Tag Archives: foreign object detection

Prasant Prusty and Arundhathy Shabu

Foreign Material Contamination: Challenges and Management of Risks

By Arundhathy Shabu, Prasant Prusty
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Prasant Prusty and Arundhathy Shabu

Do you recollect the recall of nearly 250,000 pounds of a frozen chicken strips entree product due to a consumer discovering a piece of plastic in one of the chicken pieces, as announced by the USDA FSIS on September 2nd, 2023? Although food manufacturing facilities often implement diligent foreign material contaminant detection and control protocols, recalls due to foreign materials continue to happen. Therefore, it is critical for food businesses to understand the potential routes for foreign material contamination, analyze the challenges they bring, and employ a comprehensive approach to foreign material control and management, utilizing efficient methods to ensure consumer safety.

Origins of Foreign Material Contamination

The extraneous materials found in the food supply are defined by the FDA’s Food Defect Levels Handbook as “any foreign matter in a product associated with objectionable conditions or practices in production, storage, or distribution, including objectionable matter contributed by insects, rodents, and birds; decomposed material; and miscellaneous matter such as sand, soil, glass, rust, or other foreign substances.”

The origins of foreign substances found in food are commonly classified into five categories:

  • Unintentional introduction from the field (stones, metal, insects, unwanted plant material like thorns or wood, soil, or small animals).
  • Accidental inception during processing and handling (bone, glass, metal, wood, nuts, bolts, screening, cloth, grease, paint chips, rust, and similar items).
  • Substances that enter the food during distribution (insects, metals, soil, or stones).
  • Deliberate inclusion of materials in food (employee sabotage).
  • Miscellaneous materials, such as struvite and other similar substances.

Not all foreign materials make a food item unsafe, but they all can have a profound effect on consumer satisfaction, which can result in negative publicity and decreased sales and regulatory compliance.

Foreign Object Contamination Risks and Challenges

Foreign material contamination in the food supply chain presents significant risks including:

Consumer Health Risks. Consuming contaminated food can lead to injuries such as broken teeth, choking, internal injuries, or illness if the foreign material carries pathogens. These incidents can result in severe health consequences, including hospitalization or even death, depending on the nature of the contaminant and the sensitivity of the consumer.

Regulatory Compliance. Regulations enforced by governmental agencies require strict adherence to food safety standards, including contamination prevention measures. Failure to comply with these regulations can lead to fines, legal penalties, product recalls, and even business closure.

Supply Chain Disruption. Contamination incidents can disrupt the flow of products through the supply chain, leading to delays, shortages, and increased operational costs. These disruptions can ripple through the entire industry, affecting a multitude of stakeholders.

Damage to Brand Value. Foreign material contamination incidents can tarnish a company’s reputation and erode consumer trust. News of contaminated products spreads rapidly through traditional and social media channels, leading to negative publicity and brand damage.

Financial Losses. The costs associated with product recalls, legal settlements, and loss of sales revenue can be significant and have long-term implications for profitability and sustainability.

Despite understanding the significant risks associated with foreign object contamination, these events continue to occur. That is because there are significant challenges in preventing and detecting foreign materials in food products, such as:

Supply Chain Complexity. The modern food supply chain is highly interconnected, involving numerous stakeholders, including farmers, processors, distributors, retailers, and consumers. Each step in the supply chain opens doors for contamination, making it challenging to trace the source of foreign materials accurately.

Implementation of Preventive Measures. Establishing effective preventive measures to mitigate the risk of foreign material contamination requires collaboration, investment, and ongoing vigilance. Verification of the efficacy of the employed preventive actions is often overlooked, which may lead to recurring foreign material presence.

Addressing these challenges requires a coordinated effort across the entire supply chain, with a focus on proactive risk management, quality assurance, and continuous improvement. The fundamental point remains that foreign substances should not be present in food items and hence, processors must create, record, execute, and sustain foreign material control programs to tackle these challenges and guarantee the exclusion of such materials from both their products and procedures.

Prevention Strategies

A foreign material management program is a protocol established to avert, identify, and investigate occurrences of foreign impurities within any food processing or manufacturing facility. An effective foreign material control program should adopt a holistic framework, integrating components that assess potential risks throughout the supply chain and establish appropriate preventive and corrective measures against foreign contamination. Following are the three key components to an effective program.

  1. Risk Assessment & Management in Farming

Food manufacturers and ingredient producers, including farmers and agronomists, must understand the specific risks and proper handling procedures of their ingredients to ensure food safety. Risk assessment in agriculture involves identifying hazards and vulnerabilities that could introduce foreign materials throughout the farming process, from planting to post-harvest handling.

Examples of hazards include contaminated water or soil, improper pesticide handling, inadequate pest control, and poor sanitation practices. Risk management involves scrutinizing farming operations to eliminate points of entry for foreign materials. Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) are crucial for controlling food safety hazards and are categorized into eleven segments, covering various aspects of farming practices. Compliance with GAP standards helps minimize the risk of contamination throughout the production process.

  1. Risk Assessment & Management in Receiving, Storage, and Transportation

In the context of receiving, storage, and transportation, the identification of potential sources of contamination is essential, with bulk shipments presenting significant challenges due to their susceptibility to foreign material introduction. Hazards during these stages can arise from various factors, including handling and environmental conditions.

Supplier approval programs serve to both ensure product safety and mitigate foreign material contamination risks. These programs primarily involve assessing suppliers’ food safety measures, including protocols for food handling and foreign object detection. Buyers can enforce measures such as sieving, screening, or employing metal detectors or X-ray machines before packaging, which should be specified in purchasing agreements. Effective risk management strategies involve thorough supplier verification and monitoring processes to ensure adherence to quality standards and practices. Intervention strategies, such as specific protocols for bulk deliveries, and communication with suppliers are required to prevent and address contamination issues promptly.

  1. Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP)

Good Manufacturing Processes are defined by regulatory agencies and developed to ensure that products are consistently produced following set quality standards. They cover multiple aspects of company operations that may allow for the introduction of foreign materials including:

Personnel. GMP dictates policies regarding attire and personal items for personnel involved in food processing, emphasizing the importance of verification programs to ensure the detectability of items within the processing environment.

Premises. Ensuring the proper condition and maintenance of the physical facility minimizes the risk of foreign material contamination. This includes regular upkeep and designated areas of operation to minimize the risk of cross-contamination. Effective waste management systems are also necessary to eliminate potential breeding grounds for contaminants.

Equipment Designing and Utensils. Equipment and utensils must be designed with materials resistant to shattering or splintering that feature smooth, non-porous surfaces for easy cleaning. Regular inspection and maintenance protocols are required to ensure equipment integrity and minimize the risk of foreign material contamination.

Preventive Maintenance. Preventive maintenance programs address equipment malfunctions before they pose a risk of contamination, with scheduled tasks tailored to the usage lifespan of different components. Timely replacement of parts is important to prevent failures that could compromise product safety.

Wood Control. Implementing a pallet management program helps prevent contamination from wooden pallets.

Glass and Brittle Plastic Controls. Food manufacturers are required to have a dedicated program for managing glass and brittle plastic as part of their GMP. This begins with establishing a policy prohibiting the presence or use of glass or ceramic objects in food processing areas or warehouses. A comprehensive inventory of all glass and brittle plastic items in food storage or handling areas, including their locations and protective measures, must be maintained.

Sanitation and Validation. Thorough cleaning and disinfection procedures are integral to maintaining sanitation standards, with validation processes to ensure the effectiveness of cleaning protocols. Comprehensive testing and verification are necessary and required to confirm the absence of contaminants.

Detection and Removal with Ongoing Surveillance. Various detection and removal methods, including sieves, electronic sorting, and centrifugation, can be employed to identify and eliminate foreign materials during processing. Collaboration with suppliers is key to optimizing detection equipment configurations and calibration, ensuring the removal of contaminants throughout the production process.

Innovative Approaches for Foreign Material Control

With technological advancements, innovative approaches have emerged to enhance foreign material detection and prevention processes. One such approach involves the use of advanced imaging technologies, such as X-ray inspection systems and metal detectors, which can identify foreign objects within food products. These systems utilize sophisticated algorithms to distinguish between desired food components and foreign materials, enabling manufacturers to detect contaminants with high precision. For example, X-ray inspection systems can detect metal, glass, plastic, and other dense foreign materials, while metal detectors are effective in identifying metallic contaminants.

The integration of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning algorithms has revolutionized foreign material control in the food industry. AI-powered systems can analyze vast amounts of data in real time to identify patterns and anomalies associated with foreign material contamination. This enables proactive detection and prevention measures, reducing the risk of foreign material incidents and product recalls.

For instance, AI algorithms can continuously monitor production lines for deviations from normal operating conditions and trigger alerts when potential contaminants are detected. Additionally, advancements in sensor technology, such as hyperspectral imaging and laser-based systems, offer enhanced sensitivity and specificity in detecting foreign materials, further improving food safety standards. Overall, these innovative approaches underscore the importance of leveraging technology to enhance foreign material control and uphold the highest standards of food safety in the industry.

By building and maintaining competent foreign material contamination management systems and incorporating new technologies, companies can safeguard product quality, protect consumers, and preserve brand reputation.

X5 SideShoot

New X-Ray Inspection System Accommodates Taller Products

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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X5 SideShoot

Loma Systems has launched a new addition to its X5 X-ray inspection series: the X5 SideShoot, designed specifically for the inspection of taller products.

Using dynamic detection, the X5 SideShoot carries out a series of product inspections looking for unwanted contaminants; it can also be used to estimate fill level, check for missing content and determine whether a package is damaged. It can inspect product packaging up to 265mm in height, including plastic bottles, glass jars with metal lids, aluminum cans, plastic tubs and pots, tetra pack cartons, cardboard cans and tubes.

The X-ray device features a line speed of up to 50m/min, and can detect a broad range of contaminants, including ferrous, non-ferrous and stainless steel (~1.5-2.0mm St/St) metal, glass, bone, ceramic/stone, dense plastics and product clumps.

IP66-rated for low-pressure washdown, the X5 SideShoot includes a 15″ color touchscreen, multilevel password access to store data-logged events for traceability, improved digital detection to reduce electrical interference for image optimization, and energy-saving automatic idle capabilities.

“The New X5 SideShoot has been specifically designed and engineered to help our customers deliver new packaging technologies, successfully inspect products that are taller versus width, promote sustainability and enhance food safety,” said Toby Kemp, LOMA’s Director of Marketing & Innovation.



Food Safety Consortium

2020 Food Safety Consortium Converted to Virtual Event Series

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Food Safety Consortium

With the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to take a toll on live events, Innovative Publishing Company, Inc. has made the careful decision to convert the Food Safety Consortium, which historically has taken place in Schaumburg, IL, to a virtual conference. This move takes into consideration Illinois’ COVID-19 plan to reopen its economy, which is a Five-Phase Plan. Phase 5 occurs when groups larger than 50 (conferences and conventions specifically mentioned) will be allowed. The state enters Phase 5 only when a vaccine or an effective treatment is in place. The decision to take the Food Safety Consortium virtual is based on the Illinois reopening plan, along with considering the safety and well being of staff, attendees, speakers and sponsors.

Every Thursday, beginning on September 10 through November 12, the Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series will host two presentations and two sponsored Tech Talks, followed by a panel discussion with attendees. Food Safety Tech is the media sponsor.

“This will be much more than a bunch of webinars. We are excited to offer a virtual platform that facilitates greater human interaction,” says Rick Biros, president of Innovative Publishing and director of the Food Safety Consortium. “Whether it’s a random connection in a hotel lobby, a stroll by a booth at a trade show, or a seat next to a new friend in a learning session, we recognize that human connection is important for events. That’s why we’ve invested in new tools for the FSC Conference Virtual Platform to ensure those discussions, discoveries and connections can go on whether our event is offline or online. The new platform provides attendees with a way to keep track of live sessions, connect with sponsors and engage with peers, all in a familiar way. It will also include an event App that offers interactive features.”

Frank Yiannas, FDA deputy commissioner for food policy and response, will remain a keynote speaker, with the new presentation date to be announced.

Call for Abstracts

We are accepting abstracts for participation in the Food Safety Consortium Virtual Series. On the Submit an Abstract page, select Food Safety Consortium 2020 in the drop-down menu.

Categories include:

  • Food safety
  • Food defense
  • Food integrity
  • Food safety supply chain management
  • Lessons learned COVID-19
  • Regulatory compliance
  • Facility design
  • C-suite executive forum

Tech Talk Sponsorship

Companies that are interested in sponsoring a 10-minute technical presentation during the series can also submit their abstract through the portal. For pricing information, contact IPC Sales Director RJ Palermo.

Innovative Publishing has also converted the Cannabis Quality Conference to a virtual event. More information is available at Cannabis Industry Journal.

About Food Safety Tech

Food Safety Tech publishes news, technology, trends, regulations, and expert opinions on food safety, food quality, food business and food sustainability. We also offer educational, career advancement and networking opportunities to the global food industry. This information exchange is facilitated through ePublishing, digital and live events.

About the Food Safety Consortium Conference and Expo (The live event)

Food companies are concerned about protecting their customers, their brands and their own company’s financial bottom line. The term “Food Protection” requires a company-wide culture that incorporates food safety, food integrity and food defense into the company’s Food Protection strategy.

The Food Safety Consortium is an educational and networking event for Food Protection that has food safety, food integrity and food defense as the foundation of the educational content of the program. With a unique focus on science, technology and compliance, the “Consortium” enables attendees to engage in conversations that are critical for advancing careers and organizations alike. Delegates visit with exhibitors to learn about cutting-edge solutions, explore three high-level educational tracks for learning valuable industry trends, and network with industry executives to find solutions to improve quality, efficiency and cost effectiveness in the evolving food industry.

Michael Bartholomeusz, TruTag
In the Food Lab

Intelligent Imaging and the Future of Food Safety

By Michael Bartholomeusz, Ph.D.
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Michael Bartholomeusz, TruTag

Traditional approaches to food safety no longer make the grade. It seems that stories of contaminated produce or foodborne illnesses dominate the headlines increasingly often. Some of the current safeguards set in place to protect consumers and ensure that companies are providing the freshest, safest food possible continue to fail across the world. Poorly regulated supply chains and food quality assurance breakdowns often sicken customers and result in recalls or lawsuits that cost money and damage reputations. The question is: What can be done to prevent these types of problems from occurring?

While outdated machinery and human vigilance continue to be the go-to solutions for these problems, cutting-edge intelligent imaging technology promises to eliminate the issues caused by old-fashioned processes that jeopardize consumer safety. This next generation of imaging will increase safety and quality by quickly and accurately detecting problems with food throughout the supply chain.

How Intelligent Imaging Works

In broad terms, intelligent imaging is hyperspectral imaging that uses cutting-edge hardware and software to help users establish better quality assurance markers. The hardware captures the image, and the software processes it to provide actionable data for users by combining the power of conventional spectroscopy with digital imaging.

Conventional machine vision systems generally lack the ability to effectively capture and relay details and nuances to users. Conversely, intelligent imaging technology utilizes superior capabilities in two major areas: Spectral and spatial resolution. Essentially, intelligent imaging systems employ a level of detail far beyond current industry-standard machinery. For example, an RGB camera can see only three colors: Red, green and blue. Hyperspectral imaging can detect between 300 and 600 real colors—that’s 100–200 times more colors than detected by standard RGB cameras.

Intelligent imaging can also be extended into the ultraviolet or infrared spectrum, providing additional details of the chemical and structural composition of food not observable in the visible spectrum. Hyperspectral imaging cameras do this by generating “data cubes.” These are pixels collected within an image that show subtle reflected color differences not observable by humans or conventional cameras. Once generated, these data cubes are classified, labeled and optimized using machine learning to better process information in the future.

Beyond spectral and spatial data, other rudimentary quality assurance systems pose their own distinct limitations. X-rays can be prohibitively expensive and are only focused on catching foreign objects. They are also difficult to calibrate and maintain. Metal detectors are more affordable, but generally only catch metals with strong magnetic fields like iron. Metals including copper and aluminum can slip through, as well as non-metal objects like plastics, wood and feces.

Finally, current quality assurance systems have a weakness that can change day-to-day: Human subjectivity. The people put in charge of monitoring in-line quality and food safety are indeed doing their best. However, the naked eye and human brain can be notoriously inconsistent. Perhaps a tired person at the end of a long shift misses a contaminant, or those working two separate shifts judge quality in slightly different ways, leading to divergent standards unbeknownst to both the food processor and the public.

Hyperspectral imaging can immediately provide tangible benefits for users, especially within the following quality assurance categories in the food supply chain:

Pathogen Detection

Pathogen detection is perhaps the biggest concern for both consumers and the food industry overall. Identifying and eliminating Salmonella, Listeria, and E.coli throughout the supply chain is a necessity. Obviously, failure to detect pathogens seriously compromises consumer safety. It also gravely damages the reputations of food brands while leading to recalls and lawsuits.

Current pathogen detection processes, including polymerase chain reaction (PCR), immunoassays and plating, involve complicated and costly sample preparation techniques that can take days to complete and create bottlenecks in the supply chain. These delays adversely impact operating cycles and increase inventory management costs. This is particularly significant for products with a short shelf life. Intelligent imaging technology provides a quick and accurate alternative, saving time and money while keeping customers healthy.

Characterizing Food Freshness

Consumers expect freshness, quality and consistency in their foods. As supply chains lengthen and become more complicated around the world, food spoilage has more opportunity to occur at any point throughout the production process, manifesting in reduced nutrient content and an overall loss of food freshness. Tainted meat products may also sicken consumers. All of these factors significantly affect market prices.

Sensory evaluation, chromatography and spectroscopy have all been used to assess food freshness. However, many spatial and spectral anomalies are missed by conventional tristimulus filter-based systems and each of these approaches has severe limitations from a reliability, cost or speed perspective. Additionally, none is capable of providing an economical inline measurement of freshness, and financial pressure to reduce costs can result in cut corners when these systems are in place. By harnessing meticulous data and providing real-time analysis, hyperspectral imaging mitigates or erases the above limiting factors by simultaneously evaluating color, moisture (dehydration) levels, fat content and protein levels, providing a reliable standardization of these measures.

Foreign Object Detection

The presence of plastics, metals, stones, allergens, glass, rubber, fecal matter, rodents, insect infestation and other foreign objects is a big quality assurance challenge for food processors. Failure to identify foreign objects can lead to major added costs including recalls, litigation and brand damage. As detailed above, automated options like X-rays and metal detectors can only identify certain foreign objects, leaving the rest to pass through untouched. Using superior spectral and spatial recognition capabilities, intelligent imaging technology can catch these objects and alert the appropriate employees or kickstart automated processes to fix the issue.

Mechanical Damage

Though it may not be put on the same level as pathogen detection, food freshness and foreign object detection, consumers put a premium on food uniformity, demanding high levels of consistency in everything from their apples to their zucchini. This can be especially difficult to ensure with agricultural products, where 10–40% of produce undergoes mechanical damage during processing. Increasingly complicated supply chains and progressively more automated production environments make delivering consistent quality more complicated than ever before.

Historically, machine vision systems and spectroscopy have been implemented to assist with damage detection, including bruising and cuts, in sorting facilities. However, these systems lack the spectral differentiation to effectively evaluate food and agricultural products in the stringent manner customers expect. Methods like spot spectroscopy require over-sampling to ensure that any detected aberrations are representative of the whole item. It’s a time-consuming process.

Intelligent imaging uses superior technology and machine learning to identify mechanical damage that’s not visible to humans or conventional machinery. For example, a potato may appear fine on the outside, but have extensive bruising beneath its skin. Hyperspectral imaging can find this bruising and decide whether the potato is too compromised to sell or within the parameters of acceptability.

Intelligent imaging can “see” what humans and older technology simply cannot. With the ability to be deployed at a number of locations within the food supply chain, it’s an adaptable technology with far-reaching applications. From drones measuring crop health in the field to inline or end-of-line positioning in processing facilities, there is the potential to take this beyond factory floors.

In the world of quality assurance, where a misdiagnosis can literally result in death, the additional spectral and spatial information provided by hyperspectral imaging can be utilized by food processors to provide important details regarding chemical and structural composition previously not discernible with rudimentary systems. When companies begin using intelligent imaging, it will yield important insights and add value as the food industry searches for reliable solutions to its most serious challenges. Intelligent imaging removes the subjectivity from food quality assurance, turning it into an objective endeavor.