Today's processors are focusing on fundamentals, but with a twist. The stakes-and responsibilities-are much higher.
While new greenfield projects are few and far between, existing plants must adhere to stringent food safety measures, guard against security threats and control allergens and cross-contamination. These basic plant operating standards are now coupled with the mandate to reduce costs and increase innovation.
"Food processors are motivated today by capacity, security concerns and a desire to improve quality," says Bill Sander, senior vice president/project manager with Hixson. These factors are driving companies to make upgrades to their facilities.
With bioterrorism and food allergens all major consumer concerns, food companies must continue to ensure quality and raise the bar on the plant floor with food safety measures.
According to Bob Hendon, vice president of Hendon & Redmond Inc., food safety continues to be a great concern during plant construction projects. "Manufacturers are putting more thought into the initial layout to protect product from contamination, both from pathogens and cross-contact from allergenic materials."
Joe Bove, vice president of process design with The Stellar Group agrees. "Control and flow of people, materials and finished goods within the plant is extremely important from a food safety perspective."
Of course another top concern for food plants is operating costs. "The trend is to minimize water consumption during washdowns and install energy management systems for building temperature and lighting control, more efficient motors on equipment and efficient hot water," sites Bove.
As our survey data shows, food and beverage plants are relying on existing assets and optimizing those locations. Food Engineering's annual plant construction survey uncovered 523 total plant projects of $1 million or more completed, planned or underway during 2005. Total food and beverage plant projects are up 3.3 percent over the previous year. The number of expansion/renovation projects increased by nine percent to a total of 364, while new construction projects fell by seven percent (159 projects).
While plant expansion and renovation projects are the methods of choice to increase output, there is an increased focus on implementing innovation, says Mark Swanson, of Burns & McDonnell's Food/Consumer Products Business Development group. "There is a growing group of companies that believe the food industry is 10 to 15 years behind in innovative production processes," he says. "This belief is driving food companies to [look at] non-[food]companies to find new technologies that can [put] them at a technical competitive advantage."
As food makers know, they must be agile and innovative to gain and keep that precious product market share. Mike Golden, executive vice president of Food Tech, sees a definite trend toward flexible plant design. He says it allows his clients to quickly and easily retool production lines to meet the "ever-changing diet fads of the American consumer."
Isolation, separationWhile plant security has always been a priority, today's looming threats put processors at a much higher risk if things fall between the cracks. "Security is a must, [it is] not an option in new plants, Bob Simpson, Excel Engineering's vice president, process engineering told Food Engineering. "HACCP compliance was the last big design initiative," agrees Golden. "Now it's security in light of global terrorism."
Leading food and beverage processors are installing security checkpoints for employees entering the plant as well as requiring plant-wide ID badges. Electronic surveillance systems are standard operating procedure as are stringent monitoring and control of inbound raw materials. In addition, Golden says, QA/QC labs are getting more sophisticated equipment to sample finished product to ensure no unhealthy contaminants are present.
Very little new construction is built without security as a key initiative, states Darryl Wernimont, director of Haskell. "The heart of security projects focuses on the access control (points of entry and exit)," he claims.
But once a plan is developed, the effort has only just begun. "Facility security should be seen as an activity that will always be in a state of change, Wernimont points out." In order to stay ahead of potential threats, security plans must be reviewed and updated.
While facility security plans keep unwanted personnel or visitors in tow, it also helps processors monitor incoming raw materials and keep a watchful eye on potential contaminants.
Some of the trends in allergen control cited by the engineering firms who responded to the survey include: increased use of mix-proof valves, segregating allergens via walls, doors and air handling systems and proper product labeling.
In addition to GMPs, processors are focusing on state-of-the-art washdown procedures. Bove sees a trend for single-use lines to incorporate total separation and isolation.
Swanson has likewise experienced more sensitivity within food plants toward sanitation and production procedures and reports that products with allergens are produced late in the production schedule, right before sanitation.
Waste not, want notAs processors search for more ways to cut costs, utilities such as electric and gas are not the only areas under scrutiny. Food companies are also looking for ways to improve wastewater treatment.
Because local governments continue to enforce strict wastewater regulations as residential development encroaches upon plants, wastewater treatment becomes a bigger concern, according to Gary Gomolka, vice president of process engineering with The Stellar Group. "Local officials want to encourage development in these areas by offering tax incentives on housing and, to offset this, some are using surcharges on industrial waste as a revenue stream."
The result: food plants must find a better way to deal with waste. Gomolka says that some are taking measures to clean up material for land disposal before hosing any material down the drain. Others are constructing wastewater treatment facilities to bypass surcharges.
Swanson sees similar trends in food companies trying to minimize treatment of discarded waste. "The idea is to eliminate the source of the discharge, rather than just treat the problem," he says.
Overall, the top trends in wastewater treatment remain water recycling and reuse, pretreatment and internal reductions in usage. In the offing, according to Bill Washburn, president of FoodPro, processing wastewater to produce methane and hydrogen gases may provide part of a plant's energy needs.
This might be just what the doctor ordered for the food industry: a necessary but environmentally friendly process that cuts costs. Now that's truly innovative.
The following companies assisted Food Engineering in compiling this survey:A. Epstein
BE&K Building Group
Burns & McDonnell
The Dennis Group
Faithful & Gould
Hendon & Redmond
The Stellar Group
Vaughn, Coltrane, Pharr & Associates