Protecting food before, during and after Covid-19

By 09 Jul 2020

Laurence Mott, executive vice-president of development and engineering, Tetra Pak, talks about food safety from end-to-end, industry collaboration along with stringent standards to protect food.

Laurence Mott, executive vice-president of development and engineering, Tetra Pak

Almost a year ago, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) launched the World Food Safety Day on 7 June, for the first time. This marked a significant milestone that brings food safety into sharp focus. The many efforts and countless behind the scenes activities, whether it is to grow, produce, distribute or prepare food, everything is connected to ultimately ensure that food is safe, and that people get access to daily nutrition.

Can you imagine having the kind of challenges we have today under Covid-19, but without being able to store vital products like milk, juice and water? It would be an impossible situation.

The current crisis is putting the importance of aseptic technology in acute relief. People can rely on our solutions to keep food safe, and store for long periods of time without the need for refrigeration or preservatives. And I think that is incredibly comforting.

It’s not only about Covid-19

We’re building on more than 60 years’ experience in food safety.

What aseptic systems rely on is sterilising the product — the juice, the milk, or any other product will go into a package that has been sterilised on both the inside and outside. Our customers then fill in the package in an environment where no bacteria can enter, and because there's no presence of bacteria, the product cannot spoil. It's as simple as that.

And because bacteria are much more robust than a virus, particularly the Coronavirus that can lead to Covid-19, there's absolutely no chance of it surviving in an aseptic system. In fact, our systems are much more effective than what's required to kill the virus.

What the packaging material does in addition to preventing spoiling agents like bacteria, is it also protects the product inside from light and oxygen and external odours, as well as from being tampered with, and this allows it to sit on the shelf for up to a year.

The challenge, of course, is designing a system that you can guarantee that it works every time. This is basically what national standards require and what we, of course, require of ourselves.

The extra steps we are now taking are not only on protecting the integrity of our products, but rather the supply of our products and the protection of people working in the factories that produce them.

Meeting stringent food safety standards  

We do not compromise on food safety. Period. It's a promise we make on every package we produce, as well as being a part of our vision and our mission to protect what's good and make food safe and available everywhere. It's also at the very core of how we work and the processes and procedures that support us. We have a very clear food safety policy which stipulates what our food safety assessments are based upon and provides very clear guidelines and rules of engagement, as well as the responsibilities of all the various organisations who work within the company.

The policy is then reflected in the various processes around the way that we design, develop and maintain a product through its lifetime. What matters is not only our packaging, but also our capital equipment both for processing and packaging, including additional materials like our caps, closures, straws and how we service those systems for our customers.

Starting with our packaging material, it must comply with the standards set by the European Union, the US. Food and Drug Administration, and the Chinese National Standards. This means we have a global specification for our packaging material and our additional material that is underpinned by those three legislative systems.

Under our policy all products and services across Tetra Pak’s processing and packaging systems are required to achieve compliance with regulations and the intention of the Codex Alimentarius or Food Code. This is a collection of internationally recognized standards, codes of practice, guidelines, and other recommendations relating to foods, food production, and food safety. The Food Code is maintained by the World Health Organisation.

We do not allow products into the market unless they satisfy all three. The result is one very high standard that is basically all those standards combined. You can imagine taking the best elements of them and saying, right, what are the most stringent things we must do to meet in all three of them? That is our standard.

How do we ensure we meet the standards?

By way of some very clear rules of engagement around how we source our materials.  On top of that, our product creation and our life cycle management processes stipulate that we must pass very stringent tollgates, including clear food safety criteria, in order to launch and to maintain a product in the field. And all of this must be certified so it can be audited by our customers and by authorities if required.

As a company, we have several non-negotiables around the quality attributes of our products. Number one is aseptic performance, followed by end-to-end equipment efficiency, robustness of the package up to consumption, packaging material quality and compliance to food safety.

Improving performance products and knowledge

We understand how vital it is that we constantly monitor our standard practices and develop our chains of custody, where supply chain responsibility, documentation and transparency are managed.  As we work towards keeping food safe along the chain from end-to-end, we are continuously improving the performance of our products. That's why we introduced electron beam technology.

We are continuously looking for technological improvements and to test and prove them from a product robustness perspective. We are developing our knowledge and capability, particularly around understanding what materials are permissible to use to manufacture our products, as well as things like the food migration levels into plastic, and shelf-life models.

And to support this process, we have an exceptionally well-trained service engineer population, which maintains the equipment in the right state at our customer's facilities.

Maintaining food safety

We have assessed the risk of whether the Coronavirus may affect the safety or suitability of Tetra Pak packaging materials, additional materials, packaging equipment, processing equipment and spare parts. We can confirm that irrespective of the outbreak our products remain safe for food production.

We are still learning from the current situation, maintaining our supplies and how best to continue supporting our customers. The lessons we've learned about remote working, working from home, remote tools, how to do workshops and conferences virtually, and how you collaborate together without actually being physically present have been incredibly valuable, and some of the new approaches will almost certainly continue.

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