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Can X-ray Inspection Detect Plastic in Food?

Food & Beverage

In January 2017, Schreiber Processing Corp., a Maspeth, N.Y. company, recalled approximately 2,330 pounds of chicken tender products due to possible plastic contamination and misbranding¹.

Schreiber isn’t alone. The numbers of recorded food recalls resulting from plastic or rubber contamination have more than doubled in the EU and North America during the past 12 months. Chicken products are most affected by plastic contamination, while the dairy, bakery, vegetable and salad sectors also have a significant share of the recall incidents².

Where Does Plastic Come From?

In most cases, plastic contamination is caused by a small piece of production machinery failing and breaking. Potential sources of high-density plastics can be from mixing paddles or materials which are used to line equipment, chutes and spouts. Other sources may include objects used in the cleaning process or fragments which have fallen into the production line simply by accident.

Last year, one of the world’s largest food companies, Mars ordered a recall of chocolate products in 55 countries after a customer found bits of plastic in a Snickers bar. The plastic was traced back to the Mars factory in the southern Dutch town of Veghel, where it was believed the piece came from a protective cover used in the manufacturing process³.

Reduce the Risk of Plastic Contamination in Food with X-ray Inspection Technology

Keeping plastics out of the food production line is notoriously difficult. Plastic detection depends very much on the type of plastic, in particular the density of the plastic compared to the product.

While standard x-ray inspection systems provide unsurpassed detection of a wide range of dense physical contaminants (stones, glass, metal), they are incapable of detecting low-density plastics and rubber in most food-based products.

However there is a solution…Material Discrimination X-ray (MDX). Using technology pioneered for use in the security sector, the ability of MDX dual energy technology to discriminate materials by their chemical composition (atomic number) enables the detection of historically undetectable inorganic contaminants, including rubber and plastics.

In fact, certain plastics and rubbers with inorganic filler or other compounds which are reactive to x-rays such as chlorine, bromine or fluorine will have a higher probability of detection using MDX technology.

By enabling plastic to be removed before reaching the customer or supermarket shelves, MDX x-ray technology can help food processors avoid product recalls, as well as play a key role in protecting manufacturers’ brands and the welfare of consumers.

However, as detection depends on the type of plastic, it’s strongly recommended manufacturers conduct tests to determine the probability of detection prior to finalizing any inspection solution specification.

¹https://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/wcm/connect/FSIS-Content/internet/main/topics/recalls-and-public-health-alerts/recall-case-archive/archive/2017/recall-002-2017-release

²http://www.qualityassurancemag.com/article/plastic-contaminated-food-recalls-double-in-2016/

³http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2016/feb/23/mars-chocolate-product-recalls-snickers-milky-way-celebrations-germany-netherlands

Christy Draus, Marketing Manager, Eagle Product Inspection

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