Some light at the end of the tunnel

This chart compares the annual growth rate of US packaging machinery shipments to non-defense capital goods new orders (excluding aircraft). Source: Institute for Trend Research, provided by PMMI.

Upturn expected to slow, but continue in 2011

Despite an anticipated slowdown in the rate of economic recovery, leading indicators are still somewhat positive, and the economic upturn is expected to continue slowly this year, according to PMMI’s First Quarter 2011 Economic Outlook.

According to the Federal Reserve, October 2010’s US total industrial production index, PMMI’s benchmark economic indicator, was flat after a slight increase (0.3 percent) in September. However, total US industrial production increased 5.9 percent from December 2009 to December 2010. Total US industrial capacity utilization was 75.2 percent in October 2010 and down 0.2 percent for the year December 2009 to December 2010. These are the early indicators of an impending slowdown in the rate of recovery forecasted for 2011.

Other highlights in the PMMI report include:

  • The US leading indicator shows a tentative decline in October 2010 after four consecutive months of growth.
  • The purchasing managers’ index rose in October, however, at a slower rate than previous months, indicating a slowdown in the rate of recovery for 2011.
  • The value of the dollar is expected to drop in 2011, leading to an increase in foreign sales and export opportunities in the coming year.
  • Although US industrial production is in a strong growth phase, packaging machinery shipments remain slow. The report points out a hazard if macroeconomic growth should slow before packaging machinery shipments has significantly recovered.
  • Retail sales are running above year-ago levels and are expected to stay positive, and the housing trend is showing signs of stabilizing, all of which are good signs for the general macroeconomic picture.
For more information, visit PMMI’s website.

Food labeling in the US: Misleading or just confusing?

FDA’s efforts to protect consumers from false or misleading claims are conducted in a complex and challenging legal and regulatory environment, and often result in labeling that is confusing to consumers, says a new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) on food labeling entitled, FDA Needs to Reassess Its Approach to Protecting Consumers from False or Misleading Claims. The FDA oversees federal requirements to prohibit false or misleading food labels; the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) enforces the prohibition against false or misleading advertising.

By statute, health claims on food labels must have significant scientific agreement, but in 2002, in response to a court decision, FDA decided to allow qualified health claims with less scientific support. These structure/function claims refer to a food’s effect on body structure or function. In its study, GAO examined:

  • The results of FDA’s efforts to allow the use of qualified health claims and oversight of these claims.
  • Consumers’ understanding of the claims.
  • FDA’s oversight of structure/function claims.

From 2002, when FDA announced its decision to allow qualified health claims on food labels-following a court decision involving its authority to regulate dietary supplements-through September 2010, FDA received 16 petitions from companies proposing 60 claims on food labels. After reviewing the scientific evidence presented in the petitions, FDA determined there was enough credible evidence to allow the use of 12 qualified health claims by modifying language to qualify the claims and characterize in detail the strengths and limitations of the scientific support for those claims. In overseeing qualified health claims for food labels, FDA has issued two warning letters to food companies-both in 2010-for citing health benefits that were not in the allowed qualified health claims or supported by scientific evidence.

Research showed that consumers find it difficult to understand the differences between health claims with significant scientific agreement and the lower level of scientific support for qualified health claims. Research also showed consumers find it difficult to distinguish among many different types of claims on food labels, including health claims, qualified health claims and structure/function claims.

FDA data indicate processors now minimally use qualified health claims on foods but more widely use structure/function claims to convey their foods’ health benefits. Processors’ use of structure/function claims is subject to the general statutory requirement that labeling not be false or misleading.

However, FDA has not given processors guidance on the scientific support needed to prevent false or misleading information in such claims when examining food labels as part of food facility compliance inspections. Even if FDA were to provide such guidance, structure/function claims pose a serious oversight dilemma for the agency. Unlike the FTC, the FDA does not have the ability to require processors to submit substantiation documents, says the GAO report.

GAO recommends FDA identify and request from Congress authorities to access processors’ evidence for potentially false or misleading structure/function claims on food; establish scientific support; provide guidance to industry on the evidence it needs to support such claims; and provide direction to FDA inspectors to help identify claims for further review.
For more details on the 60-page report, or to download it, visit GAO’s website.

Overall organic market holds steady, gains in traditional channels

For the third straight year, the percentage of US consumers purchasing organic products held steady in the 38 to 39 percent range, according to TABS Group, Inc., a marketing research company. While there has been no growth in the number of buyers for organic products since last year, there was a considerable shift in outlet patterns towards mass market and away from natural foods retailers.

“We still see many reports that the number of consumers purchasing organic products is growing; our research does not support that conclusion,” says Dr. Kurt Jetta, TABS founder and president. “The annual incidence of these products has gone from 38.4 percent to 38.0 percent to 38.6 percent from 2008, 2009 and 2010, respectively,” he adds.

“What is very interesting, however, is that there were big shifts in the outlet where consumers report that they most often purchase these products. The big winners were traditional grocers (41.0 to 44.1 percent) and Target (1.8 to 4.1 percent), while the losers were Wal-Mart (18.6 to 12.4 percent), Trader Joe’s (11.5 to 10.7 percent) and other natural foods retailers (6.2 to 4.6 percent). The total natural foods channel fell from being the most preferred outlet by 26.8 percent in 2009 to 24.4 percent in January 2011, a 9 percent drop.”

This was the first year organic chicken and red meat were included in the survey, and the reported purchase rates were 13.4 and 6.4 percent, respectively. The inclusion of these two categories, however, had only a modest impact on overall organic penetration, pushing the incidence from 38.6 to 39.8 percent.

“When we see a consistent penetration over three years combined with the fact that adding more categories does not increase that penetration, we conclude that there is a well-entrenched consumer base for organics. There is little hope of increasing that base any time soon,” says Jetta. “Any growth in organics from one outlet must, therefore, necessarily come at the expense of another channel.”

For more information, contact Kurt Jetta, 203-925-9157 or visit TABS Group online.

Automation News

Bottling company sees 2 percent efficiency improvement in five months

Coca-Cola Bottling Co. Consolidated, the second-largest Coca-Cola bottler in the US, has seen an initial 2 percent improvement in overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) within five months of implementing CDC Factory, a manufacturing operations management (MOM) software solution, at its facility in Roanoke, VA.

 Headquartered in Charlotte, NC, Coca-Cola Bottling Co. Consolidated sells and distributes carbonated and noncarbonated beverages, including soft drinks, water, teas, juices and energy drinks. With the completion of the MOM implementation in Roanoke, the bottler plans to implement the software at its four other production facilities located in Charlotte, NC; Nashville, TN; Mobile, AL; and Bishopville, SC.

The implementation of MOM in the Roanoke plant used CDC Software’s change-management methodology, which has helped Coca-Cola Bottling Co. Consolidated raise OEE levels. As Coca-Cola continues to offer a widening product portfolio, Coca-Cola Bottling Co. Consolidated is faced with increasingly complex manufacturing challenges, such as maintaining numerous stock keeping units (SKUs) and the related changeovers. MOM software has helped to address these challenges, and it improves operating efficiencies across all the bottler’s production lines.

The Coca-Cola Bottling Co. Consolidated supply chain team had previous experiences with lengthy design-and-build projects, so it particularly liked the supplier’s packaged software functionality and rapid implementation capabilities. The supplier’s consultants initially performed the Factory Profit Audit, a CDC Factory benchmark study, which provided the Coca-Cola Consolidated team with a clear and focused project scope that was cost-effective and pragmatic. It also identified actionable recommendations.

“We especially liked how CDC Factory drives action on the manufacturing floor where our employees take ownership of performance and improvement,” says Steve Westphal, executive vice president, operations and systems of Coca-Cola Bottling Co. Consolidated. “With CDC Factory’s capabilities of real-time plant intelligence, coupled with a change program embedded in the deployment activities, I’m delighted we have delivered a 2 percent efficiency improvement in 5 months.”

The MOM system allows users to make real-time, actionable decisions. It combines shop floor data capture, paperless quality management, packaged metrics like OEE, manufacturing analytics and executive scorecards. Pre-built continuous improvement capabilities, combined with an implementation model focused on business transformation, allows for a quick deployment.

For more information, visit the CDC Factory website.

Potato salad undergoes final metal inspection before going out the door. Plastic conveyor immediately in front of and behind the metal detector prevents interference to the detection system, which could create false indications. Source: Dorner.

Plan metal detection and conveying systems carefully

An essential part of any food inspection process is the ability to quickly and effectively remove questionable product from the process flow. And a key component of that inspection process is metal detection. Integrating a conveying system with a metal detection system is not so difficult if it is well planned from the get-go.

Recently, AJ Naber, Dorner Manufacturing senior design engineer, designed a retractable-tail metal detection conveyor for a frozen French fry manufacturer. “Based on the configuration of the existing processing line, a retractable conveyor was the best fit for this application,” says Naber. The conveyor primarily runs in the extended position, and as French fries successfully pass through the metal detector, they continue on the extended conveyor to a take-away conveyor. When the metal detection system detects metal within the flow of French fries, the retractable-tail conveyor pulls back and creates a gap to allow the product to fall onto a second conveyor for disposal, adds Naber.

While this was a fairly complex application, others can range from a basic stop-on-detect-requiring operator intervention-to varying degrees of complexity, says Naber. Stop-on-detect is the simplest and generally least expensive option available.

Nevertheless, many processing lines need more automation, which requires some type of reject mechanism beyond human intervention. Push-on-detect, air blast and diverter arms are some of the common reject mechanisms on metal detection conveyor systems, says Naber.

  • Push-on-detect involves a pusher mechanism mounted to the side of the conveyor. The pusher face is actuated when the metal detector flags a product for rejection.
  • Air blast operates similarly to push-on-detect. However, rather than a pusher, a flagged product is removed from the conveyor by a blast of air. This works with lightweight products requiring a more finite reject.
  • Suited for bulk materials, a diverter arm swings out across the width of the conveyor belt to guide flagged product to a reject lane or bin for disposal.

The area within the metal detector through which product travels is known as the aperture. Within the aperture there needs to be room to accommodate both the conveyor and the product, says Naber. Most metal detectors require a metal-free zone of approximately 1.5 times the aperture height. This constraint presents a challenge because everything on the conveyor system within this metal-free zone needs to be made from plastic.

The stainless steel conveyor frame also needs to be split to run plastic through the aperture and within the metal-free zone. “That’s why it’s important to properly size a metal detection system to the application,” advises Naber. “I recommend considering all supporting equipment including the conveyors and reject method when selecting a metal detector for a processing line. Think of the metal detector and supporting conveyor line as one integrated component.”

Selecting a metal detector with an aperture that may be too big for the product may also limit space where accessories can be mounted to the conveyor frame. “Remember, a larger aperture casts a larger metal-free zone around the entire system,” says Naber. And if the metal detection system is located in a fairly confined space, available space on the frame to mount the reject mechanisms may be limited. From an engineering standpoint, it’s always a challenge to make the system as sanitary and compact as possible while still achieving what the application requires.

“Ultimately any design we make needs to be safe, and often, safety and sanitation don’t go hand in hand. Ideally we want as little human intervention in the reject mechanisms as possible, so we’ll add various guards to eliminate access to dangerous areas. However, with every component that is added to the conveyor, you can decrease its overall level of sanitation,” says Naber. “It’s a balancing act. Our job is to design a metal detection conveyor system that’s very sleek, smooth and uninterrupted, but at the same time provides the highest level of safety.”

No two metal detection conveyor systems are identical. However, when specified properly, they can serve an integral role toward adding value and efficiency to any production line.

For more information, contact AJ Naber, Dorner Manufacturing, 262-369-1258.

Food Safety News

Are they safe? Or have they been tampered with?

Food safety bill about food defense as well

Existing food safety guidelines from FDA and USDA are intended to keep our nation’s food supply safe from bacterial contamination. But the Food Safety Modernization Act also addresses security issues-a key issue is food defense. Food defense is defined as the measures taken to protect food from deliberate tampering by criminal or terrorist sources.

The authors of a paper entitled, “National security at the dinner table: Changes aim to align national security with food safety,” describe procedures taken at McCormick and Company to set a thorough food defense plan in motion. Bill Ramsey, McCormick & Company corporate security director, and Frank Pisciotta, Business Protection Specialists president, list several issues food processors need to consider as the Food Safety Modernization Act is put into law.

Some of these include food processing in a non-registered facility, a food defense plan for interstate commerce, minimum performance standards for food processing and shipment conditions, safety standards for raw agricultural commodities, new tracing programs to identify each person in the food chain who has come into contact with food, requirements for food tracing and certifications, and compliance with food imports into the US.

McCormick put in place a goal-based security plan rather than a risk-based system that may not cover all the potential risks in a security program. Using the goal-based security concept, McCormick’s team was better able to understand the security issues involved, define what results must be demonstrated to ensure the goals are met and establish appropriate strategies to address security issues.

To learn more about the measures taken by McCormick, read the entire article, which appears on the FE website.

For more information on setting up a food defense program, contact Frank Pisciotta, Business Protection Specialists, 919-758-8058.

Cut the salt even more

The American Heart Association (AHA) has revised its recommended upper limit for salt intake from 2,300 to 1,500 mg per day for the general population. The lower number had been the recommended maximum salt intake for patients with high blood pressure and heart disease.

Increased salt produces elevated blood pressure and increases the risk of stroke, heart attack and kidney disease. Elevated blood pressure is a major public health problem-approximately 90 percent of all Americans will develop hypertension over their lifetime, according to AHA.

According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), the average American adult consumes 4,000 mg of salt per day. “Without question, the amounts of salt used in packaged and restaurant foods make it the deadliest ingredient in the food supply,” says Michael Jacobson, CSPI executive director. Jacobson would like to see the new edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans list salt with a 1,500 mg target instead of the current figure of 2,300-mg.