Food safety has long been a goal of companies that make food products for consumers. Beyond reflecting the quality of a product line and integrity of an operation, food safety is a top priority because the cost of a recall or reputation issue is just too great.
A quick review of recalls by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the months of August and September, for example, shows a number of snacks and baked goods found to have potential safety problems. Among them: possible foreign matter in whole wheat flour, small metal shavings in a grocer’s apple coffee cakes, small metal fragments in a brand’s gourmet cookies and plastic pieces in a bakery’s muffins and brownies. That doesn’t even cover the presence of undeclared allergens or pathogens, which pose other consumer safety and recall situations.
Another factor spurring bakers and snack producers to keep a keen eye on products throughout their plant is the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). More final rules kicked in during September this year, and President Barack Obama has requested an increase of $25.3 million in FDA budget authority to further implement FSMA in 2017.
Those in the industry agree that the onslaught of new laws and regulations has affected their operations. “FSMA has created an increased level of focus in all areas pertaining to the safety of the products we consume and the individual ingredients that are combined to manufacture them,” observed Robert Rogers, food safety expert at Mettler Toledo, Inc.
FSMA implementation is also causing a greater number of food manufacturers to focus on inspection and detection throughout their respective processes. “We’re now seeing some of the smaller companies requiring metal detectors because the big companies are pushing back on their suppliers,” said Kelly Sharpe, marketing manager for Fortress Technology.
To ensure product safety from one end of the plant to the other — and to stay in line with government regulations, including those stemming from FSMA — food manufacturers can deploy automatic safety and inspection tools that complement or replace manual inspection. In addition to systems installed at the end of a line before packaging, inline safety and inspection systems can detect and prevent problems earlier in the production chain, kicking out rejects, lessening the chance of damage to equipment and ultimately saving time otherwise spent on backtracking.
“Inline inspection systems are key to ensuring product safety and quality, safeguarding them from physical contamination and confirming proper weight and label details. It does not end at simply installing equipment,” Mr. Rogers declared. “There must be processes diligently implemented around the equipment such as validation, verification and monitoring programs. It is also important to have a good maintenance and calibration program to confirm the system’s capability to continue to operate as intended.”
Ms. Sharpe also emphasized the usefulness of upstream efforts. “Inline is just as important. I’d say it’s a bit more important for the baking industry because there can be a lot of ingredient excess with certain attributes of particular baked goods,” she noted.
To ensure product safety throughout the plant, bakers and snack manufacturers can use a number of tools.
The use of metal detectors at early points in the production process are often used for safety and inspection. The type and placement of metal detectors, like many systems, depend on the product and operation. In addition to standard systems like gravity-feed detectors and pipeline units, some suppliers offer custom detectors based on a particular manufacturer’s needs.
Mr. Rogers pointed out product attributes that can impact the performance of inline metal detectors. “The temperature and moisture content of baked products affect inspections results, often producing false rejects and wasting product,” he explained. “When a product is to be inspected while it is still moist, or as its temperature is changing as it cools after baking, it is best to choose a metal detector that incorporates multi-simultaneous frequencies that can eliminate false defects and conserve product while still inspecting for true metal contamination. This protects manufacturers from recall and liability challenges.” Mettler Toledo has focused on enhancing metal detection capability, he noted, through machines like its Profile Advantage detector that uses advanced algorithms in combination with those multi-simultaneous frequencies to drastically reduce this effect and improve detection capabilities.
Ms. Sharpe underscored the balance between minimizing false rejects and achieving the best sensitivity. Last year, Fortress Technology launched a new Interceptor metal detector that minimizes product effect so processors can achieve sensitivities with fewer false rejects, including those with traditionally challenging wet products. “This particular detector was designed specifically for the baking industry because of demands from customers,” she reported.
Keeping the line moving while metal detectors are in use is crucial for manufacturers looking to maximize output and minimize downtime. To that end, Fortress Technology introduced an automatic Halo testing system that works well with inline systems installed near ceilings, due to the materials that can drop through. “Our Halo system allows [bakers] to check the effectiveness of metal detectors without stopping the line and without having to do a physical check,” Ms. Sharpe explained, adding that the Halo is currently in the process of third-party auditing approval.