The food industry takes many precautions to ensure that any food that reaches consumers is free of contaminants like metal, glass and stone, which can enter a product or package during processing. There are x-ray inspection systems and food metal detectors that can find such contaminants.
But what if a piece of metal is found in a product at the end of the production line? In this case, the package is rejected and taken out of circulation, but good quality-assurance and quality-control managers will then try to find the source of the problem so that the issue won’t arise again. Now, they have technology that can help them do just that.
The food production industry is run on machinery that can break down and wear out. As a result, sometimes small pieces of that machinery end up in a product or package. Metal can be accidentally introduced in the form of loose pieces of equipment, like nuts, bolts and washers, or it can break off from other parts, like mesh screens and filters. If one of those pieces of metal causes a reject occurrence, it also means that somewhere along the line, a piece of machinery could be missing crucial fasteners, connectors or components. Therefore, in addition to becoming a potential contaminant that could reach customers and cause a recall, that piece of metal could mean that the machinery is compromised and might stop working properly, or that pieces of metal will continue to break off and enter the production line.
In a large production plant with many, sometimes hundreds, of machines, with thousands of metal pieces that can potentially become a hazard, how does a food manufacturer avoid these safety issues and protect its brand?
Trying to find the source of the problem may take many hours, if indeed it can be found at all. Production lines often need to be shut down, which results in lost time and revenue. Now there’s technology that can help in the hunt.
The online news site Food Processing recently published an article about a technology that is new to the food industry. This technology can help find the source of metal contamination. The article introduces the idea that “Handheld X-ray fluorescence (HHXRF) technology now allows you to conduct spectral fingerprints of your production line to determine the source of the metal contamination for quick action and repair.”
XRF technology has been around for a long time as a non-destructive analytical technique for determining the elemental composition of materials. XRF analyzers determine the chemistry of a sample by measuring the fluorescent (or secondary) x-ray emitted from a sample when it is excited by a primary x-ray source. Each of the elements present in a sample produces a set of characteristic fluorescent x-rays (a “fingerprint”) that is unique for that specific element. Manufacturers use XRF to ensure metal products meet specifications, scrapyards and recycling centers use it to sort different types of metals, and the oil and gas industry uses it to help ensure pipeline metal integrity. But using XRF to analyze metal in a food production environment is a new concept.
How would it work? Basically, food manufacturers would analyze equipment in their plant and get the elemental composition of the different items. Then a library of pieces with their “metal ingredients” would be entered into the analyzer. A piece of metal found in a rejected product could be compared to the library of metal equipment pieces.
According to the Food Processing article, this technology will be discussed during an upcoming seminar series at foodpro 2017, Australasia’s largest food manufacturing and processing exhibition:
Raymond White, who developed Nestle Oceania’s Foreign Body Identification program in 2004 and is currently responsible for Zone AOA (Australia, Oceania, Africa), Nestle Quality Assurance Centre Laboratory Safety Champion and Foreign Body Identification expert Nestle Oceania, is presenting ‘A New Era in Foreign Body Identification — Learn How to Protect Your Brand’ as part of foodpro’s seminar series. Raymond’s presentation will be held during foodpro at 2 pm on 17 July in the seminar room on level 3 of the ICC exhibition building. All sessions are free to attend, with no bookings required.
The article also mentions that HHXRF also allows one to obtain a glass register within a factory. A quick check against the glass register using HHXRF will determine whether a glass fragment is factory-related or not.
Food manufacturers who consider consumer safety to be of utmost importance use multiple metal detectors and x-ray inspection systems throughout their facilities. Now, they have technology that can bring their safety measures to the next level and help their plants run more efficiently.
A New Era in Foreign Body Identification
July 17, 2017, 2:00 pm
ICC Sydney, Darling Harbour