When it comes to producing snacks and baked foods, it’s always best to have all bases covered. While most bakeries rely on metal detection and X-ray systems to ensure food safety at the end of the line, inline devices on the front end can reduce downtime and a whole lot more.

In fact, many operations have discovered that installing a metal detector upstream of the processing line can prevent metal particles from damaging equipment.

“Depending on the production process, a metal detector and reject device can be installed ahead of any processing equipment to prevent damage by metal particles, bolts and other debris,” noted Todd Grube, manager of inspection systems, Heat and Control, Hayward, CA. “This includes mixers, extruders, grinders, peelers, slicers, sheeters and other processing and forming equipment. Detecting failed fasteners and bolts can also identify maintenance issues and forestall unexpected line shut-downs.”

Early detection

Food processors commonly use metal detectors in packaging operations, but putting these systems to work earlier in the process has many benefits, such as checking the quality of raw ingredients and minimizing the potential for contaminated products. In some cases, such inline safety systems can help bakers and snack processors identify the root cause of a problem.

“In the case of equipment failure, employing a metal detector gives processors better opportunity to determine the source of the contamination and minimize the amount of contaminated raw product,” explained Kelly Sharpe, marketing manager, Fortress Technology, Toronto. “Protecting machinery can save a company thousands of dollars in equipment repairs, and essentially, a metal detector can easily pay for itself or even make money for a company.”

That’s especially true at many high-speed bakeries where dividers typically kick out 150 to 200 loaves a minute or tens of thousands of buns an hour. Just a little chink in the system can result in dough wasted or underweighted products, possibly throughout the life of that equipment. An ounce of prevention could save a ton of dough.

As a result, many bakeries realize the importance of inspecting both raw materials and final packaged product. “A gravity feed unit can be used for powdered and granular ingredients sent to the blending process,” observed Geri Foley, metal detection sales manager, Mettler Toledo, Columbus, OH. “This ensures that, if metal is present in the product, it is removed and not further processed to smaller metal pieces, which may be more difficult to detect further downstream. Also, if the contaminant is removed upstream in the process, it saves money for the customer by reducing package waste when it is found later after packaging.”

Actually, metal detection in ingredient handling can provide the best first line of defense in a number of ways. “The smaller the aperture, the better the sensitivity and detection of metal contaminants,” Ms. Sharpe explained. “For this reason, processors are using metal detectors to check raw ingredients before they’re processed into dough where sensitivity can be less.”

Depending on the type of products being made and metal specification required, a metal detector can be placed virtually anywhere in the line, Ms. Foley said. “A gravity-feed metal detector is designed specifically to inspect dry free-flowing products, whereas a pipeline unit is designed to inspect semi-liquid fillings for pies,” she explained. “Rectangular detectors can be sized to inspect single packages or cartons of finished product.”

End of the line

In the past, many bread bakeries put metal detectors after coolers in the production process, according to Doug Pedersen, sales manager, inspection systems, S&S Inspection, Bartlett, IL. “By doing it before packaging, bakeries would need only one metal detector instead of three or four for each packaging line. However, the trend is changing,” he said.

Mr. Grube noted risk-averse bakers don’t want to take any chances. “After packaging, the metal detectors provide a final product check before shipping to protect consumers, customers and the food manufacturers’ brands and reputations,” he said.

Some bakeries now are even putting multiple detectors on production lines both before and after packaging at the request of retailers and foodservice chains. “Their customers are dictating complete inspection of a sealed package,” Mr. Pedersen said. “That is what is driving metal detection after the slicer. Double detection is always better than [using] one detector. When HACCP came about, people thought having one detector was fine, and it would catch everything. In ­reality, it doesn’t.”

Asking the right questions

Everyone agreed that bakers and snack producers need to exercise due diligence in determining which systems are the best fit for their operations.

“Many companies focus on price as the leading factor when purchasing equipment, but in reality, equipment should be chosen based on its ability to contribute to the company’s overall equipment effectiveness (OEE),” Ms. Foley explained.

She noted many factors contribute to OEE, including equipment reliability, automated data acquisition and support provided by the system vendor.

Even the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) may play a role. Some questions that should be asked of vendors include: How does your equipment handle vibration in the line? What is the average life expectancy of your equipment? What connectivity solutions do you offer? Does your solution make it easy to meet the new FSMA data regulations? What aftermarket support do you offer? Do you have 24/7 support? “These questions should be asked since a bakery’s sole focus should be on producing high-quality product while minimizing downtime as much as possible,” Ms. Foley said.

Ms. Sharpe suggested film, foil and other types of packaging materials will determine whether detectors and X-ray systems are used and where they are placed on the production line. “The location will often dictate the type of detector,” she said.

Product size and variety also will influence the decision-making process, and don’t forget meeting the demanding requirements from many retailers and foodservice chains. “Often, processors are meeting specifications that have been determined by their customer or their audit scheme,” Ms. Sharpe said.

Mr. Grube recommended bakers note what primary contaminants may accidentally get into products and where these materials might be introduced during the process. “This determines where the inspection will ­occur,” he said. “What is the minimum contaminant size to be detected? What fail-safes can be implemented in the inspection process to ensure contaminated product does not get to the end user?”

Mr. Pedersen recommended that bakers also focus on other facets of metal detection. “Make sure the detector has a reject system with enough horsepower that it will kick off multiple rejects in a row,” he said. “You don’t want your reject system to run out of air if you have three or four consecutive rejects. Solutions for this include an air reservoir tank mounted on the metal detector conveyor. Good product presentation and ­consistency also lend to better detection sensitivity and stability.”

Mr. Pedersen noted that bakeries and snack manufacturers need lockable reject bins to be in compliance with new programs under the Global Food Safety Initiative. He also recommended buying only current technology, suggesting that today’s systems can catch smaller levels of metal than older ones.

Ms. Sharpe noted that advances in technology — specifically software and other upgrades — can be integrated into existing metal detectors to keep up with changes with FSMA and more stringent food safety regulations, “Our latest technology can quickly and economically be field-installed in a detector built more than 17 years ago, ensuring our customers stay up–to-date without having to purchase a new detector,” she said.

Like in many sports, the operations with the best ­defense win in the end.