SNAXPO 2012 enjoyed a busy exhibit floor at the Phoenix Convention Center March 16-19 as a conference program kicked off with a special Snack Food Association (SFA) 75th anniversary video outlining the beginning years of the snack food industry.

That was followed by a detailed discussion of the Food Safety Modernization Act, outlining major developments and cautioning snack food manufacturers to act without delay to meet the new law's new requirements. Concurrent educational sessions covered the importance of maximizing overall operational and equipment effectiveness in the manufacturing process, and a discussion about how snack foods fit into today's food environment that is increasingly concerned about health and wellness.

Expo attendees streamed into the exhibit hall to begin conversations with suppliers of equipment, technology, products and services before celebrating St. Patrick's Day at a late afternoon reception.

"We have been welcomed into the SFA family with wide-open arms," said Joshua Zars, business development manager at DSM Food Specialties, a first time exhibitor and attendee. "The people are coming by to see what we can do to help them. The show has just opened and we've already had such good traffic…"

"For us, it's a great networking opportunity," commented Chuck Shive, executive vice president-marketing at Mike-sell's Snack Food Co. "It's also an opportunity to see new equipment, meet suppliers and learn about things that we might not have thought of that might work for us."

Tom Oris, director of purchasing at Baptista's Bakery, attended his second SNAXPO, having joined the company just 18 months ago. "What I enjoy about being here is learning and having discussions about equipment from a packaging and ingredients perspective, all in one location,” he said. "It's about learning about the industry as well as getting specific pieces I need to run my business."

"I'm here for the contacts," acknowledged Staci Haase, sales representative for Packaging Products, Inc. "To see current customers and new products. I'm always interested in seeing the equipment, too."

Saturday's educational programming opened with a detailed analysis of the Food Safety and Modernization Act (FSMA) by Martin J. Hahn, a partner with Hogan Lovells US LLP, SFA's general counsel, who urged snack industry executives to waste no time in complying with the provisions of the law, now in the process of being implemented.

While Hahn pointed out that the Food and Drug Administration has yet to issue proposed regulations to implement key portions of the law, he said the FDA is far more aggressive than in previous years and has been given much broader authority regarding inspections, recalls and enforcement. He said the agency could easily shut down a plant's operation if there are questions--reasonable or not--about the safety of its manufacturing processes or its products.

The burden of proof also has been shifted by the new law to the manufacturer who must be able to document that its food processes are safe and in full compliance with the law. Prior to FSMA, the burden was on the FDA to show that a company's practices were unsafe and that food was adulterated.

Inspections will be much more frequent, Hahn warned, with every food manufacturing facility and warehouse inspected at least every five years and the inspections much more detailed and intense than in the past. Moreover, if reinspections are required, companies will be required to pay a fee of $224 per hour or $325 per hour for international plant inspections--fees that could end up totaling upwards of $20,000.

"Under President Obama, FDA inspections have drastically changed," Hahn said. "I think they have sent FDA inspectors to Mean School. They will insist that they have the right to take pictures and access your records."

Other main events included a session on tracking overall equipment effectiveness (OEE). The main purpose of such tracking, according to Pete Hock, senior director, continuous improvement at ConAgra Foods, Inc., is to inform and direct a company’s continuous improvement efforts. Hock and Paul Dash, plant director, Inventure Foods, Inc., gave a joint presentation on “OEE in Snack Food Operations,” during a breakout education session Saturday morning.

Impacting OEE are events that Hock called OEE losses. These include planned and unplanned downtime, target defects, initiative delivery, and quality defects. He said that companies should measure all losses that can occur, but later noted that the most expensive areas of loss are in unplanned downtime.

When asked how a company should determine the target rate for a line, Hock clarified that determining target rates should be SKU specific. “You need to identify the best sustainable rate for each SKU,” he said.