Learning from human food processing

Three lessons for petfood manufacturers from human food processors and engineers

Microwave continuous belt dryer MDBT 60 offers as much diversity in the manufacture of petfood and treats as it does to human foods.
Microwave continuous belt dryer MDBT 60 offers as much diversity in the manufacture of petfood and treats as it does to human foods.
Small companies face a challenge in that they must often use co-packers and contract manufacturers and still guarantee food safety and quality.

According to the article "Ensuring the safety of ingredients" on FoodProcessing.com , at the Reuters Food Summit in Chicago, Illinois, USA, earlier this year, Stephen Sundlof, DVM, PhD, director of the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), warned that the nation's food safety system "could be just one incident away from some catastrophic event ... If there was an additional crisis, it might be at the breaking point. Contaminated ingredients carry a negative effect that ripples across the industry. Even if your products are not affected, consumers may transfer the mistrust of one product or group of products to all related items," he said. "In a sense, the contaminant scare has reminded us that we are all part of the same food chain."

1. Strengthening the chain

There are critical checkpoints-up and down both the human food and petfood chain-designed to guarantee the safety of ingredients that begin with defining when a raw material is indeed an ingredient and continue through third-party audits, some of them governmental. But with the ever-growing list of ingredient suppliers from literally all over the globe, keeping track of the food chain is now an order of magnitude more complex.

The FDA's diminished capacity to protect the food supply doesn't mean consumers will settle for unsafe foods. They are making their concerns known. At Barbara's Bakery, an organic bakery and human food processor of cereals, breakfast bars and other natural offerings, for example, investment in consumer trust has been part of company philosophy from the beginning, and it has paid off in customer loyalty. "We follow a very rigorous protocol when handling ingredients. Incoming samples are tested and bar codes labeled so we can electronically track them throughout the process," says Kent Spalding, vice president of marketing for Barbara's/Weetabix North America in Petaluma, California, USA. "We inspect facilities where we purchase our ingredients from and require the proper certification from the appropriate organizations: certified organic, AIB certified, etc. It is not the cheapest ingredients we are after, but instead the quality that best meets the objectives of our finished goods (taste, texture, appearance)."

Source verification from farm to consumer is critical to maintaining consumer trust. Robert Hurlbut, president and CEO of Attune Foods, a functional food company that makes innovative Probiotic Wellness Bars, says it is now more complex, requiring close relationships both upstream to ingredient providers and downstream for delivery of the product. "Small companies face a challenge in that they must often use co-packers and contract manufacturers and still guarantee food safety and quality," he says. "Attune Foods invests heavily in controls that are designed to prevent worst-case scenarios. Recent outbreaks have raised customer awareness of ingredients, and source verification is critical to maintain consumer trust."

2. Leveling the playing field

Cargill Inc., producer of both human food and petfoods (most recently the Loyall line of dog foods), operates in 66 countries, which makes maintenance of the quality of the food chain at once complex and critical to its success. "Cargill's position has been to establish prerequisite programs, such as good manufacturing processes (GMPs) and hazards analysis and critical control points (HACCP). These programs must be evaluated and validated," says spokesperson Mark Klein. "We require that of our suppliers, too. In addition, suppliers should be visited and audits conducted."

For DSM Nutritional Products, an international supplier of vitamins, carotenoids and other chemicals to the feed, food, petfood, pharmaceutical and personal care industries, it is not where products are made but how they are made. "The main issue is not about bashing China but about creating a level playing field where all suppliers and manufacturers have to adhere to the same quality and environmental standards globally," says Todd Sitkowski, senior marketing manager.

The DSM Partnership of Trust program focuses on the three most important areas of food chain integration: quality, reliability and traceability. Quality certification standards-such as cGMP, ISO 9001 and 14001, FCC and HACCP certifications-are strictly adhered to. As the source of raw materials, DSM selects only reliable suppliers that meet its stringent specifications, according to the company.

The notion of guaranteeing food safety from "field to fork'' or from "field to bowl" is no longer possible for any one industry. Today, there are just too many factors for one food processor to control. You need to look one step above you and one step below. It should be a supplier partnership in which all share the same goal: quality.

3. Applying cutting-edge science

According to " Microwaves in the food industry ", the microwave is conventionally used in the manufacture of human foods for heating, pre-cooking, thawing, drying and for killing of bacteria. The advantage of microwaves in comparison to many other heating methods is that microwaves can penetrate into the product and therefore induce heat in the inside of the product. Due to this fact, heating times of conventional processes in which the heat is conducted slowly from the surface to the inside of the product can be avoided, guaranteeing a safe product.

In the human food technology world, microwaves are mainly used for drying, heating and sterilization. The article suggests microwave technology could easily be further applied to food production and would provide the following benefits over conventional cooking:

  • Reduces energy consumption;
  • Improves the product taste and color;
  • Sterilizes spices and the specialty ingredients;
  • Dries fresh ingredients in various climates and humidities.

Other applications microwaves could provide to the petfood industry are the preheating of casting molds, defreezing, preheating of soft cheese and other sensitive ingredients, cooking of sausages or other products with multiple spices and ingredients, drying of fish for cat foods, heat treating and the hardening of raisins.

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