The USDA celebrated National Food Safety Education Month this year by focusing on helping to prevent cross-contamination. They advised that the “key to avoiding cross-contamination is to keep raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs separate from foods that won’t be cooked before you eat them (ready-to-eat foods).” The USDA outlined several steps to help avoid cross-contamination all the way from the grocery store to your plate.
It’s a serious problem. The US Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that each year roughly 1 in 6 Americans (or 48 million people) gets sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die of foodborne diseases.
Foodborne illnesses are one type of food safety problem. Another is physical contaminants.
As food moves throughout the processing and packaging facility, there is potential for metal object contamination. There is cutting and processing machinery that can become loose, break down and wear out. As a result, sometimes small pieces of machinery can end up in a product or package. Metal contaminants can also be accidentally introduced in the form of nuts, bolts and washers, or pieces that have broken off from mesh screens and filters. Even metal from broken farm equipment can get lost in bulk raw materials and get carried unknowingly into the plant. There are non-metal types of contaminants as well — like plastic, bones, glass, and rocks — that could have been dug up from the soil during harvest. We outlined some of these dangers in Where are the Risks for Contamination in a Food Processing Plant? and noted that unwanted items could contaminate the food production process via incoming raw materials or during processing and packaging.
With foodborne illnesses, safety relies on the human factor to help prevent food poisoning — in the form of proper cleaning, separating, cooking and temperature control. For physical contaminants, consumers must rely on food manufacturers and processors to have the right food safety equipment and programs in place. There are Industrial food metal detectors to help inspect food and detect unwanted metallic contamination and remove any contaminated packages from the process. The newest multiscan metal detectors are capable of scanning up to five user-selectable frequencies running at a time, offering one of the highest probability of finding ferrous, non-ferrous, and stainless steel metal contaminants. Food X-ray inspection systems detect both metallic and non-metallic foreign object contaminants as well as provide product integrity data to help ensure quality. X-ray detection and inspection systems are designed for a wide variety of food applications and package types, including cans and bottles.
The USDA keeps a Product Recall list for product contamination to help protect the public health. If you’re a consumer, you don’t want any of those products in your fridge or pantry. If you’re a food manufacturer, you hope you won’t see your brand on the list. Either way, you should follow food safety guidelines.
Consider yourself educated this month on food safety… and you can check our food safety resources (application notes, ebooks, white papers, etc.) on our Food Weighing and Inspection website pages all year round.