Where Technology & Organic Food Processing Intersect

Recent years have ushered in a growing interest regarding where food comes from. Although used rather loosely today, the terms “all natural” and “organic” intend to represent the purest form of a product. Initiatives such as Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and “farm to table” restaurants have only added to this developing movement. As this awareness has grown, it has created a greater opportunity for food processors to spotlight their productions.

Recent years have ushered in a growing interest regarding where food comes from. Although used rather loosely today, the terms “all natural” and “organic” intend to represent the purest form of a product. Initiatives such as Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and “farm to table” restaurants have only added to this developing movement. As this awareness has grown, it has created a greater opportunity for food processors to spotlight their productions.

 

What’s more, and what works in the favor of consumers, this trend forces the food and beverage industry to set their standards high. In an industry that’s already heavily regulated, such high standards are a challenge, but they are possible.

 

For food processors, meeting these challenges is an ongoing process, but it must begin with the proper systems in place. These systems, incidentally, need to start not at the time of harvest, but before. In the case of vegetable processing, for instance, the soil, climate, and other similar factors matter.

 

When it comes time for harvesting and processing, there are also multiple factors that play a role. For starters, the manufacturing facility itself needs to be built in a way that takes all the regulations from the government and concerns from consumers into consideration. Another area that plays a vital role is the equipment within each plant. These structures need to provide hygienic seals and finishes, adequate heating and cooling mechanisms, and other features to ensure that food is being produced safely and efficiently.

 

A third area that is also critical in the manufacturing process is the packaging of food. This area is particularly challenging as the goal is to create packaging materials that protect food all throughout the food chain and that is recyclable, compostable, produced with renewable energy and, in some cases, edible. Both packaging and labeling have specifically gained a lot of attention of late as traceability has become such a large factor with consumers. In addition, both of these aspects are really important in the event that a food product needs to be recalled. Traceability has also received specific attention in regards to regulation and policy. Chances are, the government may step in the near term and demand that traceability is integrated into all food production.

 

What’s interesting about each of these processes is that, as times have progressed, technology lends a powerful hand in every single area. Technology is, in fact, so significant that it is highly doubtful that food production can be in its most natural form without technological advances. Take, for example, the food manufacturing plant. Through technology such as Building Information Modeling (BIM), utility piping and structural steel conflicts can be seen as early as the design phase. In other words, not only can pitfalls with installation be seen before the construction actually begins, but potential problems such as leaks and other unsafe and unsanitary conditions can be seen and thus prevented.

 

BIM technology was used in the Adena Beef facility, in which we provided engineering, architecture and construction services.

 

Our tools and technology, such as BIM, allow us to work smarter, not harder, which makes us more efficient,” Gary Trussell, Site Manager, Gray.

 

Although not the only factor, the use of BIM technology in this project does however add to the fact that Adena is arguably attributed with being one of the most sustainable beef harvesting operations in the U.S.

 

Adena Beef Rendering, Fort McCoy, Fla.

 

Apart from BIM, technology also provides benefits through the equipment used in food processing and preservation. New equipment has the most up-to-date controls and devices integrated within them, which help in temperature control, automation, etc. In addition, computerized systems assist in helping processes run seamlessly and efficiently. The result is both high quality and high value food products.

 

The role that tech has in packaging food products is also quite large. In recent years, we’ve seen a rise in innovative product developments to ensure that food is both safe and nutritious. There are vacuum packaging options, modified atmosphere packaging (MAP), packaging that can be cooked essentially with the food and more – all of which use technological elements to provide proper preservation while also maintaining a minimal environmental impact.

 

Incidentally, German researchers have come up with a very innovative and inexpensive way to create a “smart food packaging.” Technische Universität München (TUM) researchers developed a concept that would spray carbon nanotubes gas sensors onto a thin film, which could in turn be the clear film that is on meat in supermarkets. The second part of the concept is to insert a disposable wireless communications chip that will warn store managers when the food is starting to go bad. Although the concept is still in the very early stages, this is a good indication of the impact technology is having and will continue to have on food processing.

 

In the end, technology is inserted into every aspect of food production, from the beginning of processing to the time it lands into the hands of consumers. While different, all these technologies work together. In other words, the tools and technology used in the very early stages, as in the building of a facility, will ultimately help those who package the products do their job more effectively – a cycle that will continue to evolve as technology improves.

 

 

 

 

 

 

    October 24, 2013

    Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a contributing author and not necessarily Gray.

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