Editor’s Note: This is an overview of a recent webinar that is now available on-demand: You can watch it here: Reducing vulnerability to foreign object contamination in the food processing industry.
Let’s look at contamination risks as they relate to the food processing industry, and how food weighing and inspection technologies can help reduce those risks.
Contaminated or incorrectly labeled food presents a danger to consumers, and if such products reach the market, they must be recalled quickly to avoid potential harm.
There are three primary reasons for product recalls in the food processing industry:
- Contamination. Contamination events can be caused by:
- foreign objects (metal or glass for example),
- pathogens (such as ecoli or salmonella), or
- chemicals (most likely cleaning chemicals or high concentrations of fertilizers)
Any of these events can trigger a recall, and recalls are expensive. The average direct cost (including scrap, administration and lost sales) of a food product recall in the US is close to $10M but can end up being much higher — up to $100M in the case of a very large event.
Manufacturers need to also consider the indirect costs:
- Reputational brand damage, which can take a long time to recover. Social media is a powerful and influential force in the marketplace. When something goes bad with your company or product, remember that millions of eyes can see it instantly. Customer complaints can run rampant, go viral and spur other consumers to share their own complaints against your company. And even if you immediately address any problems and help the initial consumer so they are satisfied, the ugly thread of conversation can be restarted by anyone who comes across an old post, and it may pop up in a search about your company or product. It can resurface anytime. (Read How Social Media Can Damage Your Food Brand.)
- Ongoing costs such as increases in insurance premiums.
In addition to these cost control motives, there are even more important reasons to avoid shipping contaminated products: regulatory compliance (including the U.S. Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) Preventive Controls (PC) rule), compliance with retailer requirements, and of course, consumer safety.
How do physical contaminants reach the consumer and how can they be avoided?
Let’s take a look at the food supply chain. Food processing turns agricultural products into consumable food. The closer you get to the farm, the closer you get to many foreign objects. Most raw foods and ingredients originate in a natural environment such as a field, an orchard or a farm. As the food is harvested, foreign objects such as stones or glass can end up commingled and transported into the processing plant.
There are additional areas of contamination risk from the suppliers, like bones in meat, poultry or seafood.
As the food moves into the processing and packaging facility, there is potential for more foreign object contaminants. The food production industry uses cutting and processing machinery that can become loose, break down and wear out. As a result, sometimes small pieces of that machinery can end up in a product or package. Metal and plastic contaminants can be accidentally introduced in the form of nuts, bolts and washers, or pieces that have broken off from mesh screens and filters. Other contaminants are glass shards resulting from broken or damaged jars and even wood from the pallets used to move goods around the factory.
Manufacturers can protect against such risk by inspecting incoming materials and auditing suppliers to ensure quality at the beginning of the process, and then inspecting products after each major processing step as well as at the end of production before products are shipped.
How to Protect Against Physical Contaminants
There are 3 main protection methodologies that manufacturers have at their disposal to prevent such escapes:
- Prevention – designing equipment and processes to minimize the risk of contamination in the first place
- Detection – the use of inspection equipment during processing and as a final check to ensure products are contaminant free (necessary because while 100% prevention is an admirable goal it is rarely achievable in practice)
- Investigation – Understanding what went wrong when contaminated products are found, and, importantly, enhancing processes to avoid recurrence
Technologies to Help Avoid Recalls
There are food X-ray detection and inspection systems that are utilized to help find glass, rocks, bones or plastic pieces. Food X-ray inspection systems detect based on density differences between the product and the contaminant. As an X-ray penetrates a food product, it loses some of its energy. A dense area, such as a contaminant, will reduce the energy even further. As the X-ray exits the product, it reaches a sensor. The sensor then converts the energy signal into an image of the interior of the food product. Foreign matter appears as a darker shade of grey and helps identify foreign contaminants.
If your main concern is metal, wires, or mesh screen contamination in small, dry products, then you should choose a metal detector. Metal detectors use high frequency radio signals to detect the presence of metal in food or other products. 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.
A food checkweigher is equipment used for reliable weight control to check and confirm that the weight of food goods inline or after packaging during final inspection against a predefined weight limit specified on the package. They can also count and reject for a seamless quality control solution even in rugged plant environments. This can help minimize waste, prevent errors, and reduce the risk of regulatory non-compliance — guarding against Incorrect labelling.
Want to learn more? I’ve discussed all this and more in an on-demand webinar: Reducing vulnerability to foreign object contamination in the food processing industry.
Watch the video: Reducing vulnerability to foreign object contamination in the food processing industry