Signed into law in 2011, the Food Safety and Modernization Act (FSMA) was a direct response to high-profile outbreaks of foodborne illness. Considered the largest expansion and overhaul of U.S. food safety authorities since before World War II, the law shifts the focus of food safety from reacting to contamination incidents to prevention. The equipment that handles, processes and ultimately packages food offers a critical layer of protection before it reaches the end of the supply chain.

While large food companies and processing and packaging machinery suppliers are well on their way towards compliance with FSMA, three food segments are still struggling to understand the law’s impact: smaller food companies and farms, which do not have the scale to absorb new overhead costs; the fresh produce industry, which previously had much less regulatory insight; and companies that source ingredients from foreign-based suppliers, due to the costs of ensuring these suppliers are FSMA compliant.

“Considered the largest expansion and overhaul of U.S. food safety authorities...the law shifts the focus of food safety from reacting to contamination incidents to prevention."

As more FSMA deadlines quickly approach, food companies are leaning on the experience of processing and packaging machinery manufacturers to help guide them towards compliance. In fact, about 30 percent of businesses surveyed in the 2016 Food Safety Modernization Act Update Report from PMMI, The Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies, plan to use consultants to help figure out how FSMA applies to their operations. The following are just four ways that the processing and packaging industry increases food safety for consumer goods companies, retailers and, ultimately, consumers:

1. Focus on data mined from processing and packaging machinery

Analysis of lines in action via inspection equipment provides valuable information on the line in real time. Technologies such as x-rays not only detect foreign objects but also examine product composition. Additionally, lasers are pairing up with X-ray and other inspection solutions to look at the position, size and shape of food products. Machine vision takes away the monotony that comes along with inspecting food as it moves through a line, checking hundreds or even thousands of products a minute.

2. Reduce contamination hazards with sanitary equipment design

This proactive measure prevents food build-up on machine surfaces, easing cleaning and sanitizing machinery. This all contributes to food protection throughout the supply chain.

3. Get innovative with screening and testing

Innovative examination and testing solutions provide packaging and processing lines with speed and accuracy to ensure products meet high quality and safety standards. One technology to identify environmental pathogens, for example, can provide results in as little as 15 hours, far outpacing current market alternatives. Also, enhanced tests for allergens, which are responsible for nearly half of all recalls, are constantly under development.

4. Package with a purpose

This helps food manufacturers ensure food safety. For example, modified atmosphere packaging extends shelf-life by changing the composition of the air surrounding the food in a package while high-pressure processing offers a similar guarantee using isostatic pressure after packaging. These following solutions not only help food manufacturers meet consumer preference for fresh foods but also verify products are safe to consume: smart packaging, which identifies what is going on within a package; and active packaging, which contributes toward the preservation of color and texture of food, are additional solutions that offer similar results.