In the past few years, the US FDA recalled many cookie products because of various reasons, including allergens and undeclared ingredients, like soybeans, nuts, tree nuts, egg, milk, and wheat. However, there was one recall that involved potential blue plastic pieces in chocolate chip cookies. The plastic was not baked into the product since it was introduced during the packaging process; however, the company warned that consumption of the plastic pieces may result in a choking hazard. The company announced the recall last year after receiving consumer reports of visible, blue plastic pieces found on or packaged with the product.
Most food processing companies utilize food safety equipment to help ensure that physical contaminants do not get through the production stream and get shipped out the door. With the amount of fast-moving conveyor belts, vibrating machinery, metal fasteners, glass objects, and worn plastic parts, it is crucial that food metal detectors and X-ray detection systems are utilized throughout the plant.
One characteristic in particular does factor in when it comes to choosing which type of technology to utilize: the packaging. Many cookies are now packaged in metalized film, sometimes referred to as foil.
We’ve previously written about Inspecting Snack Foods Through Metalized Film Packaging, and how spotting contaminants in metalized film is a challenge. Metallized films are plastics containing a thin layer of aluminum metal – which is great for keeping out air, moisture, and odors, but are not good candidates for inspection using metal detectors.
Metal detectors use radio frequency signals to detect the presence of metal in food or other products. Excitation of the metal film packaging creates an unruly signal that is difficult to compensate with metal detectors, and performance will suffer.
Food X-ray equipment is the better solution to address snack food inspection challenges that utilize metallized film or foil. X-ray systems produce images based on density and thickness that are analyzed for irregularities. X-ray inspection is one of the best lines of defense to identify the presence of foreign contaminants in food products before they have the chance to leave the processing plant. Unlike metal detectors that offer protection from many types of metal contaminants encountered in food production, X-ray systems can ‘ignore’ conductive packaging and find virtually any substance that is denser than the product containing it.
One cookie manufacturer sent us samples to test on our X-ray inspection equipment. Five different packages, covering 6.25 and 13 inches in length, 1.75 and 6.25 inches in width, 1 inch high, and weighing either 50g and 604.8g, were sent to our office. Samples were tested on a high power and standard resolution X-ray inspection system. Individual packages were passed through the system multiple times with and without contaminants.
The testing was performed in a controlled setting where the products were placed on the conveyor by hand and pieces of soda lime glass or a metal sphere was placed in the package. The X-rays can penetrate food products and detect physical defects or contaminants within the image of the food product — without damaging the food.
Food x-ray inspection systems do not use radioactive materials to generate X-rays. Instead they use X-ray tubes that are run at very high voltage where electrons are accelerated across a gap bombarding a tungsten material to generate X-rays. When the tube is turned off no X-ray energy is emitted. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) website: There are no known adverse effects from eating food, drinking beverages, using medicine, or applying cosmetics that have been irradiated by a cabinet x ray system used for security screening.
Here are the test results that showed minimum contaminant level detected 100% on 10 passes each.
As can be seen, small metal and glass contaminant sizes were detectable within the cookies. The cookie company can rest better knowing that by using Food X-ray inspection technology they have a better chance of shipping their cookies in metalized film packaging without a crumb of physical contaminants.