Tag Archives: recalls

Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series

2021 FSC Episode 6 Preview: Recall Trends & Analysis

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series

This week’s episode of the 2021 Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series focuses on the latest in trends and analysis related to food recalls. The following is the agenda for Thursday’s episode, which begins at 12 pm ET.

  • Recalls: Trends & Analysis, presented by Shawn Stevens, Food Industry Counsel, LLC
  • How to Respond to Recalls, presented by Roberto Bellavia, KTL (Kestrel Tellevate)
  • Recall Modernization Working Group, a panel discussion moderated by Mitzi Baum, STOP Foodborne Illness, with insights from Hilary Thesmar, Ph.D., FMI and Jennifer Pierquet, AFDO
  • Tech Talks presented by Millipore, Hardy Diagnostics and Columbia Labs

The Fall program runs every Thursday from October 7 through November 4. Haven’t registered? Follow this link to the 2021 Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series, which provides access to all the episodes featuring critical industry insights from leading subject matter experts!

Recall

Q2 Food Recalls Increase 20%, Undeclared Allergens and Quality Top Cause

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Recall

For the 23rd quarter in a row, undeclared allergens were the top cause of food recalls and accounted for 45% of them in Q3 2021, according to Sedgwick’s latest Recall Index report. Within allergens, undeclared milk was the leading cause and prepared foods remained the leading category.

“Companies need to concentrate on the basics through the second half of 2021 and final emergence from the COVID-19 pandemic,” the report states. “Amid supply chain pressures, high consumer demand and worker health and safety concerns arising from the coronavirus, food businesses are rightfully focused on their ability to maintain and conduct their core operations in safe manner while delivering quality, safe products to customers.”

FDA Recalls: Notable Numbers (Q2 2021)

  • 106 recalls affecting 7.9 million units
  • 5.8 million units (nearly 69%) impacted by recalls were due to one nut recall
  • 19 recalls were a result of quality issues
  • 18 recalls were a result of foreign material contamination
  • 11 recalls were a result of bacterial contamination—6 from Listeria; 4 Salmonella; and 1 E. coli

USDA Recalls: Notable Numbers (Q2 2021)

  • Recalls increased from 10 (Q1) to 12, but numbers still low compared to 2019 quarterly averages
  • Units impacted dramatically dropped nearly 83% to 207,322 units
  • Undeclared allergens were top cause of recalls, accounting for nearly 42%
    • Soy milk and eggs were main allergens, but first recall of food products due to sesame also occurred
  • Other recall reasons were quality (2), lack of inspection (2), bacterial contamination (2) and foreign material contamination (1)
  • Beef products (93,551 pounds) most impacted category, followed by fish (46,804 pounds)

The report also pointed out that heavy metal regulation will have increased emphasis, as FDA has made it a priority as a result of a report released by Congress earlier this year indicating the presence of dangerous toxic heavy metals found in baby foods.

Salmonella Surveillance

Mid-Year Pathogen Surveillance and Inspection Update

By Nathan Libbey
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Salmonella Surveillance

Food Recalls

The first half of 2021 saw almost a 20% increase in recalls vs. the last 6 months of 2020 (117 vs. 96). According to a recent report by Lathrop GPM, LLC, food producers have seen an increase in food safety incidents since the pandemic began, and expect an ongoing increase over the next year.1 A majority of recalls were due to undeclared allergens or potential for allergen cross contamination. Second to allergens were potential for microbiological contaminants, including Salmonella, Listeria, E. coli, and Cyclospora.

FDA Recalls Recalls
Figure 1 and 2. The first half of 2021 saw a 26% increase of facility inspections by the FDA. Despite this jump, inspections in the first half of 2020 were 80% higher than this year’s first six months. Source: FDA Recalls, Market Withdrawals, & Safety Alerts.

Inspection Results

The first half of 2021 saw a 26% increase of facility inspections by the FDA. Despite this jump, inspections in the first half of 2020 were 80% higher than this year’s first six months. Inspections generally lead to three outcomes; No Action Indicated (continue as you were,) Voluntary Action Indicated (voluntary to make some changes), or Official Action Indicated (OAI) (Regulatory Actions will be recommended by the FDA). A majority of inspections (56%) resulted in NAI this year, compared to 59% and 50% in the first and second halves of 2020, respectively.

Facility Inspections
Figure 3. Facility Inspections. Data from FDA.

Salmonella Surveillance

The FSIS provides ongoing surveillance of Salmonella and Campylobacter presence in poultry, both domestic and imported. Salmonella is reported by facility and each is given a category rating of 1–3. One is exceeding the standard (based on a 52-week moving average), two is meeting the standard, and three is below standard. For the 52-week reporting period ending May 30, 2021, 60% achieved category one, compared to 56% the previous 52 weeks.

Salmonella Surveillance Salmonella Surveillance
Figures 4 & 5. Salmonella surveillance data from FDA.

Listeria and Salmonella Surveillance in RTE Meat and Poultry

USDA FSIS conducts periodic sampling of Ready to Eat (RTE) meat and poultry products and reports quarterly results. Sampling is conducted both in a random fashion as well as based on risk-based sampling. In Q2 2021, 4769 samples were tested for Listeria, compared to 4632 in Q1.

Percent positive rates were .36% for Q2 and .43% for Q1. Neither quarter reported any positives for Listeria in imported RTE Meat and Poultry Products.

Salmonella samples for RTE totaled 3676 in Q2 2021, compared with 3566 in Q1. In both quarters, only 1 positive was found in the samples collected.

Routine Beef Sampling for E. coli 0157:H7 and STEC

The FSIS also conducts ongoing routine sampling of beef products for E. coli. E. coli is further classified into 0157:H7 and non-0157:H7 Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC). In Q2 of 2021, 4467 samples were collected and tested for 0157:H7 versus 4268 in Q1. Of these, three were positive, compared to seven positives the preceding quarter. For STEC, a total of 8 positives were found, compared to 1 positive in Q1. No positives were found in imported goods in Q2, although in Q1 2021, 4 positives for STEC were found.

Conclusion

The first half of 2021 showed an increase in activity, which is on par with food industry survey data. Food recalls have increased, with food allergens remaining the most prevalent reason for recall or withdrawal. While inspections also increased, they have not returned to pre-pandemic levels. The impact of the spread of the Delta variant and increased restrictions is yet to be seen, but inspection activity will likely not rebound entirely by the end of the year. Pathogen tests by FSIS increased quarter over quarter for Salmonella, E. coli, and STEC, with mixed results in prevalence.

Reference

1. Lathrop GPM, LLC. (2021). Food Processing Trends, Outlook and Guidance Report. Retrieved from https://www.lathropgpm.com/report-agribusiness.html

Stephen Dombroski, QAD
FST Soapbox

Recent Recalls Emphasize Need for Quality Management Systems in the Food and Beverage Industry

By Stephen Dombroski
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Stephen Dombroski, QAD

Last month, federal authorities enacted a recall process for all Real Water brand products from AffinityLifestyles.com Inc., as a result of a fatality and multiple illnesses that might be linked to the product. In addition to the recall, there are a number of court orders being enacted to retrieve records, documentation and other information from the company. The product in question is bottled water that is chemically treated to enhance its “benefits.”

Over the last 20 or so years, as with many other food and beverage categories, the bottled water market has exploded. It began with Natural Spring Waters, then emerged into what was termed “purified waters.” Over time, carbonation and flavors, both natural and imitation, were added to enhance the products’ appeal to different demographics and to capture market share. The trend has continued to illustrate how both SKU proliferation and catering to the changing needs of the consumer has complicated the industry and made it increasingly complex. Complexity, of course, adds risk.

The Real Water situation brings to light potential issues both for the bottled water segment and for the food and beverage manufacturing industry on the whole. Beverage and food products often utilize additives to enhance flavor, add nutritional benefits, etc. In addition to these additives, many food and beverage products are produced with “reactionary” processes that claim to supercharge, enhance, and/or re-engineer something to a so-called better state. Government regulators monitor these processes to ensure that they do not cause health risks. Enhanced and more stringent labeling laws were enacted at the end of the Obama era and just recently, President Biden signed the FASTER Act that requires manufacturers to list sesame on their labels, as it is now a known allergen. In addition to additives, regulatory agencies monitor the new chemical and reactionary processes used in producing products to ensure that the integrity and safety of these products are not put at risk.

Lessons Learned from the Real Water Recall

Where does the industry go from here, and what lessons can manufacturers take away from the Real Water incident and from the increasingly complex state of food and beverage manufacturing? First, we know regulations will continue to increase, especially as incidents become more commonplace. The industry has been on high alert since the outbreak of COVID-19. Governments and industry will continue to try to determine if the virus can in fact be transmitted through food or food packaging. As food manufacturers experiment with plant-based food alternatives, employ new technologies and react to recalls, they should prepare for continued scrutiny and regulations which will impact how businesses are run.

The question that needs to be answered is: What should food and beverage manufacturers do to prepare for future changes to regulations and prevent potential safety issues?

The answer is: They should implement a quality management system and related business processes and systems tailored for the unique challenges of their industry.

F&B Manufacturers Can Improve Quality Systems to Prepare for Future Regulation and Safety Changes

Many manufacturers already have parts of this system and the processes in place, but it is surprising how many have not integrated them with their other systems. If we use the Real Water issue as a case study, there are a number of things that a manufacturer needs to do from a quality perspective in terms of processes, procedures and systems.

Traceability. Accuracy and timing is critical in the face of any recall. Track and traceability functionality built into the central manufacturing and/or quality system is an absolute must. Technology is available to visually track and trace every lot that goes out the door, whether from a company facility or a co-packer, and note where in the market it has been distributed.

Document Control. The government demanded that AffinityLifestyles.com Inc. turn over all documentation related to its products’ ingredients, processes, etc. Manufacturers need to ensure their document management systems include food safety precautions and that all process and product information needs to be in place.

Product and Process Change Management. Integrating inspection processes with control plans ensures that inspection requirements stay connected during change management. This coupled with non-conformance creation based on inspection failures results in reductions in the cost, time and complexity of change management.

Audit Processes. To comply with ever-changing regulations, effective internal audit programs must be implemented to drive compliance and continual improvement. A closed-loop system should address product, process and system audits to help manage any findings of non-conformance prior to external audits and to allow for corrective actions to be implemented before an issue arises.

Supplier Quality Management. Food safety issues can often be due to a material or food ingredient issue. Monitoring all activities with suppliers by requiring and instituting best practices can help ensure supplier conformance.

Ensuring Ongoing Success and Profitability for F&B Manufacturers

All businesses operate to make money. Food and beverage manufacturers are no exception. But, when the products being made are consumables, the top priorities have to be safety, quality and food integrity. The food and beverage market is changing and evolving. Due to increasing customer demand, consumer preferences, sustainability initiatives and government regulations, manufacturers face more pressure to improve quality. These market changes have resulted in faster life cycles, shorter lead times, and the need for manufacturers to deliver more products faster than before, which puts pressure on the entire organization. Manufacturers in the food and beverage industry are under intense scrutiny to consistently produce safe food. Occasionally, issues occur that are out of a manufacturer’s control, but the producers of food and beverage products still have a responsibility to ensure that all precautions are in place to meet the safety needs of the end consumer. Efficient processes and systems to manage food safety not only meet the required compliance requirements but are a huge step in ensuring ongoing success and profitability.

Karen Everstine, Decernis
Food Fraud Quick Bites

Food Authenticity: 2020 in Review

By Karen Everstine, Ph.D.
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Karen Everstine, Decernis

It is fair to say that 2020 was a challenging year with wide-ranging effects, including significant effects on our ongoing efforts to ensure food integrity and prevent fraud in the food system. COVID-19 caused major supply chain disruptions for foods and many other consumer products. It also highlighted challenges in effective tracking and standardization of food fraud-related data.

Let’s take a look at some of the notable food fraud occurrences in 2020:

  • Organic Products. The Spanish Guardia Civil investigated an organized crime group that sold pistachios with pesticide residues that were fraudulently labeled as organic, reportedly yielding €6 million in profit. USDA reported fraudulent organic certificates for products including winter squash, leafy greens, collagen peptides powder, blackberries, and avocados. Counterfeit wines with fraudulent DOG, PGI, and organic labels were discovered in Italy.
  • Herbs and Spices. Quite a few reports came out of India and Pakistan about adulteration and fraud in the local spice market. One of the most egregious involved the use of animal dung along with various other substances in the production of fraudulent chili powder, coriander powder, turmeric powder, and garam masala spice mix. Greece issued a notification for a turmeric recall following the detection of lead, chromium, and mercury in a sample of the product. Belgium recalled chili pepper for containing an “unauthorized coloring agent.” Reports of research conducted at Queen’s University Belfast also indicated that 25% of sage samples purchased from e-commerce or independent channels in the U.K. were adulterated with other leafy material.
  • Dairy Products. India and Pakistan have also reported quite a few incidents of fraud in local markets involving dairy products. These have included reports of counterfeit ghee and fraudulent ghee manufactured with animal fats as well as milk adulterated with a variety of fraudulent substances. The Czech Republic issued a report about Edam cheese that contained vegetable fat instead of milk fat.
  • Honey. Greece issued multiple alerts for honey containing sugar syrups and, in one case, caramel colors. Turkey reported a surveillance test that identified foreign sugars in honeycomb.
  • Meat and Fish. This European report concluded that the vulnerability to fraud in animal production networks was particularly high during to the COVID-19 pandemic due to the “most widely spread effects in terms of production, logistics, and demand.” Thousands of pounds of seafood were destroyed in Cambodia because they contained a gelatin-like substance. Fraudulent USDA marks of inspection were discovered on chicken imported to the United States from China. Soy protein far exceeding levels that could be expected from cross contamination were identified in sausage in the Czech Republic. In Colombia, a supplier of food for school children was accused of selling donkey and horse meat as beef. Decades of fraud involving halal beef was recently reported in in Malaysia.
  • Alcoholic Beverages. To date, our system has captured more than 30 separate incidents of fraud involving wine or other alcoholic beverages in 2020. Many of these involved illegally produced products, some of which contained toxic substances such as methanol. There were also multiple reports of counterfeit wines and whisky. Wines were also adulterated with sugar, flavors, colors and water.

We have currently captured about 70% of the number of incidents for 2020 as compared to 2019, although there are always lags in reporting and data capture, so we expect that number to rise over the coming weeks. These numbers do not appear to bear out predictions about the higher risk of food fraud cited by many groups resulting from the effects of COVID-19. This is likely due in part to reduced surveillance and reporting due to the effects of COVID lockdowns on regulatory and auditing programs. However, as noted in a recent article, we should take seriously food fraud reports that occur against this “backdrop of reduced regulatory oversight during the COVID-19 pandemic.” If public reports are just the tip of the iceburg, 2020 numbers that are close to those reported in 2019 may indeed indicate that the iceburg is actually larger.

Unfortunately, tracking food fraud reports and inferring trends is a difficult task. There is currently no globally standardized system for collection and reporting information on food fraud occurrences, or even standardized definitions for food fraud and the ways in which it happens. Media reports of fraud are challenging to verify and there can be many media reports related to one individual incident, which complicates tracking (especially by automated systems). Reports from official sources are not without their own challenges. Government agencies have varying priorities for their surveillance and testing programs, and these priorities have a direct effect on the data that is reported. Therefore, increases in reports for a particular commodity do not necessarily indicate a trend, they may just reflect an ongoing regulatory priority a particular country. Official sources are also not standardized with respect to how they report food safety or fraud incidents. Two RASFF notifications in 2008 following the discovery of melamine adulteration in milk illustrate this point (see Figure 1). In the first notification for a “milk drink” product, the hazard category was listed as “adulteration/fraud.” However, in the second notification for “chocolate and strawberry flavor body pen sets,” the hazard category was listed as “industrial contaminants,” even though the analytical result was higher.1

RASFF

RASFF, melamine detection
Figure 1. RASFF notifications for the detection of melamine in two products.1

What does all of this mean for ensuring food authenticity into 2021? We need to continue efforts to align terminology, track food fraud risk data, and ensure transparency and evaluation of the data that is reported. Alignment and standardization of food fraud reporting would go a long way to improving our understanding of how much food fraud occurs and where. Renewed efforts by global authorities to strengthen food authenticity protections are important. Finally, consumers and industry must continue to demand and ensure authenticity in our food supply. While most food fraud may not have immediate health consequences for consumers, reduced controls can lead to systemic problems and have devastating effects.

Reference

  1. Everstine, K., Popping, B., and Gendel, S.M. (2021). Food fraud mitigation: strategic approaches and tools. In R.S. Hellberg, K. Everstine, & S. Sklare (Eds.) Food Fraud – A Global Threat With Public Health and Economic Consequences (pp. 23-44). Elsevier. doi: 10.1016/B978-0-12-817242-1.00015-4
Steven Blonder, Much Law
FST Soapbox

Food Litigation Trends Lay the Foundation for an Industry-Defining 2021

By Steven Blonder
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Steven Blonder, Much Law

The year 2020 brought with it continued court filings within the food safety litigation space, and it should come as no surprise the pandemic presented its own set of unique challenges. We’ve seen disruptions to the food and beverage supply chain, noteworthy changes with recalls, and continued developments in litigation specific to product labeling. These challenges have impacted everyone involved in the industry and laid the groundwork for what’s to come in 2021.

The most notable impact the food industry has faced as a result of the pandemic has been the massive disruption of the food supply chain. Grocers and other retail food providers have seen an immense spike in demand, whereas foodservice locations, such as restaurants, universities, and hotels, have seen the exact opposite. This disruption to the supply chain has required regulatory agencies to take notice and implement temporary policies to support these businesses and consumers alike. Employees across the food industry supply chain, including agriculture and food processing, have further been classified as essential, leading federal agencies to issue guidance to these employers to help them assess COVID-19 control plans and protect their employee’s health. Further, safety concerns and bumps in unemployment compensation have imposed additional strains on worker retention and attendance.

Another interesting facet of the pandemic’s impact on the industry has been its influence in the product recall space. Believe it or not, companies have strayed from pulling their products off the shelf even if it subjects them to potential liability. Why is this? Because as mentioned earlier, the demand for food in the retail space has increased so much, it has become a necessary choice to avoid food shortages across the United States. Don’t worry, if a product possesses a health or safety threat, companies are still recalling those to protect consumers and address safety concerns, but voluntary non-health or safety related recalls may have become a thing of the past. For example, rather than recall a box of cereal or other dry good for not meeting a fill-line requirement, providers may elect to risk a false-advertising lawsuit to meet the recent shift in retail food demand.

Since 2012, there have been more than 200 class action lawsuits filed related to the labeling on food products. This past year, we observed a continuation of this trend. Class action lawsuits were filed addressing the authenticity of “all-natural” products or claims based on the “origin” of a product, while we witnessed a sharp decline in slack-fill lawsuits. Consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the ingredients in food products and are continuing to demand transparency from companies to disclose how their products are made. There has been a particular increase in claims related to the definition of vanilla—is it pure? Is it natural? The same goes for citric acid, a product that can be made naturally or synthetically. There has been continued debate within the industry about citric acid in its use within other products where some citric acid is naturally occurring either from citrus fruit, tomatoes or other fruits with citric acid. If all-natural citric acid is added into tomato paste to help with the taste, can the tomato paste still be classified as being all-natural, even if the use of citric acid is displayed on the label?

To help combat the discrepancies around all-natural products, the USDA is currently working on developing an official definition of “all-natural,” which upon its completion is anticipated to have a major impact on the labeling industry and the number of false-advertising class actions. This definitional development comes at a crucial time especially as plant-based protein continues to rise in popularity.

The next wave of claims are being filed related to plant-based protein products. These claims include trademark and First Amendment issues. For example, when is a burger, a burger? Everyone assumes a burger means a hamburger, traditionally deriving from beef, and there has been an increase in debate around when the sale of plant-based products infringe on the rights of ranchers selling traditional beef products. Can food created in a petri-dish claim the same title as products created through traditional harvesting methods? What about other genetically modified products? These issues will likely spawn additional litigation in the coming year.

Looking ahead towards 2021, we can fully anticipate cases addressing food labeling issues to continue. Historically many of these claims were filed in Northern California with one federal court there earning the moniker of the “Food Court”. Recent years have seen increased filings in New York and Illinois, but the coming year may see a decrease in cases filed in New York as a result of recent court decisions relating to pre-emption and a recent opinion of a federal appellate court disallowing the settlement of class claims on an injunction-only basis. California may also see changes in their total cases as food producers curtail product sales in California to avoid the ambit of Prop 65.1

2021 will continue to bear witness to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The supply chain will continue to adjust to the varying demands of the public as they navigate safety regulations, and companies will maintain an “only-recall-if-absolutely-necessary” mindset. Many of the adjustments that businesses, consumers and regulators have had to make in light of the pandemic may also lead to long-term or permanent shifts. In fact, the Consumer Brands Association has identified a few select areas ready for change, such as the maintenance of flexibility in food labeling to ease the transfer process of products between foodservice and food retail providers. We just might find 2021 to be one of the most industry-defining years in the food safety litigation space.

Reference

  1. California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment. (n.d.). Proposition 65. Accessed December 17, 2020. Retrieved from https://oehha.ca.gov/proposition-65
Food Safety Consortium

2020 FSC Episode 13 Preview: Traceability in Supply Chain Management

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Food Safety Consortium

This week’s episode of the 2020 Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series will explore traceability as it pertains to supply chain management. The following are highlights for Thursday’s session:

  • Food Safety Recalls – Digging Deeper into FDA, CDC, USDA & Food Industry Data, with Allen Sayler, EAS Consulting
  • Preparing for Blockchain in “A New Era of Smarter Food Safety”, with Kathy Barbeire, CAT Squared
  • The Road to Traceability is Paved with Standards, with Lucelena Angarita, IPC/Subway and Liz Serti, GS1 US
  • TechTalk from Controlant

The event begins at 12 pm ET on Thursday, December 10. Haven’t registered? Follow this link to the 2020 Food Safety Consortium Virtual Conference Series, which provides access to all the episodes featuring critical industry insights from leading subject matter experts! We look forward to your joining us virtually.

Recall

Q3 Food and Beverage FDA Recalls Up 34% Over Q2, USDA Recalls at Record Low

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Recall

It is being speculated that the short-term decline in the number of food and beverage recalls this year is due to less regulatory oversight as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. During Q3, FDA food recall activity was up 34% compared to last quarter, but this increase is actually a sign of things returning to normal on the side of regulatory oversight activities, according to the latest Q3 Recall Index from Stericycle.

FDA Food Recalls: Notable Numbers (Q3 2020)

  • Undeclared allergens: 56 recalls, accounting for nearly 53% of all recalls; the top cause of an FDA food recalls for the 13th consecutive quarter
  • Bacterial contamination: Accounting for 62% of recalled units, this was the top cause of recalled units with Salmonella being the most common contaminant (the pathogen was responsible for 17 out of 24 recalls)
  • Foreign materials, quality and mislabeling were the other reasons for recalls

USDA Recalls: Notable Numbers (Q3 2020)

  • Undeclared allergens: Top cause of recalls; 6 recalls accounted of nearly 70% of all recalled pounds
    • A single meat and poultry recall affected more than 242,000 pounds (63%) of all recalled pounds
  • The average recall affected 38,000 pounds
  • Over the last three quarters, recalls have been at record low levels
    • Quarterly recall activity is averaging 8.3 recalls a quarter versus an average quarterly volume of more than 30 recalls over the last five years
Manuel Orozco, AIB International
FST Soapbox

Detecting Foreign Material Will Protect Your Customers and Brand

By Manuel Orozco
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Manuel Orozco, AIB International

During the production process, physical hazards can contaminate food products, making them unfit for human consumption. According to the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), the leading cause of food recalls is foreign material contamination. This includes 20 of the top 50, and three of the top five, largest food recalls issued in 2019.

As methods for detecting foreign materials in food have improved over time, you might think that associated recalls should be declining. To the contrary, USDA FSIS and FDA recalls due to foreign material seem to be increasing. During the entire calendar year of 2018, 28 of the 382 food recalls (7.3%) in the USDA’s recall case archive were for foreign material contamination. Through 2019, this figure increased to approximately 50 of the 337 food recalls (14.8%). Each of these recalls may have had a significant negative impact on those brands and their customers, which makes foreign material detection a crucial component of any food safety system.

The FDA notes, “hard or sharp foreign materials found in food may cause traumatic injury, including laceration and perforation of tissues of the mouth, tongue, throat, stomach and intestine, as well as damage to the teeth and gums”. Metal, plastic and glass are by far the most common types of foreign materials. There are many ways foreign materials can be introduced into a product, including raw materials, employee error, maintenance and cleaning procedures, and equipment malfunction or breakage during the manufacturing and packaging processes.

The increasing use of automation and machinery to perform tasks that were once done by hand are likely driving increases in foreign matter contamination. In addition, improved manufacturer capabilities to detect particles in food could be triggering these recalls, as most of the recalls have been voluntary by the manufacturer.

To prevent foreign material recalls, it is key to first prevent foreign materials in food production facilities. A proper food safety/ HACCP plan should be introduced to prevent these contaminants from ending up in the finished food product through prevention, detection and investigation.
Food manufacturers also have a variety of options when it comes to the detection of foreign objects from entering food on production lines. In addition to metal detectors, x-ray systems, optical sorting and camera-based systems, novel methods such as infrared multi-wavelength imaging and nuclear magnetic resonance are in development to resolve the problem of detection of similar foreign materials in a complex background. Such systems are commonly identified as CCPs (Critical Control Points)/preventive controls within our food safety plans.

But what factors should you focus on when deciding between different inspection systems? Product type, flow characteristics, particle size, density and blended components are important factors in foreign material detection. Typically, food manufacturers use metal and/or x-ray inspection for foreign material detection in food production as their CCP/preventive control. While both technologies are commonly used, there are reasons why x-ray inspection is becoming more popular. Foreign objects can vary in size and material, so a detection method like an x-ray that is based on density often provides the best performance.

Regardless of which detection system you choose, keep in mind that FSMA gives FDA the power to scientifically evaluate food safety programs and preventive controls implemented in a food production facility, so validation and verification are crucial elements of any detection system.

It is also important to remember that a key element of any validation system is the equipment validation process. This process ensures that your equipment operates properly and is appropriate for its intended use. This process consists of three steps: Installation qualification, operational qualification and performance qualification.

Installation qualification is the first step of the equipment validation process, designed to ensure that the instrument is properly installed, in a suitable environment free from interference. This process takes into consideration the necessary electrical requirements such as voltage and frequency ratings, as well as other factors related with the environment, such as temperature and humidity. These requirements are generally established by the manufacturer and can be found within the installation manual.

The second step is operational qualification. This ensures that the equipment will operate according to its technical specification. In order to achieve this, the general functions of the equipment must be tested within the specified range limits. Therefore, this step focuses on the overall functionality of the instrument.

The third and last step is the performance qualification, which is focused on providing documented evidence through specific tests that the instrument will performs according to the routine specifications. These requirements could be established by internal and industry standards.

Following these three steps will allow you to provide documented evidence that the equipment will perform adequately within the work environment and for the intended process. After completion of the equipment validation process, monitoring and verification procedures must be established to guarantee the correct operation of the instrument, as well procedures to address deviations and recordkeeping. This will help you effectively control the hazards identified within our operation.

There can be massive consequences if products contaminated with foreign material are purchased and consumed by the public. That’s why the development and implementation of a strong food safety/ HACCP plan, coupled with the selection and validation of your detection equipment, are so important. These steps are each key elements in protecting your customers and your brand.

Alex Kinne, Thermo Fisher Scientific
In the Food Lab

Ensuring Food Safety in Meat Processing Through Foreign Object Detection

By Alex Kinne
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Alex Kinne, Thermo Fisher Scientific

The USDA estimates that foodborne illnesses cost more than $15.6 billion each year. However, biological contamination isn’t the only risk to the safety and quality of food. Food safety can also be compromised by foreign objects at virtually any stage in the production process, from contaminants in raw materials to metal shavings from the wear of equipment on the line, and even from human error. While the risk of foreign object contamination may seem easy to avoid, in 2019 alone the USDA reported 34 food recalls, impacting 17 million pounds of food due to ‘extraneous material’ which can include metal, plastic and even glass.

When FSMA went into effect, the focus shifted to preventing food safety problems, necessitating that food processors implement preventive controls to shift the focus from recovery and quarantine to proactive risk mitigation. Food producers developed Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) plans focused on identifying potential areas of risk and placement of appropriate inspection equipment at these key locations within the processing line.

Metal detection is the most common detection technology used to find ferrous, non-ferrous, and stainless steel foreign objects in food. In order to increase levels of food safety and better protect brand reputation, food processors need detection technologies that can find increasingly smaller metal foreign objects. Leading retailers are echoing that need and more often stipulate specific detection performance in their codes of practice, which processors must meet in order to sell them product.

As food processors face increased consumer demand and continued price-per-unit pressures, they must meet the challenges of greater throughput demands while concurrently driving out waste to ensure maximum operational efficiencies.

Challenges Inherent in Meat Metal Detection

While some food products are easier to inspect, such as dry, inert products like pasta or grains, metal foreign object detection in meat is particularly challenging. This is due to the high moisture and salt content common in ready-to-eat, frozen and processed, often spicy, meat products that have high “product effect.” Bloody whole muscle cuts can also create high product effect.

The conductive properties of meat can mimic a foreign object and cause metal detectors to incorrectly signal the presence of a physical contaminant even when it is nonexistent. Food metal detectors must be intelligent enough to ignore these signals and recognize them as product effect to avoid false rejection. Otherwise, they can signal metal when it is not present, thus rejecting good product and thereby increasing costs through scrap or re-work.

Equipping for Success

When evaluating metal detection technologies, food processors should request a product test, which allows the processor to see how various options perform for their application. The gold standard is for the food processor to send in samples of their product and provide information about the processing environment so that the companies under consideration can as closely as possible simulate the manufacturing environment. These tests are typically provided at no charge, but care should be taken upfront to fully understand the comprehensiveness of the testing methodologies and reporting.

Among the options to explore are new technologies such as multiscan metal detection, which enables meat processors to achieve a new level of food safety and quality. This technology utilizes five user-adjustable frequencies at once, essentially doing the work of five metal detectors back-to-back in the production line and yielding the highest probability of detecting metal foreign objects in food. When running, multiscan technology allows inspectors to view all the selected frequencies in real time and pull up a report of the last 20 rejects to see what caused them, allowing them to quickly make appropriate adjustments to the production line.

Such innovations are designed for ease of use and to meet even the most rigorous retailer codes of practice. Brands, their retail and wholesale customers, and consumers all benefit from carefully considered, application-specific, food safety inspection.

Ensuring Safety

The food processing industry is necessarily highly regulated. Implementing the right food safety program needs to be a top priority to ensure consumer safety and brand protection. Innovative new approaches address these safety concerns for regulatory requirements and at the same time are designed to support increased productivity and operational efficiency.