On the safe side - Anuga FoodTec
Thursday 23 February 2012Better is never good enough when it comes to the always critical issue of food safety
Food products were never safer, more varied, or of such high quality than they are today. Nevertheless, there is a discrepancy between food facts and public perception. The food industry therefore has no other choice but to communicate openly, provide objective information, and rely on high-quality, state-of-the-art safety technologies.
The public is repeatedly shocked by isolated cases of food safety and hygiene violations, and some incidents really are scandalous. Examples include the current hygiene scandal at the Müller-Brot baking company and the discovery a little over a year ago of fats contaminated with dioxins at the Harles und Jentzsch chemical company. These fats had not been approved for use in feed production but were in fact added to the products, thereby making their way into the food chain. Ultimately, there can be no hundred per cent guarantee that companies won't violate their obligations to consumers, or even deliberately commit criminal acts. However, policies are often formulated on the basis of extreme individual cases in order to demonstrate determination to act. This doesn't put an end to the scandals; it simply increases the tendency to raise a hue and cry rather than promoting a more open flow of information and the development of knowledge-based solutions. The overwhelming majority of exemplary and compliant food manufacturers are virtually powerless to do anything against this. Their only remaining option is to go on the offensive with objective information, while also keeping in mind that food issues are perceived very emotionally by the public and are also presented in this manner by the media. In each case, food producers need to understand that their actions will become more transparent to the public regardless of their own information policies. This can come about through changes to consumer information laws, the establishment of public and private online ratings portals, and campaigns by NGOs and consumer organisations. A recent study conducted by the Federation of German Food and Drink Industries (BVE) and the Society for Consumer Research (GfK) found that the taste of food is the most important consideration for 96% of German consumers. Safety and health came in a close second (93%) in the survey, which should therefore be taken seriously and responded to by the industry.
Harmonisation of regulations
In general, new and more stringent laws, stipulations, directives, and regulations have failed in the past to achieve the desired clarity regarding food safety. For this reason, the trend toward cross-border standardisation and harmonisation should be continued. The Global Harmonisation Initiative (GHI), which was established in 2004 by the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) International Division in the US and the European Federation of Food Science and Technology (EFFoST), addresses this issue. This impartial initiative promotes the harmonisation of global food safety regulations and legislation. The GHI seeks to disseminate credible, scientifically based information in order to exert an objective and positive influence on food policymaking worldwide.
Technical monitoring measures
Foreign substances have no place in food products and packaging must be impeccable and immaculate. There should be no discussion about this matter - and the range of measures geared toward ensuring this aspect of food safety is being continually further developed. The systems now available here include metal detectors, x-ray inspection devices (now also available as "entry-level models"), and various optical monitoring units. The latter will continue to improve as camera technology advances; their possibilities are far from exhausted. Extremely high-frequency waves will also be used in the future to monitor food safety. Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for High Frequency Physics and Radar Techniques FHR in Wachtberg, Germany, have developed a material scanner known as SAMMI (Stand Alone MilliMeter wave Imager). The device is only 50 centimetres wide and 32 centimetres high, making it about the size of a compact laser printer. Non-metallic, non-transparent substances present no problems for the scanner, which is suitable for industrial product monitoring and quality control, as well as for material analyses in labs. It also makes visible even the slightest material differences that would escape detection in an x-ray machine. Unlike an x-ray scanner, the SAMMI unit can distinguish between different fillings in pralines, for example, and also isolate different types of gum mixtures that display similar or identical absorption properties. The unit has two rotating discs on opposite sides in its housing. Each disc is fitted with a transmission and reception antenna. A small conveyor belt moves the sample to be examined between the antennas, which transmit electromagnetic waves in the EHF range around 78 GHz. The various parts of the sample attenuate the signal with different intensities, which enables the different material compositions of a sample to be displayed as differences in contrast.
The scientists want to upgrade the system for use in the terahertz frequency range around 2 THz in the future. This will enable the device to not only detect different structures but also to identify different types of plastics. The EHF wave sensor is currently being adapted for use on industrial production lines, with the objective of achieving a product speed of six metres per second through the scanner.
New monitoring methods
Another Fraunhofer project at the Research Institution for Modular Solid State Technologies EMFT in Munich is paving the way for the utilisation of new types of nanosensors for food monitoring. These sensors use fluorescent dyes to make visible the ATP content in human and animal cells, which enables conclusions to be drawn about metabolic activity (i.e. cell health) and thus the damaging effects of certain additives. The nanoparticles used as sensors fulfil the most stringent requirements: They are not toxic to cells, can easily pass through cell membranes, and can also be guided precisely to where the test substance is believed to be. This new technique, which was initially meant to eliminate the need for animal testing, is now being further developed for other applications, such as determining the quality and edibility of packed meats. To this end, nanosensors are now being developed that can identify concentrations of oxygen and toxic amines.
Various research institutes are also now working on the development of effective online biofilm sensors for detecting and analysing biofilms in inaccessible parts of production machines especially. These sensors will enable much more detailed assessments of existing microorganisms and their metabolic condition than has been the case with the monitoring techniques used to date. They will also be able to detect changes caused by biofilms to the surface characteristics of production equipment. This new type of diagnostic capability will improve the monitoring of safety and hygiene in food products and food production facilities.
In conclusion, it should be stated that new and expanded measures for enhancing food safety will require new investment that can also impact consumer prices. On the other hand, a megatrend has long since begun - and there's no end in sight to it: Cheap is passé, and consumers are now prepared to pay a little more for safe food produced under fair and sustainable conditions.
From 27th to 30th March 2012, the international food technology sector will once again meet at Anuga FoodTec in Cologne. Anuga FoodTec offers the international food business an information and purchasing platform that covers the entire spectrum of technology and investment requirements for production in all segments of the food industry. With almost 1,300 exhibitors from 35 countries, Anuga FoodTec will be setting a new record turnout. What's more, the trade fair is also set to expand substantially in terms of exhibition space. Anuga FoodTec is jointly organised by Koelnmesse GmbH and the German Agricultural Society (DLG).