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Sunday, 04 August 2013 21:23

Food-based industry cluster takes root in Battle Creek

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Global Food Protection Institute. Global Food Protection Institute. COURTESY PHOTO

The passing of the Food Safety Modernization Act in 2010 helped open a new chapter for the Battle Creek area.

So said Julia Bradsher, president and CEO of the Global Food Protection Institute (GFPI), a nonprofit organization based in downtown Battle Creek that aims to use programs aligned with FDA standards to improve food safety around the world.

“The legislation requires a new culture of food safety for the entire food industry: food manufacturers, processors, importers, restaurants, and retailers,” said Joan Bowman, vice president of external affairs for GPFI. “They are required to develop and document food safety plans that identify and prevent hazards.”

Over the last year GFPI has had three symposia, each on a different but currently relevant topic in the food safety industry. In June, the institute co-hosted a seminar in Kalamazoo with MichBio, a nonprofit group that works with Michigan bioscience companies. The symposium focused on innovations in testing technology in Michigan.

“Food safety is an issue that impacts everyone, and GFPI is helping set a global standard for food safety practices,” Bowman said.

While the increased regulation over the industry may be controversial to some, the need for increased testing and the prevention of harmful pathogens in the food supply chain has brought about significant investment in the Cereal City.

Battle Creek, long home to major, international food manufacturers like Kellogg Co. and Post, is now starting to gain a reputation as a hub for food safety and testing.

In addition to the GFPI, New Jersey-based Covance Inc. in 2010 opened a 42,000-square-foot food-testing laboratory in Battle Creek. So far, the company has invested about $15 million and employs more than 60 people.

In June, Covance and economic development agency Battle Creek Unlimited were awarded the Best New Partnership, Merger, or Acquisition award at the Nutraceutical Business and Technology Awards, held in Geneva, Switzerland.

A number of biotech companies have also begun to spring up around the region. They include Lansing-based nanoRETE Inc., which is in the early stages of developing cutting-edge technology to test food for harmful pathogens.

While there is undoubtedly a significant change underway because of the development of next-generation food technology, many old technologies remain relevant in the food safety industry. Freezing, heating, canning, and water treatment are all still widely used, sources said.

J. Peter Clark, a contributing editor at Food Technology and keynote speaker at GFPI’s June event in Kalamazoo, characterized the food industry as being “conservative,” noting that change is “slow and hard.” He said the industry prefers to work toward the prevention of poor quality food rather than engage in testing.

“You can’t test your way out of trouble,” Clark said at the event.

It is not just higher standards and more regulation brought on by new legislation that is driving significant growth in the food testing and food safety industry around the Battle Creek area. GFPI’s CEO Bradsher noted that consumer trends are making increased testing necessary.

“The demand for year-round food (such as apples being supplied in the off-season) is part of what is driving demand for food safety,” Bradsher said at the institute’s June symposium.

While the Battle Creek area has had to weather the economic downturn of the last several years, the city’s rebirth is being aided in part by food-related businesses, including the continued investment by Post and Kellogg, which consolidated some of its offices into downtown Battle Creek as part of the city’s transformation plan. Both companies have also continued to invest in their manufacturing operations in the city.

There is still work to be done, but the boom in food safety and the clustering of companies in the region is more evidence of a return to normalcy for Battle Creek, sources said.

“Just as the medical device and pharma presence has led to many industry-related companies in greater Kalamazoo, it is a great opportunity for supportive and related companies of the food industry to develop in Battle Creek,” said GFPI’s Bowman.

Read 2704 times Last modified on Sunday, 04 August 2013 13:57

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