The growth we're experiencing in the food processing and handling (FP&H) equipment sector is increasing, having out-performed the industrial sector by approximately two-fold over the past five years1. This growth, while a sign of success, also brings a challenge to the sector: the impact on quality, compliance and regulations.
The challenge behind every success
Regulations and compliance are the backbone of the industry, but it's a backbone that's always changing and demanding more. This is due to evolving food products, new manufacturing methods, heightened productivity levels and the understanding of the health and environmental aspects of our food chain.
Every great innovation in food and beverage processing, from cleaning methodologies, to innovative formulations for longer shelf lives, or more high-pressure processing techniques, raises new questions of the equipment and materials they are made from. This is occurring in an environment that's also seeking to reduce cost and complexity, without jeopardising reliability and safety.
Regulation is on the rise; while the FDA (Food & Drug Administration) and EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) have been the prominent authorities in recent years, we've also seen the CFDA (China Food & Drug Administration) in 2016 publishing the GB National Food Safety Standards. In 2020 we will soon see the Japanese regulatory body MHLW (Ministry of Health Labour and Welfare) implementing Food Contact legislation for plastics. These regulations don't appear to be slowing pace any time soon.
Under the regional legislations of the FDA 21 CFR 177 (polymers), EU 1935/2004 and EU 10/2011 in particular, we're seeing increasing requirements for food contact materials. Recent notable changes in the EU 10/2011, specifically around plastics, include:
A notable shift change in regulations saw both the US and Europe ban the use of Bisphenol A (BPA) in baby bottles and infant feeding cups, causing an increase in media interest that has heightened consumer awareness to such regulatory topics.
Currently, and perhaps strangely, regulations governing metals do not seem to have moved forward at the same rate. But we can forecast it's only a matter of time, before this area too comes under scrutiny and leads to more tightened regulations.
Learnings from other industries
Development of more stringent regulation will undoubtedly continue in the food industry. This has been the case for the other areas governed by the FDA, such as the medical device regulations, and we may be able to learn from experiences here.
In medical, as regulation has developed, a greater emphasis and responsibility has been placed upon the supply chain. OEM sourcing managers who rely on their suppliers through the outsourcing of component manufacturing and critical services, are becoming even more dependent upon their supply base to achieve and maintain their own compliance. Materials, articles, parts and equipment suppliers need to understand their new responsibilities and have the required systems and resources to support compliance activities. Some prudent action for OEMs could be reviewing their current suppliers for assurance that they are properly aligned to the likely incoming industry regulations, and are willing and able to take on the additional requirements, cost and obligations.
Materials with food certification help to save time and costs
With the cost of compliance often exceeding £100,0002 for the addition of new materials approval under the FDA and EFSA, it's worth looking for materials that have already been certified with the NSF.
Hygiene is also of the utmost importance in food processing. While quality procedures and cleaning in place (CIP) mitigate the risk of microbiological contamination, it increases the demand on components. Notable recommendations include:
A specific range of high-performing polymers, the VICTREX FG™ (Food Grades), comply with the most stringent food contact material requirements, including safety, quality and regulatory compliance, of the industry3. The polymer portfolio meets the testing criteria of industry governing bodies such as the FDA and EFSA for food contact and KTW and WRAS for water contact. This removes at least one challenge for equipment and parts manufacturers by reducing the testing burden, risk, additional cost and six to twelve-week timeframe to certify materials in-house.
Given the constantly shifting regulatory landscape, the time and cost involved in certification, it makes sense to work with materials that possess a clean bill of health and with suppliers that understand the industry and have fully certified products to meet the challenge.
1 Food Processing & Handling. Ripe for disruption? McKinsey and Company, March 2018
2 Third-party quotes from Intertek
3 Specific details available upon request from Victrex