Food safety is extremely relevant, for both manufacturers and consumers. Product recall protection is driving manufacturers to incorporate product inspection into their packaging and processing lines. While an inspection step is a critical requirement for Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) and most likely needed for Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) compliance, before committing to a solution, it is important to establish what to look for in a product inspection system. With a multitude of options available on the market, it can be confusing to select a technology that will be the right fit for a production line. Furthermore, advanced product inspection technologies can offer much more than contaminant detection, currently pushing the frontiers into total quality assurance.
When Traditional Product Inspection Methods are Not Enough…
A traditional form of inspection used before inspection technology became popular was manual inspection. An appropriate method in the past, manual inspection presents many challenges that have made it unsuitable for food manufacturing including identification of contaminants only visible to the human eye, lower throughput speeds and inherent worker safety risk created by manually removing contaminated product from the line. It is critical to consider hazards that can’t be seen, such as a glass shard inside a jar of tomato sauce or metal shaving in a can of soup.
Metal is one of many common contaminants to appear in physical contamination recalls¹. Reasons for this include metal-to-metal contact in the processing stages creating loose metal fragments and the introduction of metal through raw materials. For that reason the incorporation of metal detectors became very popular for manufacturers looking to perform an in-depth inspection of their line for ferrous and non-ferrous metals, stainless steel and aluminum fragments. Metal detectors remain a quality solution for this common contaminant; however, challenges still remain such as difficulty inspecting inside low-density foil or metalized film, a popular packaging for snacks, confectionery and bakery products. X-ray inspection has the added advantage of being able to detect other common forms of contamination such as stone, glass and calcified bone, which are impossible for metal detectors to identify as well as product integrity checks such as component count and weighing.
Total Quality Assurance with X-ray Inspection Systems
With safety regulations and certifications becoming increasingly stringent, such as the finalization of the FSMA and the revision of the British Retail Consortium (BRC) global standards, many manufacturers require additional inspection and quality checks. Capable of inspecting the full spectrum of food products, from confectionery and snack foods to meat and poultry, in loose, bulk, pumped, individual or multi-pack formats, advanced x-ray inspection systems have become a familiar and trusted solution. With its ability to perform non-invasive inspection for contaminants like metal, glass, dense plastics and rubbers, mineral stone and calcified bone while maintaining high efficiency and throughput, modern x-ray inspection offers advantages over most inspection methods.
X-ray inspection gives a clear view into a product and package, allowing it to distinguish harmful contaminants from the components of a food product. The development of an advanced dual energy inspection technology, Material Discrimination X-ray (MDX), enables the detection of previously undetectable contaminants. With MDX, foods with varying densities, such as containers of trail mix or bags of frozen stir-fry that typically produce difficult or busy images to inspect, no longer pose a challenge as components are deciphered according to their atomic number, which makes contaminants easier to find.
Not only are x-ray inspection systems capable of identifying contaminants, they simultaneously provide manufacturers with the quality checks required by retailers and certifiers. With a quick pass through the machine, quality checks for mass measurement, seal integrity, component count, fill level and packaging defects take place safeguarding product from future contamination or degradation and damage to brand integrity. Unlike other forms of inspection technology, advanced x-ray inspection systems collect data on the products passing through the machine, aiding with reporting, traceability and due diligence in the event of a recall.
X-ray is a commonly chosen method of food inspection in modern food manufacturing. Staff working with x-ray inspection systems are protected by legislation and design. The regulations set safety levels, while equipment manufacturers build even greater safety margins into their systems. Furthermore, studies from the World Health Organization (WHO) have also shown that x-ray radiation shows no adverse effects on the food products passing through it.
With functionality that is highly compatible with modern manufacturing methods, advanced x-ray inspection systems enable manufacturers to enhance both product integrity and consumer safety, while also protecting their businesses from the risk of product recall or sub-standard products hitting the market.
Christy Draus, Marketing Manager at Eagle Product Inspection