Monster Health Food Co becomes first manufacturer to implement star rating scheme

Muesli maker, Monster Health Food Co has become the first company in Australia to roll out the Health Star Rating front of pack labelling scheme across its range of products.

Monster’s products will be hitting Coles supermarket stores across the country today, a move that has been welcomed by long standing supporter of the Health Star Rating scheme, consumer watchdog Choice.

“It’s encouraging that Monster was able to implement the Health Star Rating quickly and at minimal cost,” says Choice campaigns manager, Angela Cartwright. “Their achievement suggests the food industry lobby’s estimates about the time and money it would take to implement the system may have been seriously exaggerated.”
“We are certain other food companies who want to provide consumers with better information about their products will join Monster and shoot for the stars.” 

The Health Star Rating Scheme was developed by government, industry and public health group representatives, together with Choice last year. The scheme was designed to replace the Daily Intake Guide system by giving processed foods a rating out of five stars based on nutritional content. Products high in nutrition value receive more stars, while those foods lacking nutritional value have fewer stars.

The scheme received widespread media attention over the past few months. Assistant health minister Fiona Nash’s chief of staff, Alistair Furnival ordered the Health Department to pull down the Health Star Rating website only eight hours after it was officially launched in February this year. The website was designed to complement new rating scheme and educate consumers on how the system worked prior to it being officially rolled out later in the year.

A spokesperson for the health department said that the website was a draft’, and made live in “an inadvertent error”, claims that were widely refuted by public health groups who say that the website was pulled down due to industry influence.

Nash later revealed that Furnival had shares in his wife’s lobbying firm, Australian Public Affairs (APA) which represents snack food companies that opposed the Star Rating scheme including Mondelez.


Smartphone-readable particles could help identify counterfeit food

Chemical engineers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have invented a new type of tiny, smartphone-readable particle that could be used to help authenticate various products that are prone to counterfeiting such as electronics, pharmaceuticals and food.

The particles which are invisible to the naked eye, contain coloured stripes if nanocrystals which illuminate when lit up with near-infrared light. According to MIT professor, Patrick Doyle, the particles can be easily manufactured and integrated into a variety of materials as they have the ability to withstand extreme temperatures, sun exposure and heavy wear.

The particles and can also be equipped with sensors that can “record their environments.” For example, the sensors can identify if a refrigerated vaccine has been exposed to temperatures that are too high, or too low.

According to the researchers, the particles are around 200 microns long and include several stripes of different coloured nanocrystals which are doped with elements such as ytterbium, gadolinium, erbium, and thulium which emit visible colours when exposed to near-infrared light. By altering the ratios of these elements, the researchers can tune the crystals to emit any colour in the visible spectrum.

The researchers used stop-flow lithography to manufacture the particles which allows shapes to be imprinted onto parallel flowing streams of liquid monomers. Wherever pulses of ultraviolet light strike the streams, a reaction is set off that forms a solid polymeric particle.

Using this procedure the researchers say that they can generate vast quantities of unique tags. Particles that contain six stripes have up to one million different possible colour combinations – a number which is enhanced exponentially when products are tagged with more than one particle.

“It’s really a massive encoding capacity,” says Paul Bisso a graduate student and one of the research paper’s lead authors. “You can apply different combinations of 10 particles to products from now until long past our time and you’ll never get the same combination.”

The researchers say that the mircoparticles can be dispersed within packaging during the manufacturing process to authenticate the products.

“The ability to tailor the tag’s material properties without impacting the coding strategy is really powerful,” says Bisso. “What separates our system from other anti-counterfeiting technologies is this ability to rapidly and inexpensively tailor material properties to meet the needs of very different and challenging requirements, without impacting smartphone readout or requiring a complete redesign of the system.”

A paper describing the particles was published in the April 12 issue of science journal, Nature Materials.


Simplot said to be a frontrunner for Black Swan

Simplot Australia has reportedly emerged as a front runner in the bid to buy the Black Swan, seven months after going into receivership.

Expressions of interest to buy the business closed last week and The Australian reports that Simplot Australia is the leading interest party and that the Black Swan could go for as much as $50 million.

Simplot Australia is a leading Australian food manufacturer with brands such as Leggos, Birds Eye, Lean Cuisine and John West.

According to Smart Company, other big businesses rumoured to have expressed interest include Fonterra, Parmalat and Murray Goulburn.

Deloitte was appointed as administrators to Black Swan by the Family Court of Australia following a dispute involving the chief of the company.

Last year, Simplot Australia received a government grant of $500,000 for capital upgrades after nearly closing its Tasmanian Devonport plant. The company said the plant will remain in operation at least until 2016 to fulfil contracts with Coles and Woolworths. It said there would still need to be significant savings or it will potentially face closure by 2019, and that the processor’s casual workforce would experience significant job cuts.

Simplot’s Bathurst plant has also been experiencing difficulties, with the company announcing last year that the plant was under threat of closure due to a very competitive industry and unsustainably high costs.


Advanced analytical methods needed to address food fraud, says professor

Professor of Food Authenticity and Integrity at Wageningen University in the Netherlands, Saskia Van Ruth says that in order to combat food fraud effectively, information is required on the factors the can influence the vulnerability of organisations and the food chain.

Van Ruth says that ‘new unconventional fraud’ and products with labels such as ‘sustainable’, ‘biological’ or ‘animal-friendly’ call for new advanced analytical methods.

“No-one likes to be deceived and certainly not when it comes to food,” says Van Ruth.

“Products are sourced from all over of the world and the food chain has become a fragile, extensive widely-branched network, vulnerable to fraud”.

Van Ruth points to a number of recent incidents including the horse meat scandal and the use of melamine in dairy products, however she states that little is actually known about the frequency or how widespread food fraud truly is.

She says that food fraud may concern product composition, the production practice or origin of the product produced. According to Van Ruth, specific naturally occurring physical or chemical characteristics define the identity of a product, and that simple analysis of the moisture content of a product can at times provide answers as to the true origin of a product, however more complex cases require the combination of analytical chemistry and statistics. This includes looking at the relationship with the environment where food production takes place.

Van Ruth says that changes in the composition of dairy products such as the addition of protein or melamine-like substances as well as the characteristics of products such as organic egg production, the typical characteristics of speciality coffee and the origin of cocoa beans are key research areas at present.

“If something seems too good to be true, then it’s probably too good to be true”, says Saskia van Ruth.


Russia bans Australian beef exports

Russia has banned Australian chilled and frozen beef after detecting traces of trenbolone, an active ingredient in hormone growth promotants.

The ban will begin next Monday, 7 April and will have a large impact on Australia’s meat processers, ABC Rural reports.

Australian beef is the largest agricultural export to Russia, worth $110 million last year.

Australian agricultural minister Barnaby Joyce believes the ban has more to do with politics, namely Russia’s annexation of Crimea. "Well, I am disappointed. We are very stringent with what leaves Australian shores. The people who are delivering Wagyu cattle are not ones to play with the premium nature of the brand,” he said. "You are not going to find hormone growth promotants in Wagyu cattle."

In the past year, Russia has complained several times about growth promotants. Last year the Department of Agriculture investigated a complaint and found no evidence of trenbolone use. In January, Russia temporarily banned beef by-products from Australia after claiming they found trenbolone in several shipments of the product.

Two weeks ago, Russia complained and Australian officials investigated again, finding no evidence of promotant use in the cattle.

Russia has been also been tough on kangaroo exports, banning exports from Australia for four years in 2009, claiming the trade presented food safety concerns. It was not until March last year that kangaroo meat trade resumed.


Green Eggs restriction lifted after salmonella scare

Nearly a month after health authorities warned restaurants, cafes and caterers not to use Green Eggs products in raw egg dishes, the producer has been deemed safe.

The warning was issued following outbreaks of gastroenteritis due to salmonella, in two Victorian restaurants, the Weekly Times reports.

Over 200 people became ill after eating dishes containing raw egg at the Bottle of Milk restaurant at Torquay, and at St Kilda’s Newmarket Hotel.

At the time of the warning, Victorians were warned not to consume raw Green Eggs’ eggs and suppliers were advised to destroy their eggs.

Deputy chief health officer, Dr Michael Ackland, said he is now satisfied that there is now no increased risk for Green Eggs products used in raw-egg products.

Common raw egg dishes include mayonnaise, aioli, eggnog and tiramisu.

Green Eggs founder, Alan Green, said the company’s sales dropped by 70 percent after the incident. “Today is a massive turning point for our customers to be able to use that egg again,” he said.

The company has since introduced an additional washing step to its egg production.

Egg contamination by salmonella can begin on the egg farm. Dirty eggs, in particular those laid on shed floors rather than clean nest boxes are at risk. The risk increases if the eggs are not effectively cleaned and kept under proper temperature control. The eggs must and stored in a refrigerated environment between 0̊C and 5̊C as soon as possible after being laid, and throughout the grading and packing process.


New abalone processing plant could employ ex-Ford workers

The Great Southern Waters seafood plant is expected to create eight full time jobs by June 2016, and seven more by 2017-18.

According to the Herald Sun, the construction of the processing plant will be subsidised by a $377,000 grant from the Geelong Region Innovation and Investment Fund, set up by the state and national government and Ford Australia.

Western MP David Koch said former local automotive factory workers would be well placed for the new jobs.

The seafood plant is currently a nursery, grow out and export facility that stretches across 20,000 square metres.

The jobs will come at a good time for a small section of ex-Ford production workers in Geelong, but will not cover the hundreds who have been made redundant.


Kangaroos to be processed into pet food

A new two-year trial will see kangaroos shot and processed for commercial pet food in Victoria, creating a new industry worth to $1.4 million in revenue.

The trail is set to commence on March 31, and will involve up to 69,000 kangaroos which would have been culled under wildlife control permits, The Age reports.

The commercial trial will only include the eastern grey and western grey breeds, with each animal expected to generate around $20 at the meat processor.

Agriculture Minister Peter Walsh said that although the animals will be processed for pet food, he does not expect the number of kangaroos killed in the state to rise as it illegal to kill a kangaroo without a permit.

‘It will not mean any increase in the wildlife control permits at all, it is just utilising the waste that is there from the current controls,’’ said Walsh.

‘This is not about eating Victorian kangaroos; this is about utilising the waste from wildlife," he said.

‘‘Currently those people who control kangaroos under a wildlife permit have to bury them, so it is about utilising what is effectively waste.’’

According to The Age, the government will be closely monitoring the number of wildlife control applications to ensure that the new kangaroo pet food industry does not cause a spike in kangaroo killings.


Choice and health groups slam Kellogg’s over cereal sugar swap

Kellogg’s has attracted criticism from health groups as well as consumer watchdog Choice for replacing a ‘healthy’ cereal with a sugar ‘frosted’ and ‘chocolate’ version with the same name and logo.

The cereal company’s Mini-Wheats 5 Grain cereal was taken off shelves around a month ago and replaced with the new ‘original’ frosted and chocolate varieties last week which allegedly contains 66 percent more sugar than the previous 5 grain variety, SMH reports.

The Obesity Policy Coalition’s executive manager, Jane Martin dubbed the move as ‘sneaky’, claiming that the brand was capitalising on the reputation of the previous ‘healthier 5 grain’ option.

“They are moving into sneaky territory," Martin told SMH.

"It shows the need for a clear system for consumers to compare products," she said.

Campaigns manager at Choice, Angela Cartwright said that the product would has retained a five star rating under the new Health Star Rating program if the recipe had not been altered.

"Basically the two products are the same, including being low in sodium, except for the sugar – that alone has lost it half a star," said Cartwright.

Kellogg’s has since released a statement in response to the new cereal varieties, pointing out that the new varieties only contain five percent of the recommended daily sugar intake. 

"We are aware that this change has upset some consumers and are taking this feedback on board," the statement said.

"Despite the change in recipe, Kellogg's new Mini-Wheats Little Bites contain only 5 per cent of the recommended daily sugar intake."

"All Kellogg's products, including new Mini-Wheats Little Bites, have percentage daily intake on the front of all our packs, so shoppers can make a decision without even taking the foods off the shelf."


Volatile compounds in strawberries could make processed food naturally sweeter

Researchers from the University of Florida say that they have pinpointed the exact compounds in strawberries that give the fruit its sweet flavour.

Strawberry breeders at the University are currently researching ways to create more flavourful varieties of the fruit, and hope to eventually use those compounds to make processed food naturally sweeter – eliminating the need for artificial sweeteners, and significantly lessening sugar content.

Following extensive biochemical testing and the hosting of consumer taste panels, the researchers identified 30 compounds within strawberries that consumers love. They also identified six volatile compounds that add to consumers’ perception of sweetness in a strawberry – independent of any type of sugar contained in the fruit.

Michael Schwieterman, a postdoctoral researcher and lead author of the paper says that in addition to enabling food manufacturers to make processed food naturally sweeter in the future, the group’s plant breeders are already employing the findings to create consumer-preferred flavours now.

“When we find these specific volatiles, it will help us produce cultivars that we know have a good chemical profile and should be perceived as much sweeter, with better flavour,” he said.

The six volatiles have now been added to a growing collection of sugar-independent, flavour enhancing compounds found in fruits, vegetables and herbs that researchers at the University’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences are currently focusing on.


Heart Foundation launches Halt Hidden Salt campaign

The Australian Heart Foundation this week launched the Halt Hidden Salt campaign, which is designed to raise awareness of high salt levels in processed foods.

The foundation says that Australians on average are consuming 9gm of salt, 3gm more than the recommended maximum intake for adults, and that the majority of that salt comes directly from processed foods as opposed to salt added to meals at the dinner table.

“We need to reduce our salt intake by 30% if we’re to reduce our risk of heart disease, Australia’s number one killer.  Reducing our intake of sodium from processed foods by just 15% over ten years could stop 5,800 heart attacks and 4,900 strokes a year,” the Foundation says on its website.

“We think food should be made healthier before it hits supermarket shelves.  We’re asking the government and food companies to change the way foods are manufactured and step up action to remove hidden salt.”

The Federal government launched the Australian The Food and Health Dialogue in late 2009 which serves as a joint government and industry public health initiative aimed at making healthier food choices more accessible for Australians. Participation in the initiative is voluntary with no legal obligations tied to involvement.

Under the new National Action Plan on Salt, the Heart Foundation is calling for mandatory salt targets.

As part of the National Action Plan on Salt the Foundation is urging the government to commit to:

  • More funding and support to boost food reformulation to get more salt out of more food, more quickly.
  • Setting mandatory (instead of voluntary) targets for the amount of salt in all processed and takeaway foods so all our food is healthier, not just some.
  • Implementing a new star rating food labelling system on all processed foods to help everyone identify healthier foods at-a-glance and encourage food companies to make healthier products
  • A community education program to help people understand the health impacts of eating too much salt and how to make healthier choices.


Taura introduces new fruit paste for baked products

Global concentrated fruit products company, Taura Natural Ingredients has developed a range of real fruit pastes for baked goods and snack products.

The pastes are made using Taura’s Ultra Rapid Concentration (URC) technology which involves a unique process of concentrating the taste and texture of fruit into pieces, flakes and pastes.

As well as being free from artificial colours, flavours and preservatives the pastes offer a shelf life of up to 12. months. The pastes have been designed to provide a range of technical benefits when used in baked applications including bake stability, and also offer low water activity in dry product environments.

Taura’s head of sales for Asia-Pacific, Bartolo Zame said that the new pastes provide a host of benefits for baking applications.

“Our new pastes are a great way for food companies to add flair and fruit goodness to bakery products. Made from real fruit, with no artificial additives, they look, taste and smell delicious and provide a host of technical benefits that make a baker’s life easier and promise superb end-products every time.”

The new pastes will be exhibited at the Taipei International Bakery Show which kicks off on 13 March 2014.

“We’re delighted to be exhibiting again at the Taipei International Bakery Show,” said Zame.

“We’re looking forward to sharing the benefits of our URC pastes and BakeFruit pieces with visitors to the exhibition.”

Taura URC fruit pastes are Halal and Kosher certified as well as 100% vegetarian.


Fonterra Australia announces third step-up

The Australian subsidiary of New Zealand dairy giant, Fonterra has announced a step up of 16 cents per/kg butterfat and 40 cents per/kg of protein, marking the processors third step up for the 2013/2014 season.

The step-up applies to suppliers in Victoria and Tasmania, and raises Fonterra Australia’s current, average farmgate price to $6.64 per kg of milk solids. The cooperative has also increased it forecast average closing price range for the 2013/14 season to $6.80-$7.00 per kg of milk solids.

Managing director of Fonterra Australia, Judith Swales hopes that the step-up will encourage further confidence in on-farm investment .

“This announcement will hopefully give our farmer suppliers the confidence to invest on-farm for growth so they can capitalise on opportunities for next season. It’s just another part of our commitment to making Fonterra Australia suppliers the most profitable dairy farmers in Australia, and we are always actively looking for more suppliers to join us.”

“We are also working hard to give our suppliers a line of sight on market factors that will affect global supply and demand next season.”

Chairman of Bonlac Supply Company (BSC) Tony Marwood welcomed the decision.

“BSC once again welcomes this strong step-up and the important increase in closing price range to $6.80-$7.00 kg/MS. Fonterra Australia continues to focus its efforts on-farm and we are working together to give farmers the tools they need to increase their profitability,” he said.

Follow dairy processor, Tasmanian Dairy Products (TDP) also announced a step-up last month of 18 cents/kg butterfat and 38 cents/kg protein, marking the fourth time that the processor has increased its price this season.


AFGC wants federal government to cut coal seam gas red tape

Peak industry body, the Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) has told the Federal Government that restrictions on coal-seam gas developments in NSW and Victoria could cost the food industry $170m per year in increased gas prices.

The AFGC say that a gas spike in the next two years could also see jobs sent offshore and profits cut by 4.33 percent within the sector – potentially having the same impact on the industry as the carbon tax, The Australian reports.

The price increase will allegedly be caused by the opening up of the east coast gas market for export at the same time as restrictions on new coal-seam gas developments constrain growth.

The AFGC say that price for wholesale gas could double, causing major strain on the manufacturing sector which has faced several challenges over the past few years including the near closure of fruit and vegetable processors,  SPC Ardmona and Simplot.

The lobby group wants the federal government to "encourage states to develop a nationally consistent approach to unconventional gas supplies".

"These challenges include limited ability to pass through higher costs, retail price deflation, a major shift of profit from suppliers to retailers, loss of flexibility in labour markets and high regulatory costs," the AFGC told The Australian.

The AFGC made a submission to the Eastern Australian Domestic Gas Market Study which is currently being conducted by the Department of Industry, stating that the increase in gas prices will impact negatively on multimillion dollar energy efficiency projects.

"This includes investment in low-emissions technologies such as gas-fired boilers, co-generation and tri-generation plants. With gas prices forecast to double, these new installations are likely to become less economically viable.

"Perversely, high gas prices are likely to drive an increase in emissions, as manufacturers switch to lower-cost but more emissions-intensive fuel sources."


tna launches new automated continuous slurry mixing system

Food seasoning and packaging solutions company, tna has announced the launch of its latest innovation for the snacking industry, the tna intelli-flav CLS 3  automated continuous slurry mixing and application system.

The system is designed for salty snacks, baked snacks and extruded products that require slurry flavouring in a tumble drum.

The system’s unique spraying technology and control ensures consistency of application to the snacks, and the 3 closed-loop slurry (CLS) seasoning system enhances the homogeneity of the slurry mix.

The system is fully automated, reducing the need for dedicated labour while also simplifying the production process.

“Our new tna intelli-flav CLS 3 delivers on seasoning performance and design simplicity for ease of use. Plus, as it can alter both liquid and dry powder proportions for specific recipe variations, it offers the flexibility and control that manufacturers need,” said David Woollard, seasoning group sales manager – tna.

“For the best results, the new CLS system should be combined with our main line seasoning system, the tna intelli-flav MLS, to ensure snack products are delivered into the tumbling seasoning bed with minimum waste and product damage.”


What’s the best production line for your food business?

There are a few key factors to consider when upgrading or investing in a new production line. Heat and Control has some pointers to help you get started.

Choosing the right kit is only half the story. It is not simply a question of buying the most suitable weighing equipment, or distribution system. Yes, speed, accuracy and reliability are vital, but you also need to choose a supplier with a service and support team that understands your wants and needs, and provides the right solution if ever a problem occurs.

Every food and beverage retailer is looking for something a little bit different in their product range, be it a different type of snack, flavour or pack presentation, so manufacturers need to be able to customise their products and deliver exact requirements to their customers.

These days, weighing and packaging systems have become compact with a smaller footprint compared to previous single multihead weighers and bagmakers. As an example, they are able to deliver around 130 bags per minute for chips and as much as 220 bags per minute for extruded snacks, on small target weights. This is compared to the 80 or 90 bags delivered by equipment of the past, with modern day technologies helping to achieve accuracy within one percent of the target weight.

Factors that you should consider when looking to upgrade, or looking at investing in a new distribution line, include:

  • Consideration for system layouts with a view to future requirements
  • Provision for accumulation and feed modulation
  • Methods to divert product, sanitation, operator safety, cross-contamination, sustainability and product quality control.

While price, delivery and other commercial considerations are important, technical performance should certainly be the primary factor when evaluating which production line is best for your business. 

Conveying (product delivery) has become an integral part of controlling the feed to the weighing and packing stations of any food product, and has become more sophisticated than simply moving product from point A to point B.

When selecting a distribution system a processor needs to ask‘do I need a vibratory conveyor or a horizontal motion conveyor for my line? 

Vibratory conveyors come in two drive types, electromagnetic drives, which produce variable speed movements with short amplitude (lift) and high frequency (speed). Electromagnetic drives are best suited for lightweight, easy flowing products, and for conveying limited bed depths, spreading product, and fines removal. The other is a more aggressive, mechanical vibratory drive.

While vibratory conveying systems are very useful for breaking up product and keeping it separate, the constant bounce and impact of product on the pan is aggressive and can often reduce the quality of the finished product. Vibration can cause micro-cracks in some products, making them more susceptible to breakage later in the packaging or delivery process.

Additionally, there is often coating build-up on a vibratory conveyor pan but not on horizontal motion conveyor systems.

Rather than bouncing the product, horizontal motion conveyors slide the product along the pan. This has become the preferred means of conveying fragile and coated foods such as snacks, fresh produce and frozen prepared foods. The horizontal motion virtually eliminates product breakage and cracking and does not shake off coatings, breading or seasoning. At the same time as being gentle on the product, an added advantage is that seasoning, oil and other coatings do not build up in the pan, which in turn increases downtime for cleaning. 

Horizontal motion conveyors are available with direct and inertia drives. The horizontal motion allows gentle short term product accumulation, whilst uphill horizontal motion conveying reduces product damage in return loops.

While sliding product prevents breakage, coating loss and noise, it also has some limitations that become evident in horizontal motion conveyors:

  • Product spreading can only be achieved with specially shaped pans
  • Product travel rates are slower than aggressive mechanical drive vibratory conveyors, but may be faster than high frequency electromagnetic drive designs
  • Uphill conveying is usually limited to about 1.5 degrees, although in some special cases, it is possible to convey product up to eight degrees
  • Does not level piles of product without pan modifications
  • Difficulty conveying limp or sticky products

Direct drives use long strokes, producing travel rates up to (12.5 m/min). In addition to greater throughput/pan size, direct drives can also stop and start instantly, offer modular expandability, provide fast travel rates to reduce stale product complaints and improve the efficiency of seasoning applicators, weighers, bagmakers, and overall packaging room performance.

(Inertia drives generally deliver slower product travel rates, have delayed stop and start operation, and do not work well in modular and packaging feed applications).

Selecting the proper type of direct drive will greatly reduce maintenance and energy usage, as well as improving safety and packaging feed efficiency.

Weighing and packing
Tasks usually performed by manual labour, involving sorting, counting, weighing, bagging and case packing can be replaced with consistent, accurate and high-speed systems, drastically reducing operational costs while increasing output and productivity.

Modern weighing technology brings with it higher speed and more accurate weighments, increasing product yield, which in turn relates to less “giveaway” per bag. Computer combination weighers deliver the performance processors needed to meet high production requirements for their products.

Modern stainless steel weighers provide more sanitary weighing systems, while new surface profiles and coatings virtually eliminate product sticking. High-amplitude feeder drives provide powerful control of product flow, while Pulse Width Modulation systems automatically tune dispersion and radial feeder drives for maximum operating efficiency.

Technological advances have resulted in further increases for packer profit with higher production rates, reduced product giveaway, and lower cleaning and maintenance costs. We can summarise the developments in weighing technology as follows:

  • Speeds up to 15 percent faster than earlier models
  • Control unit with Windows XP operating system and e-mail capabilities
  • Capability for full integration and monitoring of other equipment on the line through single panel operator interface
  • USB camera for real-time monitoring of product conditions on the dispersion and radial feeders
  • Automatic timing settings that optimise productivity and reduce operator inputs
  • Reduced energy consumption
  • Quick and easy set-ups and product changeovers

Finally, when designing/engineering your plant layout, packaging platforms also need to be taken into consideration. Modular packaging room platforms reduce installation and cleaning costs in meat and poultry, plants and sanitary production environments. 

Packaging platforms need to provide a safe, stable support for product distribution and inspection conveyors, weighers, control panels and other equipment. Lightweight structural members could cause vibrations that are not easily detectable but can translate into errors on the load cells of computer weighers.

The end result will be weight fluctuations that can cause weighing errors, reducing productivity and efficiency. Structural members need to be located correctly to eliminate flat surfaces where debris can accumulate.

Conveyors can also be elevated above the non-slip decking to facilitate cleaning. Another feature to consider is open frameworks that take minimal floorspace, and allow complete access to bagmakers, cartoners and other ground-level equipment.

Platforms are normally custom-configured for each installation and can include wash racks for weigher hoppers, plumbing and pre-wiring for single point connection to utilities, lighting, hose storage, catwalks, stairways, safety railing, floor drains and other features.  

Before you buy, consider testing your products. Some suppliers have equipment set up and ready for customer testing to help prove capabilities such as gentle handling, conveying uphill, or moving large quantities of product, as well as weighing and packaging demo centres. If this service is available, making use of it can be of value in the decision making process. During a product test or demo, you can also get firsthand experience with other features such as operator interface, ease of use, and possibly sanitation.

When choosing a supplier, as with any equipment purchase, the buyer is not just purchasing a piece of equipment but also entering into a long term relationship with the vendor. Choose a reliable supplier that understands your industry and offers up-front assistance with such things as system layout, sanitation procedures and avoidance of cross-contamination. Be sure that you are comfortable with the vendor's ongoing assistance such as warranty, training, spare parts and technical support capabilities. Price should not be the only consideration; choosing the wrong partner can cost you much more than you’d save by investing in a sub-standard supplier.

Robert Marguccio is business manager – packaging and inspection systems at Heat and Control, which manufactures food processing and packaging equipment systems. Contact them at or visit

Putting safety first in food manufacturing

Even discussing the possibility of a product recall is enough to send shivers down the spine of a food or beverage manufacturer.

Whether we’re talking about a small scale operation, or a highly reputable multi-national company with world class food safety procedures in place, the reality is that neither is immune to contamination scares. Only last year global food processor Fonterra embarked on a mass recall due to a botulism scare, while products from Victorian dairy processor, Jindi Cheese, were responsible for the death of three people, marking nation’s largest listeria outbreak.

Even with exceptional food safety standards, there is always a slim chance that pathogens could slip through the cracks. So what are the best ways to ensure optimal protection for smaller players in the food manufacturing game and a price that is realistic?

Food Magazine recently spoke to some of the leading food safety solutions players in the business to provide us with insight into the most effective ways to ensure best practice and conduct a successful product recall.

Advanced Oxidation from Dow

Global food safety company, Dow Microbial Control launched its Advanced Oxidation System (AOS) commercially in July 2013 at the International Association of Food Protection’s (IAFP) Annual Meeting. AOS is a whole room system used by food and beverage manufacturing/processing plants to sanitize all surfaces and the air. The system uses ambient air to generate Ozone and combines it with water to create a vapor that evenly fills the entire room.

According to Dow, AOS is a fully customisable solution that is designed to complement conventional cleaning and sanitisation practices, enabling food manufacturers of varying capacities to effectively sanitize hard-to-reach problem areas including; hidden areas in equipment, drains, vents and fabrics – and is even effective in dry environments such as bakeries.

“AOS Certified is particularly effective at reducing and controlling levels of the resilient Listeria monocytogenes in high-care, ready-to-eat (RTE) and prepared-food environments, as well as in spiral freezers and chillers. The technology is also very effective against Escherichia coli, and Salmonella, and against other bacteria, viruses, yeasts and molds,” Dow told Food magazine.

“The technology also runs automatically without relying on workers to do the sanitization so extra manpower isn’t required. The sanitizing agent is produced on demand using just air and water, so manufacturers also don’t have the burden of shipping and storing chemicals.”

The system took Dow over 12 months of intense R&D engineering collaboration to create, and in addition to excellence in sanitation, AOS also offers impressive sustainability credentials.

“Dow Microbial Control is fearlessly committed to revolutionizing how the world approaches microbial control and AOS technology is a chief example of our commitment to sustainable solutions.

“AOS uses ambient air and water to generate a non-condensing humid ozone atmosphere, which produces one of the fastest and most effective penetrative whole room sanitizers. Additionally, AOS does not involve the handling, storage or transport of harsh chemicals, nor does it leave any chemical residues.”

Extending food safety to the ingredients

Earlee Products has taken a slightly different approach to food safety by developing food ingredients that enhance the food safety of processed meat products against pathogens, particularly listeria monocytogenes.

“We saw an opportunity to develop some food ingredients that enhanced the food safety of processed meat products particularly against listeria monocytogenes; the scourge of ready to eat sliced modified-atmosphere meats,” Bob Hamilton, managing director of Earlee Products told Food Magazine.

“Good manufacturing practice is still important, but bacteria is so ubiquitous in plants that once it is there it is hard to get rid of.”

Hamilton says Earlee’s products which consist of ready to use liquids, starches and edible oil lubricants, provide a natural alternative to pathogen control and can be integrated into existing processes or as a decontamination dip for the finished product prior to slicing.

“The ingredients are bactericidal to listeria, staphylococcus aureus and E. coli. So whilst they are food ingredients, they promote food safety by eliminating potently fatal pathogens. The dip can also be sprayed on processing equipment such as slicers and dicers.”

Take the guesswork out of the recall process

In addition to employing exceptional food safety standards within the food manufacturing process, effective recall systems are also essential to have in place.

GS1 and SICK both offer comprehensive traceability solutions for both small scale and industrial sized food and beverage manufacturers.

Richard Jones, general manager quality services at GS1 talked Food magazine through the GS1 Global Traceability Standard.

According to Jones, the standard is inclusive of a number of key pillars including:

  • Global Location Number (GLN) – a unique identifier of any player in the supply chain
  • Global Trade Item Number (GTIN) – a unique identifier of a traded unit
  • Serial Shipping Container Code (SSCC) – uniquely identifies shipments of good

The GS1 Traceability Standard also utilises GS1 Bar Codes – Point-of-Sale (POS), Global Data Synchronisation (GDSN), or its local incarnation GS1net, to share master data between trading partners prior to conducting a transaction in addition to Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) – for conducting electronic transactions.

Jones says that the implementation of an effective recall system such as the GS1 Traceability Standard offers significant benefits to food manufacturers of any size.

“The first benefit is that it is based on standards businesses are already using to meet trading partner requirements. Therefore, no action is required to assign product identification or bar coding as the foundational elements of the system are already in place with GS1 standards.

“Secondly, communication of this information between SMEs and their trading partners means that, in the event of a recall, products and raw material components can be easily identified and dealt with according to the risk. Studies have shown that a large part of the delay in product recalls is due to a lack of consistency in product identification between trading partners. So when a supplier identifies an issue with an item and communicates if to their customer, they may identify it by a different code that needs some form of translation before it can be dealt with appropriately. Multiply this each time an item changes hands and delays can drag on for considerable periods.

“Lastly, they meet all of their internal traceability needs using the same tools that interface with their customers.”

By not employing effective traceability systems, Jones says that suppliers risk far more than a haphazard attempt at recalling product should the unthinkable occur.

“First is the legislative requirement to have traceability in event of a recall and be able to meet regulatory demands to demonstrate capability. In Australia, there is a base level of regulatory oversight whereas in Europe and the US stringent legislation exists that is quite prescriptive in how a manufacturer must apply solutions to meet these requirements.

“In addition, there is a reputational risk. Most customers acknowledge that mistakes will happen from time-to-time. But when a product recall event occurs, customers are looking for quick and decisive action. This is how manufacturers will be judged by consumers moving forward.

“If you do not have the information you need to effect a speedy and efficient recall this can be seen as more devastating to your reputation than allowing the original mistake to occur in the first place. A solid traceability system will allow you to have that information at your fingertips so that you can alert your customers and fellow supply chain partners in a timely manner, meeting the approval of all concerned – including the regulator.”

German sensor system company SICK are also in the business of recall systems. Food magazine recently spoke to SICK about why recall radio-frequency identification (RFID) solutions are an essential component to many food safety programs around the globe.

SICK say that effective traceability and code checking at each and every stage of the production and logistics process is not just desirable, it's essential.

“In terms of final inventory, the numbers in FMCG and food are staggering. One of the Australia’s major grocery players accepts 10,000 pallets of goods a day at distribution centres across the nation – that’s over 3.6 million pallets a year; each stacked two metres high with multiple products, all needing to be individually identified. A 1% inaccuracy or no read rate using traditional bar code label technology would mean breaking down over 36,000 pallets per year for manual handling and double-checking,” Sean Carter, product manager identification and measurement told Food magazine.

“Considering these sorts of numbers, and that the onus is completely on the supplier, the need for error-free tracking and code checking is pretty clear.”

Carter points out that in addition to inventory issues, the potential for error also abounds in food processing.

“Inaccurate labelling can easily lead to supply of the unsuitable product and make tracing incredibly difficult. In the worst case, a failure in process can result in contaminated product reaching the consumer, conceivably creating wide-spread food borne illness and even death,” he said.

SICK’s RDIF technology systems fall into two distinct types based on the technology that under pins them.

  • High frequency 13.56 MHz inductive coupling systems (HF) that are used in near field applications usually <30 cm. They are not affected by the presence of water or metallic objects and there is a large range of transponders and tags for all sorts of applications.
  • The other system that is available is ultra-high frequency 860-960 MHz capacitive coupling systems (UHF). These are typically used in longer range applications >30cm and the unique item identifier (UII) of the tag is programmable.

A number of high profile food and beverage manufacturers currently employ SICK’s RFID solutions including Fonterra New Zealand, however SICK say that although the technology is highly sophisticated it is also within the reach of smaller to medium sized manufacturers.

“RFID is very affordable. The transponders (or tags) come in many different shapes and sizes to suit almost every conceivable application. Additionally the cost of the tags has reduced to the point where most are now considered to be disposable,” said Carter.

No matter what sized business you are running, SICK say that food safety is not something that a manufacturer can afford to compromise on.

“If the cost of a complete solution with multiple interrogators at first appears expensive, food and beverage manufacturers should probably ask themselves whether they can afford not to have an effective track and trace system that minimises the chance of process errors and maximises the chance of tracking them when they occur.”

Reformulation specialisation – how to successfully tweak a winning recipe

There is always a certain amount of risk involved when a company chooses to tweak a winning recipe.

Consumers are demanding folk that want food to be healthier, cheaper and more accessible – but at the same time if you alter the recipe, you could find yourself in the middle of a PR nightmare.

In the mid-1980s, the Coca-Cola Company was starting to lose market share to its main competitor Pepsi. In order to win back consumers, Coca-Cola reformulated the recipe for the first time in 99 years and renamed the beverage New Coke. The new recipe was met with a surge of consumer complaints and saw the return of the original recipe only a few months after the initial launch.

Identifying the fine line between product innovation and an outright marketing disaster is a complicated task that involves extensive market research, product testing and sometimes a bit of pure faith.

When the British subsidiary of Kellogg’s released a reformulated version of the veteran women’s cereal Special K in May 2013, it was met with a host of complaints from previously loyal customers who called for the return of the original recipe. Consumers complained that the new recipe was too sugary despite holding the same sugar content as the original recipe, while others complained that the flakes were too hard.

These were all lessons that the Australian division of Kellogg’s no doubt kept in mind when they decided to increase the nutritional content of Special K down under by adding a higher wholegrain content and decreasing the sodium levels of the recipe.

Keeping the special in Special K

The Australian recipe for Special K had not been touched in over 50 years and as such, Kellogg’s made a conscious effort to tread very lightly and develop a new recipe that ticked additional nutritional boxes without compromising on taste and texture.

Food magazine recently spoke Special K’s Senior Brand Manager, Kate Harris about the process involved in changing Special K’s recipe and what it was that motivated Kellogg’s to take an educated risk on one of its most popular products.

“Special K as a brand has always been on a journey with Australian women and being around for 50 years meant that we needed to evolve with our consumers,” said Harris.

Harris explains that as the Special K consumer has evolved, the demand for healthy food options and better nutritional content in breakfast cereals has also increased.

“We’ve listened to what they are looking for in a breakfast cereal and we’ve made positive changes to best meet those desires.”

According to Harris, the process of tweaking the recipe to meet the needs of the brand’s customers meant upping the nutritional content without changing the taste or consistency of the signature Special K flake.

“Making changes to our food and getting it right in the eyes of our consumers takes time. Replicating the taste and consistency was incredibly important. We used not only internal quality checks but also took the product to consumers to get their feedback through research.

“We know that consumers love the taste of Special K which is why we worked so hard to ensure that this did not change.”

Considering how the changes were executed in the UK back in 2013, it was imperative that the Australian subsidiary adapted the recipe to local market accordingly. Harris explains that as Special K is a global brand found in many countries, decisions for the brand’s direction are made with each individual market in mind.

“The changes made in the UK are not the same as those made in Australia and New Zealand. “As a global brand we always strive to take learnings from each market and adapt and reapply those where appropriate in another one.”

The new recipe was released on the 3rd of February, and according to Harris, consumers have responded positively to the changes.

“When we were in the process of reformulating Special K, we wanted to be sure that our customers would be happy with the changes. The Special K consumer was kept front of mind throughout the process, which is why keeping the signature taste while also introducing the increased benefits of nutrition was equally important.

“The new Special K is now a better source of fibre than the previous recipe, a source of wholegrain, features about 15 per cent less sodium and is still one of the highest protein cereals available.”

Slow and steady wins the race

Early last year, fellow cereal manufacturer Uncle Toby’s reformulated its entire breakfast cereal range to comply with new nutritional guidelines set out by the Federal Government – becoming one of the first manufacturers to do so. Uncle Toby’s regional nutrition manager, Nilani Sritharan said that the transition to a more nutritious portfolio was no easy feat.

Sritharan told Food magazine back in 2013 that the key to making any change was ensuring that customers stayed on-side. She said that making small healthy improvements over time is far preferable to introducing an immediate change, and that a slow transition period often results in consumers not even detecting a change in the recipe.

In addition to keeping consumers happy, Sritharan said that keeping the cost structure down is another factor that needs to be considered due to the time invested in R&D in addition to more expensive ingredients. She also mentioned that healthy improvements don’t necessarily require new manufacturing processes, and that often changes can be achieved simply through a tweaking of current procedures.

“I don't think it fundamentally changes the manufacturing process but you may find there are changes in texture or stickiness that we would have to work through and adjust for,” she said.

Sritharan sighted the popular children’s cereal Cheerios as a prime example. Since 2008 Cheerios had reduced its sodium content by 40 percent and boosted its fibre content by 25 percent, with wholegrain content rising by a similar margin.

“For example with Cheerios, increasing the wholegrain content can sometimes make the Cheerio a bit softer or affect the loop shape itself.

“So looking at some of the mixed grains we have in there, we have to try and balance that out.”

As was the case with Coca-Cola, Kellogg's and Uncle Toby's, any reformulation process is indeed a matter of trail and error but two key learnings will undoubtablely have you on the path to success: 

Firstly, listen. Listening to your consumers is something that manufacturers need to keep top of mind during the reformulation process, no matter how fantastic the new health credentials may be. And secondly, whether a food manufacturer is tweaking a recipe to abide with new regulations or simply aiming to improve the current nutritional content, slow, steady and subtle adjustments are the key to successfully introducing the improved product.


Global food price index up 2.6 percent, UN

According to the United Nations, world food prices have jumped by 2.6 percent in February, representing the sharpest incline since mid 2012.

The United Nations food agency, The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said that unfavourable weather conditions in the Southern hemisphere and parts of the United States were key to the price rises, The West Australian reports.

FAO’s senior economist, Abdolreza Abbassian said that further volatility in prices could continue through March due to unrest in Ukraine – the world’s 6th largest exporter of wheat.

"The situation in the Black Sea has created a certain level of worry in the markets. It's difficult to predict how this is going to unfold but obviously we are in a very short-term price shock situation," Abbassian said.

"Things could come back to normal once the Ukraine situation improves. Otherwise there could be more volatility in the markets for the foreseeable future."

According to the FAO,  prices across all commodity juice with the exception of meat rose, with the strongest price hike reflected in sugar which increased by 6.2 percent from January due to crop damage in Brazil and predictions for a drop in output in India.

Global cereal stocks for 2013 however have reached record production highs with the amount updated to 2.515b tonnes on Thursday – 13m tonnes up for the FAO’s previous forecast.

The FAO also increased the global cereal stocks forecast for the end of 2014 to 578.5m tonnes, 14.5 percent above their reduced opening levels. This was due to higher estimates from Australia and increased revisions from China.

The FAO stated that it was too early to forecast global cereal output for 2014, however its first global wheat estimate is that of 704m tonnes, down 1.7 percent on 2013’s record harvest, but still representing the world’s second largest crop.


Californian machine transforms water into wine

A US invention known as the Miracle Machine promises to transform everyday liquids into wine in just three days.

Developed by wine experts in California, the machine is allegedly capable of making a number of different styles of wine including chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon for as little as two US dollars per bottle, the Daily Mail reports.

In order to perform the somewhat biblical task of turning water into wine, the Miracle Machine needs only a sachet of ingredients, followed by the all-important decision of which style and type of wine you would prefer. The fermentation process can then be monitored via a smart phone app which will alert the user to when the wine is ready to consume.

The Miracle Machine was created by sommelier Kevin Boyer who is also the founder of the Napa Valley Boyanci winery, together with British entrepreneur Philip James, founder of wine site Lot18.

"Just like the Bible miracle, it literally turns water into wine, with just the addition of a few ingredients in a fraction of the time and cost it would normally take," explained Boyer.

The exact science behind the machine has remained a secret, however the founders say that the fermentation chamber uses electrical sensors, transducers, heaters and pumps ‘to provide a controlled environment for the primary and, as needed, secondary fermentation stages.' 

The Miracle Machine at this stage is only a prototype and both Boyer and James are looking for funding to produce more. Should the venture be a success, the pair estimates that the Miracle machine will retail for around US$500.