Food safety is again in the spotlight, and perhaps even more so than in the past, as people prioritise health and wellness amidst the pandemic. Emphasis on healthy eating is driving consumers’ food requirements and preferences, with stress not just on nutrition but also on safety and even origin or source of the food. Packaging has become a crucial factor for a growing number of end-users who want to make sure freshness and quality are retained and shelf life extended.
The food and beverage sector, probably amongst the first to feel the brunt of the pandemic and one of the industries badly hit, needs to fast-track efforts to ensure food is safe and healthy to match these shifts in consumer mindset influenced to a great extent by COVID-19 concerns and resulting changes in lifestyle, budgeting and shopping.
Adhi Lukman, chairman of Indonesia's Food and Beverage Association (GAPMMI), said the F&B industry must be ready to adapt to changes. “In these times when the industry is evolving alongside shifts across the entire market chain, brand is no longer a priority. Food safety and availability are top considerations. These may present challenges for manufacturers but they also open up opportunities for differentiating products and services to gain consumer trust,” Lukman shared.
Adhi Lukman, chairman, Indonesian Food and Beverage Industry Association
The new normal in the F&B industry
Pivoting to the new normal -- and underscoring food safety at the same time – mean F&B businesses will need to rethink not just specific processes or parts of their operations but the entire business model as well.
Speaking at the ASEAN Food & Beverage Manufacturing Summit held last September, Lukman said manufacturers must address changes across the entire supply chain to keep afloat and serve their markets. “From raw material sourcing to logistics and distribution, all stakeholders have had to drop old ways of doing things to adjust -- find new suppliers or think of a new way to deliver given transport restrictions,” he added.
Factories, for example, may need to be reconfigured to make sure they reduce human-to-human contact and meet social distancing protocols. Facility upgrades or modifications in accordance with health and safety measures must include not just the structure or building but also all the machines and tools inside and even around the area.
Equipment and processes must also comply with hygiene and sanitation standards and any changes in packaging or delivery. Water resources and waste management systems need to be checked as well to ensure compliance.
“The new normal for F&B manufacturers means a new or revamped business model, shifts in operations and processes, new marketing strategies, and changes in distribution channels, orders and payments. It’s almost a paradigm shift, and players must keep food safety at the centre whilst also ensuring business goals and consumer demands are met,” Lukman stressed.
To supplement facility improvements and operation adjustments and achieve an integrated system for food safety, Lukman likewise stressed the need to improve workforce competency, especially as regards sanitation. The emphasis on hygiene, quality and food safety necessitates that all stakeholders, in particular those involved in the manufacturing processes, are aware of the standards implemented in the industry and facilities and keep those protocols in mind in carrying out their respective tasks, he added.
Changing the company protocols and culture on hygiene and sanitation invariably relates to workers’ personal hygiene and wellness as well. “Keeping all workers in the food production and supply chain healthy and safe is critical. With a healthy workforce, the food industry can function effectively and be capable of adopting and implementing effective food safety management programs to ensure that the foods being produced are safe, nutritious and of high quality,” Lukman said.
All these, however, present new challenges. Lukman underscores awareness building at both the corporate and individual worker levels is a huge undertaking. Many companies are not familiar with health and sanitation standards and requirements. Many of those aware of these measures either ignore them completely or try to defer compliance, not realising the potential huge impact on food quality and safety. As for individual workers, personal health and hygiene practices could differ from what is required in the company, and this sometimes results in noncompliance.
Factory and equipment upgrades and inspection in line with sanitation guidelines also present hurdles. Changing the layout of a factory alone brings up a myriad of space and budget issues, and factoring in food sanitation and workforce’s health and safety compounds the difficulties even more. For many manufacturers, ensuring clean water supply is hard because of the lack of clean water. For others, knowledge about the importance of clean water resource is the problem itself.
“Acknowledging the need for a health protocol, especially during times like this pandemic, is a step in the right direction. Having an integrated food safety system in place will enable F&B manufacturers and players to deliver high-quality and safe products at all times and ensure overall business and worker health at the same time,” Lukman said.
Strengthening sanitation guidelines and practices
The government has a key role in establishing solid health and sanitation practices across industries, Lukman noted. “Government initiatives set the parameters by which businesses and manufacturers and their respective personnel can resume operations and serve their stakeholders without increasing the risk of spreading the virus,” he said.
In Indonesia, Lukman said the Ministry of Health has issued guidelines for the prevention and control of COVID-19 in offices and industrial workplaces. The Ministry of Trade, meanwhile, has provided guidelines for submitting applications for licensing for the implementation of industrial activities.
To help businesses and workers deal with the new normal, the guidelines from the Ministry of Health provide mechanisms for managing workplaces and protecting workers. Workplace protocols include awareness-raising measures for workers, hygiene and sanitation in the workplace, physical distancing in work areas, wearing of protective equipment and creation of an isolation facility for workers showing symptoms, all of which are also meant to protect the workforce from the virus whilst also ensuring efficiency and productivity.
Closer collaboration between the government and industry associations further helps provide the F&B industry with the needed assistance and roadmap for the future. Joint initiatives, according to Lukman, can aid in facility licensing and operation, raw material handling, processing arrangement, quality control and testing, final product handling and even waste management, where any improvements or increase in efficiency can translate into operational cost improvements and competitiveness boost.
An as industry association, GAPMMI assists its member companies on multiple aspects of the food business from food safety to labelling. To support the Indonesia F&B industry provide only healthy food products, GAPMMI works with members in the areas of food safety, processing, health and nutrition.
Manufacturers and companies, however, must establish their own long-term food safety and sanitation program or system and not rely merely on external factors such as help from the government and industry organisations. One important aspect of this program is a good traceability and information system from end to end.
Such a system allows for both internal and external traceability from farm for raw material sourcing through consumer phase. Across the different stages, various technologies can be tapped for tracking and monitoring such as the internet, wireless identification and sensor programs and location-based techniques.
Innovations in the F&B industry for end-to-end traceability, food safety and quality assurance are critical for sustainability and greater global competitiveness. In Indonesia, where the F&B industry is a key driver of overall economic growth, the government has included the sector in the top five industries prioritised for the shift to Industry 4.0.
Implementing Industry 4.0 in the F&B industry will enable manufacturers to boost traceability across the production chain, with all processes and equipment interconnected and data across all stages easily accessed and archived. In addition to a more efficient monitoring of tasks, deliverables and quality, manufacturers can track down products even after they leave the factory.
F&B manufacturers embracing Industry 4.0 can use the internet of things, artificial intelligence, big data, robotics and even 3D printing to boost factory productivity, increase growth opportunities and mitigate risks across the manufacturing cycle.
In Indonesia, Lukman said the F&B industry is being prepared for Industry 4.0. The sector is still expected to grow this year despite the slowdown caused by the pandemic, and the government supports innovations to ensure continued growth.
Lukman acknowledges the importance of innovation but stresses the need for a holistic approach to food safety management that combines technology, standards compliance and certification, frequent monitoring and evaluation, and workforce competency upgrades.
“If we want to sustain the F&B industry, we have to implement food safety and sanitation more strictly. Regulation is sufficient. The challenges lie in the implementation. We know that many companies, especially small and medium ones, are sometimes not aware of food sanitation principles and regulations or are not willing to educate themselves about these issues. This presents a challenge for associations such as GAPMMI and the government.
We must continue to educate manufacturers on the importance of sanitation and complying with guidelines to ensure the factory is clean and sanitised to produce good-quality products, especially now during the pandemic. All these things we must do to build brand image and maintain consumer trust,” Lukman said.
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