automation.

Databases: The perfect complement to PLCs

Most controls engineers have tackled PLCs and can program them with one hand tied behind their backs. So what’s the next logical challenge? According to Inductive Automation President Steve Hechtman, “Think SQL and relational databases (RDBs). You’d be amazed at the similarity,” he says. “It’s the next logical progression.

“You might ask how it is they’re even related. For one thing, RDBs can be [like] an extension of PLC memory,” says Hechtman. Live values can be mirrored in RDBs bi-directionally. Historical values and events can be recorded there as well. But operators and managers can interact with them too. “Over the last six years I’ve delved heavily into SQL and learned a lot about relational databases. I’ve discovered that working with SQL is remarkably similar to working with PLCs and ladder logic,” adds Hechtman.

SQL has four basic commands and about a hundred different modifiers that can be applied to each in various ways to achieve all types of results. Hechtman provides an example: Imagine effluent from a wastewater plant with its flow, pH and other things being monitored and logged. That’s what you typically see. But now associate these with other things: discrete lab results, the name of the persons who did the lab work, the lab equipment IDs and calibration expiration dates, who was on shift at the time and the shift just prior, their certification levels, what chemicals where added and when, who the chemical suppliers were, how long the chemicals sat before use and so forth. All of this becomes relational data, meaning that if it’s arranged properly in tables, users can run SQL queries to obtain all types of interesting results. The queries might provide insight into the most likely conditions that could result in an improper discharge so it can be prevented in the future.

“SQL is a high level language that isn’t very hard to learn, and you can be very clever with it,” adds Hechtman. He prefers to think of it as a natural extension of his PLC programming skills. SQL can be used to obtain or extract the history of a machine for the period it has been operating, and that history can be stored in a relational database. Furthermore, RDBs and SQL pull people and processes together. Machines don’t run alone. They’re merely part of a containing process, and that process was devised by people. SQL and relational databases form the bridge to integrate processes, machinery and people.

Hechtman doesn’t believe a commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS ) software package can fit an application any more than a COTS palletizer program can fit into different food processors’ applications. Every machine is different and every business process is different. That’s where SQL comes in. It has to duplicate or augment existing process flows, and these are intimately connected to the machinery.

To get started, Hechtman suggests picking up a “Dummies” type book. Then download and install the open-source MySQL database server along with the MySQL administrator and query browser. It only takes a few minutes to install, and then engineers can begin to experiment. “You can read about a LEFT JOIN or INNER JOIN, but typing one in and observing the results is worth about 1,000 words,” says Hechtman.

The Cool-Fit ABS piping system weighs less and is easier to install than black metal counterparts. Source: GF Piping Systems.

Plastic cooling pipes keep refrigerant cooler at Lindt

Swiss chocolate manufacturer Lindt & Sprüngli recently opened a new logistic center built by Engineering 2K near Milan, Italy. To install the refrigeration system for the packaging and storage of this perishable product, Lindt commissioned the whole plant to Frigo Tecnica Internazionale Spa. Frigo Tecnica selected GF Piping Systems and its COOL-FIT ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) Plus plastic piping system for the secondary refrigeration systems.

To install the secondary refrigeration piping system, several problems had to be solved mainly caused by the pipe dimensions (up to eight inches) and placement almost 40 feet above the floor. The positioning and clamping of traditional metal pipe would have been extremely difficult and expensive, requiring the use of lift equipment. The plastic piping system solved these problems.

According to Enrico Rossetti, project manager for Frigo Tecnica Internazionale Spa, “The solution suggested by GF Piping allowed us to supply Lindt an efficient and modern system free from the disadvantages typically associated with black steel, such as the tendency to corrode, heavy weight and difficulty in welding pipes overhead.” Working with COOL-FIT ABS Plus was much easier, even in difficult situations, adds Rosetti. Employing the distribution piping system to carry cold glycol and warm water for the humidity control circuit allowed installation completion in a short time, considering that about 8,500 feet of pipe was installed to cool the entire 8-acre logistic plant in just three months.

The piping system is pre-insulated plastic specially developed for cooling applications. The carrier pipe is made from ABS, a material with excellent mechanical qualities, which can be used at temperatures as low as -40°F. ABS is also extremely light in weight; 3.2 ft. of 8-in. ABS pipe weighs just 25.5 lbs. versus 82 lbs. for the same length of steel pipe. Additionally, the cementing system for connection facilitates easy assembly of pipe and fittings, even in difficult conditions.

For more information, 800-854-4090, or visit GF Piping.

EC extends time for machine builders to meet safety standards

The European Commission (EC) extended the deadline for transition from EN 954-1 until December 31, 2011. This extension provides an additional 24 months for machine builders to meet the new standards, EN ISO 13849-1 and EN/IEC 62061.

Rockwell Automation is encouraging machine builders to comply with EN ISO 13849-1 as soon as possible. “Early adopters not only will move ahead of the competition, but also help better protect workers and machinery,” said Dan Hornbeck, safety market development manager, Rockwell Automation. “These new standards provide functional safety guidance that helps improve safety, efficiency and sustainability-while reducing development and operational costs.”

EN 954-1, formerly the main standard for the design of safety-related control systems in the machinery safety sector, traditionally has been followed for conformity to the European Machinery Directive 98/37/EC. Newer standards EN ISO 13849-1 or EN/IEC 62061-which provide for use of more advanced safety-control systems technologies-are in place, applicable now, and will fully replace EN 954-1 on December 31, 2011, says Hornbeck. At that time, the new control system standards will become the only ones accepted under the new European Machinery Directive 2006/42/EC. This widely anticipated change was first published in 2006, and the two-year period should be viewed as a transition period to comply with the new standards rather than as an extension of the old standard, according to Hornbeck.

Many global manufacturers already specify compliance with the new standards, and Rockwell Automation is helping customers meet them with technologies, products and the necessary functional safety data, says Hornbeck. Functional safety data is available in multiple forms, including a data library for use with the SISTEMA calculation tool from the BGIA (Institute for Occupational Safety and Health of the German Social Accident Insurance), and a PDF file providing data for manual calculation. Functional safety data, including the SISTEMA calculation tool and library, can be downloaded at the Rockwell Automation Safety Solutions Portal.

Food Safety News

Rhode Island processor recalls more than a million pounds of RTE meats

Daniele International Inc., with operations in Pascoag and Mapleville, RI, recalled approximately 1.2 million pounds of ready-to-eat (RTE) varieties of Italian sausage products, including salami/salame. The products are already in the supply chain and are potentially available to customers in retail locations. According to the US Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), the meat products may be contaminated with Salmonella.

FSIS became aware of the problem during the course of an ongoing investigation of a multi-state outbreak of Salmonella serotype Montevideo illnesses. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), FDA, FSIS, state health and agriculture departments, and Daniele International are cooperating in this ongoing investigation. The CDC has posted information, although the investigation has not yet definitively identified a food vehicle.

During the course of that investigation, a sample of product found in commerce was tested on behalf of a participating state department of health and found to contain Salmonella. The product tested was similar to products bought by customers who later became sick in the Montevideo investigation, but a direct link has not been established. The Salmonella strain in the tested product does not appear to be the Montevideo strain of interest, and further testing of the sample is ongoing at a state health partner laboratory.

SaaS takes aim at universal food traceability

FoodLogiQ, provider of on-demand food safety and traceability software, launched a free version of a software as a service (SaaS ) application for growers, produce buyers and consumers. The software solution is aimed at making farm-to-fork traceability achievable for family-operated farms and larger grower/packer/shipper operations.

The software can deliver complete supply chain traceability information directly to the consumer’s mobile device. The baseline version of the application is free to all food chain participants-grower, produce supplier and consumer.

The ready-to-use, hosted software application enables growers to comply with the produce traceability initiative requirements while marketing their business directly to produce buyers, to connect with consumers directly about their food and to meet industry and government labeling requirements around traceability and country of origin.

For more information, visit FoodLogiQ’s Web site.

Quality and safety of infant formulas, functional foods enhanced by new standards

To help ensure the quality and enhance the safety of key ingredients widely used in infant formulas and a variety of functional foods, new standards are being proposed for inclusion in the Food Chemicals Codex (FCC). The proposed standards are for three nucleotides (present in breast milk and commonly added to infant formula) and two docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) oils (essential omega 3 fatty acids present in fish and often added to both infant formula and functional foods). The proposed standards are now available for review and comment by industry and consumer representatives.

The standards will be incorporated into a future edition of the FCC, published by the US Pharmacopeial Convention (USP), following a three-month period in which the scientific nonprofit organization will accept public comments on the proposals and consider any suggested modifications. FCC’s industry standards help ensure an ingredient’s quality for consumers as well as for food manufacturers who purchase the ingredient for use in their products.

Nucleotides are present in higher doses in human milk than in cow-based infant formulas-and are thus routinely added to infant formulas today. The three new nucleotide standards proposed for FCC inclusion are for disodium 5’-uridylate, 5’-adenylic acid and 5’-cytidylic acid. In addition to designating the identity, purity and impurities of the ingredients, the three new FCC standards include validated test methods that provide repeatable means of measuring the ingredients’ components.

The new standards being proposed for DHA oils are for DHA algal oil, Crypthecodinium Type and DHA algal oil, Schizachyrium Type. The first is used in infant formulas as well as for a wide variety of other products considered “functional foods,” such as soy milk and yogurts; the second is used for functional foods but not in infant formula. No other food compendium contains standards for these two ingredients. Supplementing formulas with DHA as well as arachidonic acid (ARA) is supported by the World Health Organization at levels of 0.35 percent and 0.7 percent, respectively. US infant formula manufacturers began to offer formulas containing DHA and ARA in 2002.

Proposed new and revised FCC standards are open to any interested parties via the FCC Forum. Manufacturers, consumers and others are encouraged to visit the FCC Forum to review the new standards and provide scientific feedback. Comments will be considered by USP’s Food Ingredients Expert Committee, a group of independent scientific experts that oversees FCC standards. Comments will be accepted through March 31, and final standards will be published August 31.