Despite an abundance of healthy foods, most Americans aren’t making healthy choices.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, only 10% of adults eat enough fruits and vegetables, while 90% are consuming too much sodium. These poor health choices have real repercussions, including heart disease, which is the leading cause of death in the U.S., killing one person every 34 seconds and costing the nation $229 billion each year.
With such clear and severe consequences, why don’t Americans eat healthier? Some cite high cost and limited access, while others appreciate the convenience of prepackaged foods and don’t believe they have the time to prepare wholesome options at home. A study by New York University found Americans are eating more processed foods which may contribute to obesity and other diseases.
Many people might ask: “What is healthy eating?” Since the term is often used as a marketing gimmick, the Food and Drug Administration is now stepping in to provide some clarity around the true meaning of “healthy.”
FDA has proposed new requirements for food manufacturers using the word on their packaging. Under the proposed new definition, “healthy” products would need to:
A cereal, for example, would need to contain three-quarters of an ounce of whole grains, and no more than one gram of saturated fat, 230 milligrams of sodium and 2.5 grams of added sugars, per serving.
The plan will also introduce a unique and recognizable symbol to enable food and beverage consumers to make educated choices. By creating an easy-to-identify marker, shoppers can quickly recognize which products serve as the foundation for healthy eating habits.
The proposed new guidelines don’t start on the grocery shelf. Food and beverage producers could be held to higher FDA standards to vouch for the health value of their products, not only on the production line, but also for the raw materials they use.
To ensure that customers can trust the claims made on food packaging, manufacturers must know exactly where their raw materials originate, and the makeup of their final products. This requires a comprehensive view of every stage of a product’s lifecycle, from sourcing to delivery.
The food and beverage industry has seen a tremendous impact from smart manufacturing approaches, along with advances in traceability. Smart manufacturing systems could flag when products aren’t meeting the proposed new “healthy” FDA standards. The technology can also be used to pinpoint affected batches of products during recalls.
The quality-management systems (QMS) that many producers are already using can also ensure that the new health standards are being met, by validating the ingredients in the final product. In the case of cereal, a smart manufacturing system and QMS allow manufacturers to authenticate that they have enough whole grains, and not too much saturated fat or sodium, for their products to be considered healthy.
The goal of smart manufacturing is to identify opportunities for automating operations, and use data analytics to improve performance. In food and beverage production, it can support compliance with the proposed FDA regulations. By embracing such systems, manufacturers make it possible for consumers to select nutrient-rich options, and limit the bad stuff, too.
Jim Bresler is director of product management, food and beverage at Plex Systems, Inc.
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