Processing and distributing dairy products requires a high level of quality control and strict adherence to regulatory requirements. The goal is always to keep dairy products safe for consumption and free of bacterial and physical contaminants while maintaining weight specifications. The expanded range of packaging materials on the market—shelf-stable, biodegradable, metalized film, transparent, plastic, glass and paperboard—as well as variations in package sizes, from individual to large multipacks, adds to the complexity of the matter.
Fortunately, product inspection technology has advanced to keep pace with these changes. Product quality and safety can be ensured by using equipment to inspect and weigh packages at various locations throughout the process. These machines are customizable for specific applications with ease of use, from setup through sanitation.
Dairy products vary widely and include cheese, milk and related fresh dairy items, yogurt, ice cream, novelties, milk powder/whey protein concentrates, and sauces. Historically, detecting foreign metal objects in dairy products has been challenging, since metal detectors are often fooled by “product effect” with high-moisture, high-salt products like cheese. The conductive properties of these products affect the magnetic field, generating a signal indicating that metal is present when it is not. As such, dairy producers tend to use them for a limited group of products, such as novelties and other liquid-fill items.
X-ray inspection has emerged as a better inspection option, not only for finding foreign materials but for detecting quality defects such as missing or broken components. X-ray systems have become easier to use, more reliable and more affordable over the years.
Product weight consistency is also critical. To meet labeling requirements and ensure that consumers get what they pay for, checkweighers play a key role. They help control overfills, minimizing the amount of giveaway. Checkweighers can quickly detect package weight deviations, allowing fast adjustments that otherwise would lead to production downtime, costing time, materials and ingredients.
Any inspection technology used in a dairy plant must be robust, functional and fully cleanable. This includes sanitary harsh washdown and extreme temperature cycling. The equipment must also be designed to minimize the potential for bacteria to grow and be easy to disassemble for complete cleaning. While there are several inspection technologies used in dairy products, the location of this equipment is consistent. X-ray systems and metal detectors typically are positioned after the filling/sealing operation, while checkweighers follow. The exception is for pumped products using pipeline metal detectors, which generally are placed before filling.
Selecting the right inspection, detection and weighing technology depends on product attributes and materials, as well as the production environment. Watch for future posts where we will examine the challenges specific to each type of dairy product.
Can’t wait? Read the White Paper: Ensuring product quality and safety in the dairy industry.