By Jason Chow
Corporate Accounts Regional Head of Ecolab's Asia Pacific Food & Beverage Division
and the Country Manager of Malaysia
Access to affordable food is one of the biggest challenges facing our world today. With Covid, we saw the pandemic severely disrupt food supply chains and the situation has worsened with the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict. We’ve even seen it impact South-East Asia, with Malaysia announcing an export ban on chicken from June 1, 2022, to preserve local supplies.
Beyond current food shortages, the long-term outlook is equally challenging. Consider, for example, that by the end of this decade there will be another billion people on our planet. That will require an increase of 35% in food supplies and 40% in freshwater. As our population heads towards 10 billion, it is increasingly clear we need innovative ways to keep our food safer across an expanding global supply chain.
And while reductions in the food supply are (rightly) grabbing the headlines the issue highlights another side to the challenge we should consider – making our food sector more efficient. According to the UN, 14% of the world's food is lost before it even reaches the market. And through recalls, failures, poor transport, storage, processing, etc. over $400 billion of food – equivalent to the GDP of Austria – ends up in landfills each year. In South-East Asia we are responsible for 25% of that.
Consumer concerns around food quality are real too. One report on the supply chain found that 73% of people say illness or death from eating contaminated food is their biggest fear. As customers become more demanding, food producers must optimize their processes to improve food safety and quality, to ensure their businesses remains profitable. The good news is that if they do this, it also minimizes food loss – critical at a time when every crop counts.
While there is much that companies can do (and are doing) to maximize the efficiency of food supply chains, one area is critical – cleaning and sanitation. And here companies such as Ecolab play a vital role in helping producers develop multi-faceted approaches.
(Photos: iStock courtesy of Ecolab)
It's time to shift – real-world inspiration
To drive more efficient food production, the first component to get right is the focus. If companies target Net Zero operations, they will find achieving better food safety comes more easily. Targeting Net Zero operations that involve water is especially important. And in food production, water is present at just about every stage. Given so much energy is used in heating, cooling, and using water, it follows that reducing this will automatically lower energy costs and emissions.
But aside from the Net Zero focus, there are other practical steps companies can take to increase efficiency in good production. Here sanitation solutions provide a big help. Take, for instance, biofilm which can often be found in food production plants and is a cause of contamination and inconsistent quality. Facilities using Ecolab's Synergex solution on food contact surfaces have shown 6 Log reductions in biofilm at a no-rinse concentration. These results mean Synergex is an EPA-approved solution for Biofilm removal.
At two Ecolab customers' milk production facilities, for example, Synergex was shown to penetrate the tough biofilm surface and kill both pseudomonas aeruginosa and Listeria monocytogenes. Through this, one customer was able to achieve three additional days of shelf life (enabling additional annual sales of $1 million) while the other saw a reduction in product quality variability by 41%.
Another advanced solution from Ecolab is the Tsunami 100 anti-microbial water additive that reduces pathogens in process wash water. For a frozen strawberry producer, switching to Tsunami 100 from chlorine improved log reduction by 1.8 to 19 times.
Digital food production – it can be done
Ecolab has a wealth of experience from serving customers that deliver 25% of food production and 42% of milk production worldwide. Through this we recognize that to be efficient and effective, digitalization and automation are key. Food producers increasingly want visibility and transparency across their production sites. Without digital solutions, this is not only costly and labor-intensive, but it also delivers variable standards in data quality.
At Ecolab, we have our 3D TRASAR digital solution to offer precisely the kind of continuous, high-quality monitoring companies need. It is used by some of the world's biggest brands to oversee their production processes, including Kraft Heinz which installed it at their central California plant to help ensure consistent cleaning on every level – microbiological, physical, and chemical. Ultimately, the company aimed to make gains here to drive more efficient use of resources overall.
At the outset of the 3D TRASAR project, sensors were installed in two of the plant's cleaning and sanitation systems. These send data to a secure server, and the client rapidly saw the benefits of data analysis. It revealed several issues, including a leak in the heat exchanger, and the potential for reducing wash time by more than 2,000 hours, saving over $204,000 in addition to over $33,500 in energy savings. The use of sanitizer chemicals was also reduced, being slashed by 50% and saving US$7,300. Yet food safety was improved, thanks to the early identification of 1,800 emerging issues.
Another Ecolab customer to take advantage of remote monitoring capabilities is dairy producer Umpqua, which installed 3D Trasar Technology for CIP (Clean-In-Place) at a facility. With this, the company achieved comprehensive visibility into its cleaning procedures at a level traditional monitoring methods could not match. The digital solution eliminated the need for the manufacturer to go through 900 CIP charts per month, while wash conformance improved from 35% to 94%. In total, savings of over $112,000 were generated through the reduction of annual cleaning time and chemical cleaning costs.
Our future - it's time to make an impact
The use of advanced water, hygiene, and anti-microbial technologies can deliver sustainable business results. But it’s the latest technology, data, and insights that will enable us to dramatically improve outcomes. At Ecolab, we have set our own goals as we look to ‘walk the walk’ and not just 'talk the talk'. For instance, by 2030, we expect to save 300 billion gallons of drinking water - enough for the extra one billion people expected over the next decade.
Having an enhanced food safety program can significantly help companies meet their overall sustainability ambitions and maintain strong supply lines of safe food. It's time that every food production company revisited this vital area. From the very big, to the very small, we can all ask ourselves – ‘can we do more?’ And when we do, don't forget these five goals in planning:
· Climate neutrality and decarbonization – is the utilization of your resources optimized?
· Water use – are you looking into water reuse and recycling process optimization to reduce cleaning time and increase production time?
· Food safety – are you adopting solutions to increase food quality and safety while assessing and preventing safety risks and food waste?
· Farm to fork – are you looking at local sourcing and production, and evolving alongside consumer eating habits?
· Zero waste – are you moving towards sustainable packaging solutions?
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