Food safety is a serious business that requires constant vigilance and ongoing training of employees. That’s because it just takes a foodborne bacteria, virus or parasite, or some type of unidentified ingredient, allergens or foreign matter contamination to prompt a recall.

“A voluntary recall can be expensive, but in the long run, it is far safer and less expensive than letting something slide and having a full-on public relations nightmare with government oversight and legal ramifications on top of the recall,” noted Michael Wilks, global marketing director, Bunting Magnetics. “That’s not to mention the financial impact of possibly losing a significant, private label or branded customer.”

Bernardo Zermeño, customer development director, Rexfab, recommended using production data management tools that can perform highly targeted recalls and reduce the risk of large, full-blown scenarios.

With X-ray technology, for instance, bakeries and snack manufacturers have access to the images gathered by the system. He said these images work as proof of contamination or non-contamination while also helping identify the affected batches. They also provide a tool to teach artificial intelligence (AI)-based algorithms to better detect contaminants.

Granted, X-ray technology can be expensive, but it can provide a valuable wall of protection, depending on the risks in a food operation.

“While many X-ray inspection systems already offer highly effective pre-installed features for detecting most physical contaminants, it can be worthwhile to explore additional inspection capabilities offered by the system vendor,” Mr. Zermeño said. “These features might come with additional costs, but their value in detecting even the most challenging contaminants is truly invaluable.”

Additionally, he noted, X-ray inspection has made great leaps in recent years. Bakeries can apply state-of-the-art computer vision and AI models for checking the products’ quality and safety.

“The importance of data tools cannot be over-emphasized,” Mr. Zermeño said. “Having an inspection system performing to the highest standards is often not enough. Food producers also need to learn and improve their processes based on the data that the inspection systems collect.”

Rob Rogers, senior adviser for food safety and regulation, Mettler-Toledo, said there are better ways to test if an X-ray system is performing at optimal levels. Instead of conducting a pass-fail test, quality assurance technicians can add in other factors.

“Maybe the signal strength must be ‘10’ in our criteria, and as long as it's 10, we can test every 5 hours instead of every 2 hours,” he explained. “But if we notice during one of those 5-hour tests that we're only getting an 8 on our signal, we are going back to that every-hour testing and more frequently until we can figure out what's going on. It’s all about making informed decisions about what's going on and just having access to more information to make those informed decisions.”

Keep in mind that a product inspection system is a notification device that indicates a potential hazard. From there, Mr. Rogers said, bakers need to ask a series of questions to make sure that the device is not pointing to a bigger problem.

“Once you're notified of that hazard, what are you doing about it?” he asked. “What's the root cause of the problem? What's your corrective action to prevent that from happening ever again? I think this is still missed, not only in the baking industry but also throughout the food industry where manufacturers rely on these devices to reject that material and then they don't necessarily go through the corrective action and implementation of that corrective action to prevent it again.”

This article is an excerpt from the September 2023 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on Quality Assurance, click here.