SKOWHEGAN — The Sappi Somerset Mill has recently received certification that its products meet safety standards for the food packaging industry, a distinction that keeps the company ahead of its competition.

Sappi announced Jan. 7 it is now certified to a Food Safety Management Standard that applies to all products produced at the paper mill.

The certification, known as ISO 22000, seeks to keep food safe through hygienic practices and traceability at all steps of the supply chain, according to the company.

In 2018, the Sappi Somerset Mill completed a rebuild of its Paper Machine 1, which has allowed the mill to shift from making only lighter, graphic-like papers to heavier paper used to make boxes.

“The biggest objective was to put in the kind of equipment that would allow the rebuilt machine to produce heavier weights with coating systems for adding different functional coatings,” Manager of Packaging Product Stewardship Lynne Palmer said of the rebuild.

“It gives us more flexibility to make different products for different performance characteristics.”

The mill in Skowhegan has a utility plant and pulp and paper mills, creating products with end uses that include magazines, catalogs, advertising brochures, packaging, pulp, and now food packaging. Other products include pet food bags, take-out boxes and popcorn bags.

“With this certification, we are now able to provide our customers in the food packaging industry with assurance out of the gate that our products meet the strict industry standards for safety,” Heather Pelletier, director of packaging brands at Sappi North America, said in a prepared statement.

“We continue to invest in and improve our mills to make sure our products meet our customers’ needs. This is an important next step in our journey as we continue to set the new standard for paperboard packaging.”

Palmer said the new certification puts Sappi ahead of some of its competition. Expanding into food packaging means Sappi works to ensure its products comply with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulations that cover food contact packaging.

“It assures our customers that they are buying a food-safe product,” she said.

The Somerset Mill is already certified to other standards for safety, quality and environmental management standards, which allow it to use existing management system infrastructure when implementing food safety practices, according to Palmer.

“We have the infrastructure to add the ISO 22000 aspects to an existing management system,” she said.

The investment at the Skowhegan mill, which employs about 725, has brought the facility’s annual production capacity to almost a million tons per year.

The rebuild took about a year and allowed the company to diversify its capacity and expand into paper-based packaging.

This story was updated Jan. 29, 2020.

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