April 27, 2010
by Canadian Packaging Staff
On April 21, 2010 at the Mississauga International Centre just west of Toronto, PAC – The Packaging Association, the North American voice of the packaging industry held an informative Food Packaging Safety Summit.
The half-day affair moderated by Scott Wilson, Principal P. Eng. with TWD Technologies Ltd. of Burlington, offered the 50 attendees a chance to hear from industry leaders speak on the initiatives companies across North America can take to ensure their food packaging protects the user, and not just the product.
The event’s first speaker was Jackie Crichton, vice-president food safety and labeling with the Canadian Council of Grocery Distributors (CCGD), who discussed the merits of her organization, not-for-profit organization committed to advancing and promoting the grocery and foodservice distribution industry in Canada, at both the regional and national levels.
“The CCGD looks to provide confidence to consumers in its food supply chain,” she notes. “But everyone—from the Federal, Provincial and Municipal governments, to the industry to the consumer—along the supply chain needs to play an active role in food safety.
Along with providing national HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points)-based programs in Canada, including 22 on-farm commodity-based programs, the CCGD also offers 14 off-farm programs specifically designed for feed mills, food and beverage products, distribution processes, and services including transportation, wastewater management and, of course, packaging.
Crichton stressed that the packaging industry must work with related agencies and associations to ensure all packaging is appropriate to the product and is safe for the consumer.
The next speaker, Martin Fidler, national sales manager for Atlantic Packaging Products Ltd. explained the procedure undertaken by his company to become in February of 2010 the third company in Canada to be recognized as PACsecure-certified for a corrugated manufacturing plant in Mississauga.
Developed by the PAC in conjunction with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, the global PACsecure standards are the most comprehensive food safety standards for packaging materials in the world.
Calling the PACsecure standards a preventative solution rather than a reactive one, Fidler told the audience that the process to become certified was a long an arduous one, but one that is well worth the effort.
Noting that every company’s situation is different, Fidler says the financial cost to become certified was in the ‘six-figure’ range and that it took over 14 months to achieve from setting up a team, to discussing what needed to be done to the premises, transportation and storage, equipment modifications, sanitation and pest control solutions, development of a recall procedure, to how its employees need to work.
“It was a huge procedure for Atlantic, and involved a lot of resources to get there and to continually improve ourselves, but it’s not all about cost; we got some economical benefits from it as we developed a healthier workplace environment for our employees and can ensure our customers that they are getting a safe product from us,” mentions Fidler.
And, while Fidler says that Atlantic Packaging wants to PACsecure-certify more of its facilities, he was emphatic in stating that they can’t simply take the data and information from one plant and utilize at another.
“The whole 14-month long procedure was educational,” reveals Fidler. “You can not supply information from one plant to the other, because in order to change the culture at a plant, one needs to have to learn it for themselves.”
Mirka Falicki, a chemist with Health Canada discussed food packaging regulations in Canada, focusing on the Food and Drugs Act regulation section B.23.001, stating: “No person shall sell any food in a package that may yield to its contents any substance that may be injurious to the health of a consumer of the food.”
Falicki explains: “By definition of the Canadian Food and Drugs Act, any product that is wholly or partially contained, placed or packed is a product.
“As well, a package can be regarded as any article that comes in contact with food during processing, distribution and sale—even a conveyor belt is considered to be food packaging.”
She continues, “As such, it is the responsibility of the food seller—the manufacturer, packager, distributor—to make sure the materials used in food contact are safe and compliant with Section B.23.001.”
To that extent, Health Canada’s Health Products and Food Branch (HPFB) offers a no-cost service to those requesting it, a safety evaluation of the individual materials containing within a food package including finished products like laminated films or containers and formulated products such as plastic resins and color concentrates.
While the process is free, Falicki did note that she and her staff have thousands of requests, so it’s not a simple get-it-in/get-it-out procedure, and can in fact sometimes take anywhere from between a few months to several years.
“In 2009 we received over 7,000 submissions, but we find that what slows down the process is the fact that people do not give us the exact information we require,” says Falicki, noting that it needs: trade name and grade; composition including its trade name, proper chemical name, grade and supplier; form of finished package—film or bottle, etc.; types of food involved; and conditions (time and temperature) in which the packaging material will be exposed during processing, distribution and use by consumer.
“As well”, notes Falicki, “its not just new products and its packaging, its also about established products changing the parameters or components of its packaging and all products entering Canada that must have its packaging analyzed.”
The seminar’s fourth speaker, Deb Krug-Reyes, director grocery quality with ConAgra Foods, Inc. discussed by food safety programs are important for packaging suppliers reiterating the concerns of CCGD’s Crichton, that not only must our food be safe to eat, but that the safety of the food is the responsibility of everyone, from food-to-fork.
Citing the 2,579 food and beverage recalls in the U.S. in 2009 alone, Krug-Reyes noted that it affected over 750 companies according to an April 21, 2010 Food Industry Report because of concerns from the bacterias Salmonella, Listeria, E. coli, and undeclared ingredients that posed an allergen threat.
“Not only is there a financial cost to a recall, but there is a loss of consumer confidence in a brand,” she explains.
Krug-Reyes mentions that the overall culture of food safety and quality needs to change its mind set, to one where everyone involved understands the risks involved, including employee awareness and compliance; HACCP’s preventative approach to managing food safety risks; and realizing perceived food safety risks.
“PACsecure is an excellent tool that provides a good food safety program,” offers Kug-Reyes. “In fact, PACsecure is leading the world in this. Canada in general, is ahead of the U.S., but there are more American companies now adapting a lot of Canada’s programs.”
Larry Dworkin, government & industry relations specialist with the PAC was the last speaker at the seminar. Dworkin who has been in charge of the PACsecure program since its inception in 2001, reiterated that the program is indeed a global standard based on HACCP principles and is well known and respected in the industry for its exacting standards.
And while Dworkin did urge all companies to become involved in the PACsecure certification process, Krug-Reyes pleaded for everyone that even if a company does not utilize a formal HACCP program in place, “if you find a risk or hazard, put a control solution in place now.”