As this issue’s cover story explains, the state of food manufacturing is slowly trending upward. But, while business indicators are gradually improving, some of the current challenges in food manufacturing remain unchanged: the need for increased automation, advances in food safety and a more highly skilled workforce. However, the way the industry addresses these challenges is shifting.

For example, at last month’s PACK EXPO in Las Vegas, a clear theme emerged as I visited booths focusing on food and beverage processing and packaging equipment. The key trend was food safety and related hygiene issues in machinery and component design. Here are some of the features machinery and component exhibitors emphasized: sanitary machine design for quick and easy washdowns and the elimination of crevices where bacteria can hide; strict adherence to processors’ HACCP plans; the expanded use of stainless steel fabrication; and lubrication-free component applications.

With all the regulations of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) far from final, processors remain focused on food safety and hygiene, and that is reflected in our cover story beginning on page 76. More than half of FE readers who responded to our annual State of Food Manufacturing Survey say their companies are already in compliance with FSMA. In addition, the survey results show processors are taking advantage of cloud, VPN and tablet technologies to run facilities that now have fewer workers on the plant floor.

In many respects, trends surrounding the need for increased automation and a highly skilled workforce are converging. Exhibitors at PACK EXPO echoed the theme that food and beverage processors are increasingly looking to original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and service suppliers to solve their automation challenges. In addition, processors now require more turnkey technology solutions due to decreasing in-house engineering capabilities.

 While none of the trends I mention here are new, there has been a shift in mindset. Suppliers, now more than ever before, are laser-focused on solving the core challenges faced by food and beverage processors.