Harnessing 150 Years of food safety expertise07/07/2011 Recent contamination scares have heightened awareness of the necessity for food safety. Changes in legislation and the business environment bring challenges, but also business opportunities for Bühler as a market leader to offer new services and products for customers. By Christopher Findlay. Muesli with milk is one of the staples of a Swiss breakfast. But consumers might be surprised to learn that, in terms of food safety, the ingredients are unequal: The dairy, meat and pharmaceutical industries are held much higher standards than grain processing. In the future, however, safety requirements in Bühler’s core business may approach those already established in other industries. Bühler aims proactively to raise safety levels for food across the board by offering new services and solutions.
Recent food scandals involving the pathogen E. coli or salmonella are creating new risks for Bühler’s customers. Contamination is a matter of life or death for brand equity. Beyond these considerations, food safety is also paramount from an ethical point of view. Here, Bühler has a long and proud tradition of quality. As a market leader with a strong sense of corporate responsibility, the company is obliged to head the drive for safer products, helping customers to see the value of food safety before they see it themselves.
Food safety has always been an implicit part of Bühler’s work for the past 150 years. This expertise is now being explicitly leveraged. Changes in the business as well as in customers’ requirements are creating new opportunities to broaden Bühler’s portfolio and add value for customers by providing expertise. Customer needs are already being met in various ways, including turnkey solutions for new state-of-the-art plants, expert consultation for existing plants or retrofitting of plant elements to enhance safety. The customer rightly expects Bühler equipment to comply with laws and current technical safety standards. The added value – and significant business potential – consists in helping customers identify issues that they were not aware existed.
Such issues may be related to regional variations in consumer behaviour. And consumers, whether in Europe or in China, are very aware of safety issues, and with good reason. But there is no such thing as completely safe food. There are, however, varying degrees of food safety that can be put in place, as is the case in other industries as well. Bühler machines are compliant with the EU’s tough safety standards, but work is in process to ensure compliance with evolving legislation in other regions as well. Food quality can be improved with Sortex-brand sorting machines, which identify contaminants based on optical criteria and sort out non-edible contaminants such as Claviceps purpurea or other fungi. In the future, Bühler systems may include sensors for detecting contamination and other features to enhance food safety.
In response to growing awareness and tighter legislation worldwide, a number of customers have asked Bühler to conduct roundtables on managing the inherent uncertainties of transformation. Three main issues have been identified as a result of customer input from these roundtables: collaboration, sanitary design and validation.
“As a market leader with a strong sense of corporate responsibility, the company is obliged to head the drive for safer products, helping customers to see the value of food safety before they see it themselves.”
The food safety roundtables are designed to ensure that the industry continues the dialog on safe food. Here, Bühler helps set the future standards for the industry. One example of such collaboration is Bühler’s multi-year partnership with the Global Initiative for Food Systems Leadership (GIFSL) at the University of Minnesota. This sponsorship of GIFSL’s activities extends to professional development for organizations, government agencies and companies as well as measures to foster collaboration between food producers and providers of process engineering goods. This work will raise the profile of hygiene aspects in the planning, construction, and equipment of factories, as part of a general drive to enhance global food safety.
Another example of cooperation is the food safety roundtable that was held in China in the beginning of 2011, hosted by Shanghai University. China introduced a new food safety law in 2009 that is creating challenges for all parties involved in the food industry, ranging from government officials to the manufacturers. Bühler has been contacted by Chinese partners to make its expertise available at this event.
In Brazil, an upcoming, locally developed food safety seminar is already the second in the country; the participants are Bühler customers who want to learn about safe milling processes from Bühler experts and close partners, like the prestigious Swiss School of Milling, who are responding directly to local market needs in a way that helps set a future research agenda while also generating revenue for the company.
As a provider of hardware, Bühler offers a number of solutions to ensure clean processes that comply with the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) approach. These solutions cover sanitary equipment design as well as sanitary facility design.
Bühler equipment is designed to exacting standards of food safety, for example by facilitating easy access for regular cleaning or through use of flat nuts and bolts with sealed surfaces in machinery. While open vats for dough mixing are still part of the product portfolio, customers may also choose the Polymatic dough-kneading press, a force-conveyed mixer that processes dough more safely – an example of advanced technology to enhance food safety.
At various stages in the production process, Bühler’s sorting and cleaning elements can be deployed to sanitize goods. In milling, the cleaning house occasionally experiences very high loads, reducing the efficiency of cleaning. Under new regulations and increased scrutiny, this creates an opportunity for Bühler to sell additional cleaning houses.
Validation – the ability to document safe processes in the production line – is expected to gain importance in the future under potential new US legislation. Process safety is complemented by Bühler’s automation solutions for track and trace, which deliver a constant feed of documentation, allowing producers to reconstruct the entire stream for production batches. In case of a recall, this facilitates identification of contaminated goods in order to respond as soon as possible. Both regulators and companies have an interest in responding as efficiently as possible to such incidents.
These training activities are not only designed for customers, but also offered to Bühler staff in order to foster awareness of food safety issues, sanitary design in general as well as training on concrete projects. An in-house food safety forum for food safety delegates was held in the beginning of 2011.
“Managers and food safety engineers do not necessarily speak the same ‘language’; Bühler must be proactive in technical developments, observe the markets, and never stand still.”
Developing the service portfolio
As befits a market leader, Bühler is taking the lead in expanding its service portfolio in this important area. After a century and a half in the business, it clearly has the capability to create and enhance value in the area of food safety for the customer. Just as the consumer expects the food industry to deliver safe food, customers expect Bühler to deliver safe production processes. Bühler is educating its customers while developing a new market in this sector, which may not only help the company through a difficult time in the global economy, but also lay the groundwork for future developments. But challenges remain: managers and food safety engineers do not necessarily speak the same “language”; Bühler must be proactive in technical developments, observe the markets, and never stand still. Why is Bühler now doing explicitly what was always implicit? Even as a market leader, the company knows there is still much to learn; enhancing its contribution to the food industry is a never-ending process. While Bühler comes from a proud tradition of equipment manufacturing, service is becoming an indelible part of the corporate DNA, and food safety will strengthen this structure.