Tag Archives: production

X-ray systems

Production and Inspection: What to Do When Contamination Occurs

By Chris Keith
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X-ray systems

As much as food manufacturers take precautions to avoid all types of contaminants, there can still come a moment when you realize that your best efforts have failed. Maybe you find a broken blade or a missing wire during a sanitation break, but the product has already gone through your inline inspection machines—and nothing was detected.

This is the freak-out moment that no plant manager or quality assurance manager wants to have. Knowing that there’s possible contamination of your food product (and not knowing where that contaminant might be) creates a hailstorm of possibilities that your plant works hard to avoid. And you’re probably wondering how this could have happened in the first place.

X-ray systems
In addition to metal, X-ray systems can find glass, plastic, stone, bone, rubber/gasket material, product clumps, container defects, wood and missing components at 0.8 mm or smaller.

Understanding How Contaminants Get Past Detection

To prevent physical contamination from occurring, it’s important to understand the reasons why it happens. In-house inspection systems often fail to detect contaminants for the following reasons:

  • The equipment isn’t calibrated to detect contaminants to a small enough degree, or the contaminants are materials that aren’t easily detected by the in-house machinery (glass, rubber, plastic, etc.)
  • The machines aren’t constantly monitored
  • The speed of the production line doesn’t allow for detecting small particles

Metal detectors are the most commonly used inline inspection devices in food manufacturing, and they depend on an interference in the signal to indicate there is metal contamination in the product.
Despite the fact that technology has progressed to deliver fewer false positives, the machines can still be deceived by moisture, high salt contents and dense products that could provide interference in the signal. When that continues to occur, it’s common for manufacturers to recalibrate the machine to get fewer false positives—but that also decreases its effectiveness.

Another limitation of the metal detector is that, as the name indicates, it can only find metal. That means contaminants like plastic, glass, rubber and bone won’t be found through a metal detector, but will hopefully be discovered through some other means before the product is shipped out.

Oftentimes, contamination or suspected physical contamination is discovered when a product, such as cheese or yogurt, goes through a filtration system, or when a piece of machinery is inspected during a sanitation break.
If the machinery is found to be missing a part, such as a bolt or a rubber gasket, the manufacturer then has to backtrack to the machinery’s last inspection and determine how much, if any, of the product manufactured during that time has been contaminated.

X-ray inspection
X-ray inspection can find what other forms of inspection cannot, because it’s based on the density of the product, as well as the density of the physical contaminant. In this image, you can see foreign material detected in canned goods.

What To Do When Contamination Occurs

Once a food manufacturer discovers that it may have a physical contamination problem, it must make a decision on how to handle the situation. Options come down to four basic choices, each of which comes with its own risks and benefits.

Option 1: Dispose of the full production run

The one advantage of disposing of a full production run is that it entirely eliminates the possibility of the contaminated product reaching consumers.

However, this is an expensive solution, as the manufacturer has to pay for the cost of disposal in a certified landfill and absorbs the cost of packaging, labor and ingredients. It also presents the risk of lost revenue by having a product temporarily out of stock.

Option 2: Shut down your production lines for re-inspection/re-work

Running the product through inline inspections a second time may result in finding the physical contaminant, but there’s also a risk that the contaminant won’t be found—and now the company has lost money through overtime pay and lost productivity.

If the inspection equipment was not sensitive enough to find the contaminant the first time around, it may not find it the second time, which puts the manufacturer back at square one. The advantage to this method is that the manufacturer maintains complete accountability and control over the process, although it may not yield the desired results.

Option 3: Risk it and ship the product to retailers

There’s always a chance that a missing bolt didn’t make its way into the product. Sometimes, if a metal detector goes off and the manufacturer can’t find any contaminants upon closer examination, they will choose to ship the product and take their chances.

The advantage for them is that, on the front end, this is the least expensive option—or it could be the costliest choice of all if a consumer finds a physical contaminant in their food. In fact, the average cost of a food recall is estimated at $10 million; lawsuits may push that cost even higher and result in a business being closed for good.

Option 4: Use third-party X-ray inspection

X-ray inspection is the most effective way to find physical contaminants. In addition to metal, X-ray systems can find glass, plastic, stone, bone, rubber/gasket material, product clumps, container defects, wood and missing components at 0.8 mm or smaller.

When a food manufacturer has a contamination issue, it can have the bracketed product inspected by a third-party X-ray inspection company and only dispose the affected food, allowing the rest of the product to be distributed. This option allows the manufacturer to maintain inventory and keep food deliveries on schedule while still eliminating the problem of contamination.

X-ray inspection can find what other forms of inspection cannot, because it’s based on the density of the product, as well as the density of the physical contaminant. When X-ray beams are directed through a food product, the rays lose some of their energy, but will lose even more energy in areas that have a physical contaminant. So when those images are interpreted on a monitor, the areas that have a physical contaminant in them will show up as a darker shade of gray.
This allows the workers monitoring machines to immediately identify any foreign particles that are in the food, regardless of the type of material.

Detection is Key to Avoiding Contamination Issues

Handling contamination properly is vital to every food manufacturing company. It affects the bottom line and the future of the company, and just one case of a physical contaminant reaching the consumer is enough to sideline food companies of any size. As X-ray technology continues to evolve, it remains an effective and efficient form of food inspection.

Educating plant managers and quality managers on what to do if inline inspection machines fail to detect contaminants should include information on how X-ray technology can be a food company’s first line of defense. While physical contaminants can’t always be avoided, they can be detected—and the future of your company may depend on it.

Megan Nichols
FST Soapbox

Quick Guide to Keeping Your Food Processing Facility Clean

By Megan Ray Nichols
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Megan Nichols

Keeping your food processing facility clean is actually even more important than the food itself. What steps can you take to help keep your food processing facility clean?

1. Cultivate a Clean Culture

Keeping your facility clean is more than just your job. It’s the job of everyone who walks through your doors, whether they work on the factory floor or in the offices. Your first step should be to cultivate a clean culture. Get everyone involved, from the newest hire all the way up to the CEO. Everyone should have their assigned job, but they should also feel comfortable speaking to their supervisors or upper management to report spills, possible contamination and other cleanliness problems.

It’s not just better for your overall workplace cleanliness—keeping a clean workspace helps to improve employee safety, productivity and morale as well.

2. Reinforce the Necessity for Personal Hygiene

When you have human employees involved in the production process, there is always a chance the product can become contaminated. Personal hygiene can help to reduce the chances of contamination by keeping your employees clean and safe as well.

Hand washing, for example, is a step that is often neglected but can mean the difference between a clean batch of food and a contaminated one. Good hand washing procedures can also help reduce the spread of cold and flu germs inside the workplace.
Personal protective equipment also falls into this category—gloves, hair and beard nets, shoe booties and other coverings should all be worn to lessen the possibility of contamination.

3. Keep Up With Your Equipment

The exact equipment you need to complete your work will vary depending on the type of food you’re processing, but for most foods that start with raw ingredients, you will need some sort of sifting equipment. These are designed to remove under- and oddly-sized food items or to remove dirt, leaves or other debris that might have come in contact with the food from the field where it was harvested.

Most sifting equipment relies on vibrating or moving sifters that can throw small particles into the air. While necessary, this also creates a new potential source of contamination for your food items. Investing in sifting equipment with a dust hood can help solve this problem. Not only do dust hoods keep your product and facility cleaner, machines with dust hoods reduce air pollution too.

4. Food Storage and Temperature

Food production facilities are at the mercy of temperature. Food that is allowed to get too warm can grow bacteria, making it dangerous to consume. Food that is left for extended periods of time at temperatures between 41 and 135 degrees Fahrenheit are also at risk for bacterial and microorganism growth.

Be vigilant about the temperature at which your food is stored. Food that needs to stay hot is required to be kept at 140 degrees or above, and cold food needs to be kept below 41 degrees.

5. Clean, Clean and Clean Again

Keeping all of your equipment clean and sanitized is an essential step in the maintenance of your food processing facility, but many pieces of equipment are not designed to be disassembled and sanitized separately. This may be tricky when there are cracks and crevices where food particles can get stuck, encouraging bacteria growth. You have two options for cleaning your equipment—clean in place and clean out of place.

Cleaning in place, as its name suggests, involves cleaning your equipment without taking it apart. This includes running sanitizing chemicals through the equipment and cleaning all accessible surfaces.

Cleaning out of place requires shutting down the equipment and disassembling it, allowing you to clean and sanitize all of those hard-to-reach corners. Depending on the piece of equipment, this may require shutting down your entire production line, so be sure that cleaning out of place won’t impact your production deadlines.

6. Cut the Clutter

Clutter in a workspace, even if it’s just boxes of product waiting to be palletized, can contribute to an unclean and unsafe work environment. Clutter allows the collection of dust, which can make its way into both food and equipment.

Take the time to dedicate specific areas to storage, preferably away from the primary production line. Keep your main traffic routes clear to prevent on-the-job accidents and ensure that anything kept in overhead storage is stable with no risk of falling.

7. Keep Covers and Guardrails In Place and Maintained

Open tanks or containers that process food are prone to contamination and are difficult to keep clean. Any tanks or containers that have covers on them should be covered at all times to ensure the product is kept clean.

For places where guardrails are necessary, such as above production lines or other elevated walkways, confirm that the rails provide coverage on all exposed sides. Make sure that there is also no risk of any dirt or other contaminants from shoes or the walkways falling into food or onto the production line.

A dirty production line can cost you thousands of dollars to correct, costing even more if the contaminated product has to be discarded. Take the time to maintain your cleanliness and keep your facility running smoothly.

Gears

Three Practices for Supply Chain Management in the Food Industry

By Kevin Hill
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Gears

While building an effective logistics strategy, the end goal of supply chain management (SCM) needs to be kept in mind (i.e., allowing each member of the supply chain to achieve efficient inventory management as well as reach its customer service goals). To this end, it’s important to share information that will help each member achieve success. This includes data relating to demand forecasts, anticipated lead times and safety stock quantities. Let’s look at SCM best practices for food manufacturing and supply, and how this information plays a role.

Effective SCM: Best Practices for the Food Industry

Here’s an overview of SCM best practices in food supply and manufacturing:

Learn more about managing your supply chain at the Best Practices in Food Safety Supply Chain conference | June 5–6, 2017 | LEARN MOREDemand Forecasts. This is generally based on demand, sales or usage patterns in the past. However, future demand can be affected by changing situations such as:

  • Gaining/losing customers
  • Increased/decreased product popularity
  • Introduction of new products
  • Short-term increase in demand through promotions, etc.

Better estimates can be achieved with an effective derived demand or a CPFR (collaborative planning, forecasting and replenishment) system. This can be done through automated data collection, or by the following process:

  • Identifying customers who can predict future demand (i.e., what they may use or sell in the future)
  • Collecting demand forecasts about specific products from them
  • Comparing these forecasts against their actual purchases on a monthly basis
  • Helping them improve future predictions by sharing this data with them

Customers may overestimate demand, but you might consider offering a discount based on accurate forecasts to encourage better results. In addition, you should also consider these five elements:

  • Usage patterns in the past, not including CPFR data
  • Increasing/decreasing product popularity trends
  • Higher/lower seasonal usage or demand
  • Events/promotions in the near future
  • Market and industry data from sources such as management, sales, etc.

Steps to Avoid a Food Crisis

By Maria Fontanazza
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Part two of Food Safety Tech’s interview with Alan Baumfalk, lead auditor and technical manager for Eurofins food safety systems, discusses how companies can reduce their chances of having a food crisis. “Sometimes we forget that part of our crisis management team is part of food defense,” says Baumfalk.

Food Safety Tech: Can you discuss the importance of the food defense plan within crisis management?

Alan Baumfalk: We need to defend the product within our facility, and we need to determine as part of the food defense plan the methods that we’re going to implement to prevent adulteration of product.

We need to step up and watch this: The process literally travels from farm to fork; from the crop through processing through distribution and to the final consumer. As part of our food defense plan we need to protect sensitive processing points from intentional adulteration, and we must watch for potential accidental adulteration.

It is important to carefully control the activities in the plant. Part of that involves limiting employee, subcontractor and visitor access to production equipment, manufacturing, and storage areas by designating access points.

These steps can help to eliminate issues involved in causing a crisis:

  • Secure the storage of raw materials, packaging equipment and hazardous chemicals
  •  Control all chemicals within the facility, because they can be used to deliberately or accidentally contaminate food.
  •  Hold finished products in secure storage.
  •  Control transportation. Apply seals to the full truckload.
  •  Monitor all points of distribution.