Market Outlook 2017: Maintaining Food Safety In The Factory
Friday, September 22nd, 2017
Food safety is one of the top priorities for food businesses today in light of growing concerns to ensure consumer safety and brand quality. Kris Fairfield, global business director, product inspection, Thermo Fisher Scientific, sheds insight on the technologies companies can and should leverage in their production process.
What are some of the popular technologies that companies use to ensure food safety?
While popular technologies to ensure food safety in Southeast Asia mirror the trends in the rest of the world, their importance is underscored as Southeast Asia manages its rapid ramp up in food production for both local and export markets.
Product inspection equipment including metal detectors, X-ray systems and checkweighers are most commonly using for food safety and product quality. These technologies can also have the added benefit of delivering a compelling return on investment (ROI) from increased productivity.
We’re also seeing that demand is increasing as consumers and regulatory bodies introduce or make more rigorous safety and quality standards.
Some examples are the Standard Nasional Indonesia (SNI) 7387:2009 regarding metal contamination in food products, the Singapore SS 590: 2013 HACCP-based Food Safety Management standard and the Thailand Food Act B.E. 2522.
There’s also a trend toward retailers inquiring about or mandating rigorous product inspection processes and expecting the latest equipment technology installed throughout the chain of custody.
How do these benefit manufacturers?
There are multiple benefits that metal detectors and X-ray equipment provide to the manufacturer.
Depending which technology is selected, physical contaminants ranging from metal, stone, glass, etc. can be detected before a product leaves the production line. This capability also helps prevent costly recalls, and in the most serious situation, may prevent consumer harm or even death. Checkweighers help ensure that the manufacturing facility is not providing ‘extra’ product that erodes profit margins.
Checkweighers also ensure that consumers are getting the exact amount of food specified on the label.
In your opinion, how do you foresee the future of such technologies in the food and beverage industry?
We envision that food inspection/detection technologies, such as X-ray and metal detectors, will eventually become mandatory, as pressure grows from retailers and regulatory agencies.
There are large food chains today that will not accept food products that have not gone through some degree of inspection/detection screening. We also envision that countries around the world will continue to enact tougher food safety regulations.
What advice can you give food and beverage manufacturers when it comes to using these technologies?
Finding The Right Solution
Product inspection is not “one solution fits all.” There is tremendous innovation in these technologies. At the same time that manufacturers are innovating easy-to-use solutions, there’s also innovation to bring the technologies closer to the point of origin to identify contaminants early in the process.
Food processors may also find that the smaller footprint of combo units will work best on their line. While some food processors may choose the most affordable option, they may be short-sighted and overlook how a higher performance, more reliable solution can drive greater efficiencies, reduce rework and ensure uptime.
Designing and implementing a successful food safety and quality program requires considerations such as:
• Where in the production process to place which equipment
• What type of equipment is right for the application
• What functionality will ensure effective inspection yet be easy to use by many operators
• What reporting features will provide documentation required by internal stakeholders, regulators and customers
Look At Product Requirements:
Food companies should look at the specific food product they are processing. Unique product characteristics such as density or moisture content can impact which inspection or detection technology would better suit it in order to prevent against food safety.
The package size and type also are a key factor. For example, if the packaging material has a high degree of metal such as aluminium foil or a metallised flexible material, X-ray equipment will most likely perform better in that environment.
Placing The Equipment:
Where to place inspection equipment on the production line is a common question. There are typically five locations. Let’s use a baking operation as our hypothetical example. Here are five placement scenarios:
1. Incoming ingredients. Some bakers will implement inspection at this phase, even if they have several other inspection methods installed later down the line. Typical incoming inspection consists of drop-through and bulkflow metal detectors.
2. Dough stage. This is an ideal location to conduct upstream inspection. Metal detectors are the equipment of choice because metal-based packaging is not yet part of the process.
3. After baking/before packaging. The inspection equipment type will depend on the product type and whether its formulation creates a ‘product effect’. Warm, moist, high salt-content products such as breads are more suited for X-ray equipment, while metal detectors perform well with typically inert snack foods. Checkweighers can be employed at this stage to ensure that the product weight falls within specifications and will not create problems (such as line stoppages due to overfill) at the packaging stage.
4. After packaging. The recommended inspection equipment type depends on the packaging materials used for the product. X-ray inspection is necessary for metallised film packaging while metal detection is suitable for metalfree packaging. Checkweighers are useful at this stage to avoid under- and overfills and reduce giveaway.
5. After case packing. Some food companies inspect after the final packaging stage. X-ray inspection is ideal for this phase. A large-aperture system can be used to inspect these large packages. The system would also be able to detect missing pieces so that the right contents are inside. Use of a checkweigher at this stage can confirm that the case is within the weight range specified.
While food safety and quality have always been important to protect a company’s integrity, the issues are magnified in today’s digital world. A disgruntled consumer can use social media to air their concerns, causing instantaneous reverberations from a local market to Western markets where tough regulations and high expectations about product quality and reliability are the norm.
Savvy food processors will recognise that food safety and quality requirements are here to stay. By understanding where in the manufacturing process physical contaminants can be introduced and by embracing best practices, they can help ensure the safety of their brand and consumers.
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