A recent study by Michigan State University (MSU) found that U.S. consumers are concerned about food safety and want to see food safety certification labeling on food products.
The study by the Product Center at MSU on behalf of DNV found that more than half of consumers changed their shopping patterns in response to food safety. Those surveyed also recognized third-party certifications as a sign that products were safe.
Most interesting in the study was the response to the cost of food safety. One-third of the respondents indicated they would pay as much as a 30 percent premium for food that was certified.
Labeling fresh-cut products as triple-washed or ready-to-eat may not effectively tell consumers that the product is microbiologically safe anymore. It may benefit a processor to put the certification label more prominently on the packaging.
Of course, consumers only have faith in certifications as long as they work. If we continue to see widespread food safety issues, especially in products that have a “certified” label, consumers will lose trust. It has to be more than marketing – a visible authentication that food safety procedures are working and an honorable third party confirms that is true.
Jeff Brandenburg, JSB Group
Where is packaging of fresh-cuts going?
There are a number of things going on. Some of the things I can't talk about because they’re propriety, but there’s a lot of work being done right now.
It’s still primarily optimization of shelf life and quality. Whereas it used to be ‘we want 10 days or 16 days,’ now it’s ‘how can we get the best quality from those 10 days.'
There’s also a lot of work going on with rigid containers. Historically, rigid containers have been shrink-wrapped or clamshells, and not true modified atmosphere packaging. There’s a lot of work being done to take rigid and make it true MAP, maybe making it heat sealable or including microperferations. So certainly ther’s a lot going on in the rigid area.
There are people still looking at microperferations for purge mangement. There’s some new micrperferation equipment on the market – it was at the FreshConex show and will be at the United show in Las Vegas. The company is from the Netherlands, called Perfotech. They have patents on it, and they can measure each hole and go back and adjust the lasers for consistency.
People are looking at exist technology – micro perferations, rigid containers – they’re looking at perfecting and optimizing those technologies.
When you need a three-day shelf life, who cares what you put it in, but when people want 10 or 8 days and want the fresh-cut watermelon to look good, you have to put it in the right pack. Packaging will never ever improve the quality of a fresh-cut product, but you put it in the wrong packaging and it will hurt the quality.
Rigid – what are the advantages?
Physical protection over flexible packaging. There’s also a perception of higher quality. At retail, they’re usually clear. There’s always a war between rigid and flexible packaging industries, and the rigid guys are learning to do MAP and the flexible guys are learning from rigid.
How does this work impact food safety?
Those impact food safety – when you talk about 5 log reductions, there’s not a lot that can do that. But you might not get a 5 log, but you might a lesser kill step that adds another layer of food safety.
There’s also work being done to define better breathe rates, because that what you build the package around.
In the simplest terms, people are looking at exist technology, how make them better, perfect them and optimize them for better food safety.
What other trends are you seeing in fresh-cut packaging?
There’s still a lot of emphasis on source reduction and a lot of emphasis on sustainability – sure you can use compostable, etc., but to use the Flexible Packaging Association’s term, less resources, more value.
There’s work being done on products in fresh-cut that has never been fresh-cut before. Every day globally you will hear about something new getting packaged.
There are two things going on simultaneously – global farming practices (how do we get fruit from the southern Mediterranean or fresh veggies to England from Africa), but at the same time you have people wanting to buy local. From a packaging and food safety perspective, you have a whole new set of problems, because you have a new set of people that you’ve never worked with.
That sounds like more education is needed.
That’s an area I’m getting very involved in – How do you reach out to local and regional growers and what vehicle or vehicles do you use to reach them.
Although local produce and global farming sound diametrically opposed, they do have something to teach each other.
The restaurant industry is still facing contraction, but operator optimism improved in January, according to the National Restaurant Association’s (NRA) Restaurant Performance Index (RPI), a monthly survey that tracks the industry’s health.
The January index stood at 98.3, down from December’s 22-month high. January marked the 27th straight month that the index stood below 100, which indicates contraction in the market.
The RPI is based on two components, the Current Situation Index and Expectations Index. The former surveys restaurant operators about the current month’s sales and customer traffic, and the latter reports operators’ plans and opinions for the next six months.
More than half of restaurant operators reported a decline in same store sales in January, and 54 percent reported a decline in foot traffic. About one-third of operators had made capital expenditures for equipment, expansion or remodeling over the last three months. That number has been steady over the last few months.
Despite the negative movement in January, operator expectations improved for the fourth straight month in January, according to the RPI. The Expectations Index rose to 100.2 in January, the first time the index has been above 100 in nine months. A number above 100 indicates operators expect expansion in the market.
One third of restaurant operators expected to have higher sales in the next six months, according to the survey. Those surveyed also were optimistic about the overall economy with 29 percent indicating they thought the economy would improve in the next six months. That figure is down slightly from December, but still considered an optimistic outlook by NRA.
Based on that optimism, restaurant operators said they were more willing to make capital expenditures. More than 40 percent said they would spend money on equipment, expansion or remodeling in the next six months, which was an improvement over December.
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