We love our dairy. Milk, cheese and yogurt – they are tasty and chock-full of nutrients. They’re also highly regulated. Whether you are building a brand-new dairy facility or have been in the food and beverage business for more than one hundred years, you have seen a great deal of change in the food processing business in recent years. Dietary trends, a shifting global supply chain and new regulations are altering the world of food and how its safety is measured.
It all began with dairy
The dairy industry was the very first segment of the food industry to implement regulations. The original Pasteurized Milk Ordinance, or PMO, was passed in most states by the early 1920s. Since then, the percentage of illnesses attributed to milk-borne outbreaks has dropped and the amount of regulation has grown.
Cari Lingle, a 3M Food Safety microbiologist, says the dairy industry has not had to make many adjustments to adapt to new regulations since they historically have been the most regulated food industry in the U.S.
“Because milk was consumed by children, there was early concern about the amount of natural bacteria that could be in the product that could make them sick,” she says. “A lot of microbial testing started with dairy.”
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) passed the most comprehensive food industry regulation to date in 2011 – The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). It focuses on preventing contamination rather than reacting to it after it occurs. Congress passed the legislation in response to the growing need for regulation and safety of our global supply chain of human and animal food.
FSMA is the first major reform for the food industry in more than 70 years and enhances regulation from farm to sale. The legislation also gives the FDA authority to recall food items and ensure that imported foods meet U.S. safety standards.
Partnering with tech service
Luke Thevenet has worked in the dairy industry for more than a decade. He has spent much of his career focusing on quality and regulatory practices in a dairy co-op. Today, he works at 3M on the Professional Services team, helping to train customers on the 3M Food Safety product portfolio, including pathogen, allergen and indicator testing.
“We have a global technical team and sales team,” he says. “The PS team is the middle ground between the lab and sales. We help support sales, by providing technical assistance and providing training. Meeting regulatory requirements is a primary concern for our dairy processing customers.”
His background in the dairy industry and his work with 3M and its customers have given him a broad view of the food processing industry. He points to several trends impacting the dairy processing industry related to food safety: meeting requirements for regulations, the globalization of the food supply chain and faster testing cycle times for labs.
Put to the test: detecting allergens and more
Food allergies have increased significantly from 1997 to 2011, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And consumers are helping to drive allergen testing in the food industry. As part of FSMA, food processing plants need to have an allergen testing program.
“The FSMA regulation requires processors to have a food allergen control plan to control for allergen cross-contact and to ensure products are labeled according to the allergen they contain,” says Luke. “If you are a processor producing a product with coconut before processing another coconut free product, you need a test to verify your process controls are working. 3M has allergen test kits to help with this verification process. Customers can swab their environment and/or test their product to ensure it free of any allergens not listed on the product label.”
Globalization of food supply
Another trend impacting food processors is the increasing globalization of the supply chain for dairy and other products.
“A lot of FSMA regulations (Foreign Supplier Verification Program) are related to importing and making sure those products meet US food safety standards,” says Luke.
He adds that we also are exporting a lot of dairy products and processors need to make sure they are meeting the requirements and standards of other countries.
Cari says 3M helps customers by understanding global trends and requirements. As more food processors export whey and other dairy products to other countries, she says having a global team really helps.
“We can help answer questions about global requirements for U.S. sellers because we have global counterparts. Our products are used and accepted in numerous countries across the globe,” Cari adds.
Moving quickly to the shelf
In addition to increased regulation and globalization, dairy processors are focused on the shelf life of products and being able to move quickly through the product testing phase.
“If they can decrease testing from 48 to 24 hours, that lets them get the product out of their facility and onto store shelves much more quickly,” says Luke.
3M has listened to customers and developed rapid testing products based on their feedback. “We have a coliform count plate to help get results in 14 hours,” Cari states. “Getting a perishable product out the door faster is valuable.” She adds that rapid tests that lead to faster turnaround times are one of many solutions 3M offers to help dairy processing customers.
Shifting dietary trends
The dairy industry experiences a lot of ups and downs as dietary trends shift. In the past, low-fat diets impacted the sale of butter and cheese. More recently, the popularity of Paleo and vegan diets have dairy producers looking for ways to extend their product lines. Many milk facilities also bottle other beverages like orange juice, which adds to the need for monitoring production lines for cross-contamination and the need for additional testing.
“We help by making products that really fill the need for all the testing requirements,” says Cari. “We do it in a way that makes it easy. We try to simplify and streamline the process.”
Adherence to industry regulations and keeping your dairy facility free of spoilage or pathogenic microorganisms continue to remain important. 3M Food Safety has developed a total solution to help industry professionals along each stage of the food processing journey.
Need more information on the total 3M Food Safety testing solution? Simply reach out and we’ll be happy to help you with any questions you have. Contact a rep here.