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Food and beverage processing is a core Oregon industry, changes in the law mean a scramble to catch up.

COURTESY: OMEP - A worker at McTavish Cookie Company near Gateway lays out shortbread for a baking. New food safety rules will take the company a lot of time and money to follow, according to owner Denise Pratt, but she believes they are good for the industry in the long run. (Above and below) Workers at food processing plants will have to clean more, and document their cleaning.   Oregon food and beverage processors, manufacturers and suppliers live in a constantly changing world.

On the one hand, demand is always increasing for higher quality food, snacks and drinks, from from-to-table style food to a maturing wine and beer industry.

On the other hand, laws around safe food handling and ingredients are always getting stricter, usually in an bid to reduce food-borne illnesses that can thrive in mass production.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 48 million people get sick each year from food-borne diseases. (See foodpoisonjournal.com for a list of recent food recalls.)

Now Oregon food processors with more than $1 million in revenue have until September 2017 to implement a plan to meet new safety compliance measures set by the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) or Fizzma, as it's colloquially known.

The FSMA was passed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2011. It is the largest reform of food safety laws in more than 70 years. The goal is help prevent foodborne illnesses and chronic diseases.

Smaller companies have until September 2018 to meet the same standards.

COURTESY: OMEP - Laws on safety in food production are becoming stricter this September.  Documentation is part of the new push.

Clean up

Teri Danielson is a Principal Consultant and Partner at Northwest Food Solutions, a Portland-based manufacturing operations and quality consulting company. She calls FISMA "the largest leg overhaul since 1938" of the food industry. "Lawmakers are trying to move the Food and Drug Administration from an inspection mentality to a prevention mentality," she told the Business Tribune.

One big change is there will now be mandated inspections by the FDA at food facilities, where they often didn't have them. In Oregon these have often been done by the Oregon Department of Agriculture.

The FDA is currently hiring more inspectors to take on the task.

Another big change is the FDA will now have the ability to mandate recalls. Until now, they had to wait until the food processor who had a problem self reported. This change should lead to swifter and probably more recalls.

The non-profit Oregon Manufacturing Extension Partnership (OMEP) helps Oregon manufacturers stay competitive in an increasingly global economy (see bar chart).

Usually they are helping companies with robots or databases, but in this case they're helping food processors get up to speed. (In 2017 OMEP is offering three classes called "Safe Food Cohorts," see sidebar.)

Linda Wechsler, a food scientist who is a consultant with OMEP, says the cohort classes are for large and small companies.

"It's a big amount of regulation to implement," she says. "Companies with more than 100 employees may have a quality assurance department and an equipment maintenance department. And they may have gone to a class, but doing it is still a challenge." Then again, companies with 15 employees may find the new rules even more difficult to implement without help, since the employees "wear many hats," and don't really specialize.

Gourmet foods

Oregon has some food processors with hundreds of staff, but generally, says Wechsler, "Food and beverage in Oregon leans small to mid-size," says Wechsler. "Traditionally it's been large and in the Willamette Valley, but in the last 10 years a lot of smaller companies have been doing some novel things, in coffee, tea, ice cream, chocolate, things like that. They could drive the economy, and we want to see that. We're looking to help them be ready."

The new regulations mean that staff have to develop a food safety plan, and do a risk assessment. Then there is the documentation aspect: Danielson calls it "A lot of say what you do and do what you say."

The cohort classes are to get smaller companies working together, because they have less support. Small companies can fill out a questionnaire to determine how prepared they are for the new regulations, and then get grouped together.

"Oregonians have a history of working well together. Collaboration in the wine, food and beer industries seems natural to us."


Joseph Gallivan
Reporter

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