In this age of terrorism, food processors must be careful about preventing tampering with their products, a food safety expert told the audience at the Louisiana Food Processors Conference in Baton Rouge.
Michael Cramer, vice president of food safety and quality assurance for Specialty Brands Inc. of Ontario, Calif., told representatives of the Louisiana food processing industry and associated companies they must be prepared for emergencies and expect increased governmental rules.
"Once you increase fear, there’s increased regulatory action," he said.
The day-and-a-half meeting March 3-4 was co-sponsored by the LSU AgCenter’s Department of Food Science and the Louisiana Department of Economic Development. About 200 registered for the second annual event, according to conference organizers.
"Food processing represents one of the most important economic development industry segments for Louisiana," said Dr. Mike Moody, head of the food science department and one of the conference organizers. "Louisiana has more potential for value-added processing."
Moody said increased activity in food processing can increase stable jobs for the state in the future.
The food processing industry is worth $500 billion nationally and $5 billion in Louisiana, said Kelsey Short, director of agriculture/forestry/food processing for the Department of Economic Development.
He said the industry’s challenges include regulatory compliance and technology, which were central topics for the conference.
"Louisiana has more potential for value-added processing than anywhere else in the country – and maybe even the world," Moody said.
He cited the state’s advantages of raw materials, international ports and transportation – including the Mississippi River and Gulf of Mexico.
"When you think of Louisiana, you think of food," Moody said. "It’s only natural."
Dr. John Surak of Clemson University also spoke to the group about statistical process control and its importance in the success of a food company.
"To utilize Louisiana’s image as a marketing tool, the product has to be consistent," Surak said. "Quality is a journey without end."
Food processing is an important part of the Louisiana economy, said Dr. Wes Harrison, an economist with the LSU AgCenter.
Harrison said the food processing industry’s contribution to gross state product in 2001 was $1.6 billion, third only to petroleum refining and chemical manufacturing.
Food processing is responsible for nearly 20,000 of the state’s nearly 1.6 million jobs, with 424 food processing establishments in Louisiana, Harrison said.
"Food processing represents 12.3 percent of manufacturing in Louisiana compared to 7.6 percent nationally," he said.
The economist pointed out that in addition to processing, the Louisiana food industry includes allied businesses, such as agricultural production, packaging, distribution and food retail and service companies.
In addition to general sessions, the conference included several workshops covering such topics as low-acid and acidified foods, microbiology, sensory analysis, seafood processing and red meat and poultry.
Along with the LSU AgCenter and the Louisiana Department of Economic Development, other conference sponsors included the Baton Rouge Chamber of Commerce, Air Liquide, BlenTech and Greater New Orleans Inc.