2022 Recap: Our Top 5 Blog Posts of the Year

This past year has been a big one in the food and beverage industry, with new technology rolling out and (some) supply chain constraints waning. While new trends and practices are already appearing for 2023, it’s critical for manufacturers to reflect on 2022’s challenges and successes when planning for the one ahead.

That’s why we’re revisiting the topics our readers found most useful this year. From coffee trends to labor availability to cyberattacks, here are the five most popular Food for Thought posts of 2022.

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How to Choose the Best Process Valve Solution for Your Food and Beverage Facility

Designing the processing system for a food and beverage facility is a lot like doing a jigsaw puzzle. You can probably force many of the pieces to fit into various spaces. However, if you do not find the perfect fit, you’ll ultimately wind up with holes and weaknesses in your finished puzzle — or in this case, elevated food safety and quality risks that may cost your business valuable time and money.

To make an educated decision about valve selection, owners and their construction partners should consider the different types of valves available in the market and how they will interact with other components in the individual facility’s production lines.

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Selecting the Best Drainage Systems for Food & Beverage Processing

Whether you’re building a new facility or upgrading an existing one, it’s vital to have a well-designed drainage system throughout your processing areas. In fact, the North American Meat Institute (NAMI) lists the prevention of liquid accumulation as one of the top three principles of sanitary facility design

Poor drainage in a food and beverage facility can impede the sanitation process and greatly affect overall food safety. Meanwhile, proper drainage design speeds up cleaning and reduces health and safety risks for both workers and production. 

When done incorrectly, your facility’s drainage system can contaminate ingredients and products that then must be discarded, directly impacting your bottom line. In addition, recalls caused by product contamination can damage both your company’s reputation and your product category.

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Choosing the Best Flooring Material for Food & Beverage Processing Areas

The flooring systems in food and beverage processing areas are an essential component of the facility’s daily operation. Whether you’re evaluating flooring in a food production, storage or welfare space, the floor’s cleanability, resilience, durability and surface characteristics are integral to the space’s sanitation and safety. 

Selecting the appropriate flooring system for each area is an important and nuanced operational and budgetary decision, especially in a highly regulated industry like food processing. The decision requires careful consideration in the earliest stages of the design and construction process.

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How Ergonomics Affect Employee Wellness (and What Manufacturers Can Do to Improve it)

Americans have been quitting their jobs in record numbers since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The so-called Great Resignation is significantly impacting the food and beverage industry. In response, many industry leaders are focusing on ergonomics strategies to improve employee comfort and safety, and in turn, retention. 

“If the workplace is designed to meet peoples’ needs, it demonstrates the employer’s commitment and enables employees to be fully engaged in the workplace,” says Jeff Sanford, an ergonomics expert at VelocityEHS, a provider of environmental health and safety (EHS) solutions.

Sanford recently spoke at a webinar hosted by Food Processing magazine, in which he shared best practices for improving ergonomics and employee safety within the food and beverage industry.

The goal of ergonomics is to prevent soft-tissue injuries and musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) caused by sudden or sustained exposure to force, vibration, repetitive motion and bad posture. This is especially important in the U.S. food and beverage industry, which has the highest lost-workday incidence (LWDI) across all industries with a rate of 6.5 injuries and illnesses per 100 full-time workers, compared to the standard of 3.3.

These numbers especially matter in today’s competitive labor market. A recent study on ergonomics cited in the webinar found employee turnover dropped anywhere from 23% to 49% within companies that employed an ergonomics strategy. Meanwhile, the same study found absenteeism dropped between 42% and 116%. These statistics could help some processing facilities justify the cost of implementing ergonomic changes. 

What can facility owners and plant managers do to improve employee ergonomics? Below are some common issues and solutions shared during the webinar.

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6 Ways Vertical Commissioning Can Benefit Your Next Food Facility Project

Signing on a new construction or renovation project presents an exciting time for food manufacturing owners ready to embark on the next stage of their business plan. A commissioning partner who uses a vertical start-up model can help ensure a smooth project handover.

Traditionally, commissioning occurs as construction nears completion when engineers begin installing and testing equipment to guarantee production lines will run properly. However, my experience is that waiting until the end to conduct system integration, simulations and automation can prolong start-up and cost owners valuable time, money and resources.

Applying best practices for commissioning and coordinating with owner equipment manufacturers (OEMs) early on can ensure facilities achieve full performance much faster and at a fraction of the cost compared to traditional methodologies. 

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Factors to Consider Before Using a Spec Building for a Food and Beverage Facility

If you’re considering sites for a new facility, you may come across listings for speculative (“spec”) buildings. Developers often construct these basic, pre-engineered buildings in anticipation of a future tenant, and they can be attractive for owners looking for a new space.

Upfront, spec buildings offer to reduce costs by cutting out design and construction steps from a tenant’s to-do list — but there’s a catch. Food and beverage manufacturing has unique needs and it’s impossible to guarantee a spec building will meet them without retrofitting. Although leasing a spec building may be attractive to manufacturers who want to ramp up production quickly, there is the potential that they will incur additional costs the owner wasn’t anticipating.

It can be a valuable option in certain situations, but there are factors to consider before making a final decision.

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Will COVID-19 Change the Future of Food Plant Design?

The COVID-19 pandemic brought a number of immediate and temporary changes to daily life: reduced occupancy limits, partitions, social distancing, one-way stairwells and more.

While these short-term adaptations were necessary to mitigate the spread of the virus, will the pandemic change the way facilities are built in the long term? The likely answer is, not dramatically.

However, it is shaping the way we think about designing these spaces. Let’s look at some examples of trends we may see in the post-COVID era.

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Remote Work Solutions We’re Making Routine Even After the Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic forced many companies to improvise as the sudden shift to remote working disrupted “business as usual” for a lot of employees. At Stellar, we had emergency plans in place to allow for an easy shift to remote work — and it was so successful that the company adopted a full-time work-from-home model for the majority of its workforce.

With restrictions easing and vaccines more readily available, we’re slowly returning to some sense of normalcy. And while there are plenty of things we won’t miss about pandemic life, there are tools and strategies that flourished over the past year that yielded more efficient, predictable and accurate project results for our clients. Let’s look at a few that are here to stay:

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An Inside Look at Sunsweet’s Prune Processing Facility in South America [PHOTOS]

Sunsweet, a grower-owned cooperative based in California, is the world’s largest and most famous brand of dried tree fruits. When the company decided to expand their prune processing facility in Chile, they partnered with Stellar to plan, design and navigate the international construction process.

Today, the processing facility is a full-fledged operation supporting Sunsweet’s ongoing growth. Given its complexity and the company’s investment in cutting-edge features, the plant also serves as a “learning lab” where Sunsweet can test ideas and experiment with different processing efficiencies that will be applied to its future facilities.

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