The Future of X-ray Inspection Systems in the Food Industry

Food & Beverage
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In this post pandemic world where unstable supply chains are impacting everyone’s bottom line, it’s more important than ever to control the variables that we can. Profitability is going to come down to who has the best technology integrated into their production line to keep them the most competitive in today’s global marketplace. Read on to find out how adopting x-ray inspection systems can improve line efficiencies and safeguard your reputation, all while providing compliance to food safety standards.

Why do manufacturers need x-ray inspection systems?

Quite simply, manufacturers need x-ray inspection systems in order to protect their brands. Poor quality product will damage their reputation with consumers and negatively impact their future business. Product quality needs to be controlled and verified on the production line, and incorporating x-ray inspection into a business, whether in the food, beverage or pharmaceutical industry, is one of the most effective ways to safeguard against potential issues. Reducing the risk of substandard products will also help manufacturers increase their profitability as they avoid unnecessary and costly product recalls. For manufacturers to remain successful in a highly competitive and increasingly global marketplace, they must ensure that their products meet the quality standards that their customers demand.

With x-ray inspection systems, manufacturers can identify contaminants such as metal, stone, glass, dense plastics and calcified bone. They can also reduce overall maintenance and ownership costs as many systems now combine the jobs that would normally need more than one machine. For example, in addition to contaminant detection, current x-ray systems, as part of a complete recipe management solution, enable meat processors to create a batch of meat at a specific chemical lean and target weight. X-ray inspection systems can also simultaneously perform inline quality checks such as measuring mass, counting components, identifying missing or broken products, monitoring fill levels, inspecting seal integrity, and checking for damaged products and packaging. With one machine carrying out several tasks, line maintenance and operation costs can be reduced.

What are the main concerns of manufacturers when selecting an x-ray inspection system?

A key factor for consideration is speed. Manufacturers cannot afford to have their lines slowed down by their quality control technologies. Advanced x-ray systems are designed to meet today’s manufacturers’ high throughput targets.

Sometimes manufacturers also express concern that the quality of their end products may be affected by radiation from x-ray inspection systems. However, scientific evidence from the World Health Organisation (WHO) confirms that food radiation levels up to 10,000 Sievert (which is the standard unit for the amount of absorbed radiation dose) do not affect food’s safety or nutritional value. In fact, the dose levels used in x-ray inspection are less than one-ten-millionth of those used in the WHO study. Food that passes through x-ray machines spends about 250 milliseconds in the x-ray beam. During that short time, it receives a radiation dose of around 0.2 Millisievert (which is 0.002 Sievert). The radiation levels are so low that organic food can be subjected to x-ray inspection with no diminution of its organic status. The food remains safe to eat and loses none of its nutritional value.

Additionally, some manufacturers express concern that their operators may be exposed to harmful radiation from x-ray inspection systems. The average human is exposed to about 2.4 Millisievert in a year from natural background radiation (see Table 1). This far exceeds the radiation exposure received from an x-ray inspection system in the food industry. The typical maximum dose rate immediately adjacent to an operational x-ray machine is 0.001 Millisievert per hour, which means an operator in direct contact with an x-ray system for 40 hours a week would receive 2 Millisievert per year.

Source Average Dose (Millisievert/year) Typical Range (Millisievert/year)
Space 0.4 0.3 – 1.0
Earth 0.5 0.3 – 0.6
Human body 0.3 0.2 – 0.8
Radon 1.2 0.2 – 1.0
Total (rounded)    2.4 1 – 10

Source: Radiation Threats and Your Safety, Armin Ansari, 2010, page 10

What are the latest, most advanced features of x-ray inspection systems?

The latest x-ray inspection systems provide easy-to-use, enhanced graphical interfaces and versatile new software solutions with on-screen self-diagnostics. They are equipped with full multi-lane and multi-view capabilities, allowing operators to monitor the systems on one screen. Combining all of the information saves valuable time for the operator as it allows more products to be inspected more quickly.

New systems are capable of running different detector technologies based on the manufacturer’s application needs. In addition to single energy, both Material Discrimination X-ray (MDX) and Performance X-ray Technology (PXT) are available. MDX is dual energy technology that discriminates materials by their chemical composition and allows the detection and rejection of historically undetectable inorganic contaminants such as glass shards, rocks, rubber and plastic. PXT is Eagle’s breakthrough technology that sets a new standard in x-ray detection. It captures more detailed product data than ever before, even providing bone detection down to 1 mm and metal wire detection down to .5 mm.

X-ray inspection systems can also verify fill level, as well as verify component presence or absence to alert manufacturers to check if food containers have been overfilled in order to avoid waste. For example, Eagle’s QuadView x-ray system provides four-view detection coverage and full inspection of high-speed jar, bottle and composite lines as well as other upright container formats. This advanced system eliminates blind spots that commonly occur at the bottom of the containers during inspection. It’s also network compatible, allowing remote access by technicians to quickly diagnose and correct issues.

Advanced x-ray systems can also be set up for remote server access and integrated with networking programs. This allows for around-the-clock monitoring of statistics, images and reports generated from the individual x-ray machine from any computer with network access. This kind of detail helps manufacturers adhere to retailers’ codes of conduct and help prepare for safety audits.

What is fat analysis and what is the most effective method?

Fat analysis is the process of determining the fat content in a given product, which is crucial for food manufacturers to meet the requirements of increasingly health conscious consumers. Dual Energy X-ray Absorptiometry (DEXA) technology is the most accurate and repeatable method of fat analysis to date. This technology measures the amount of x-rays that are absorbed by the fat content and lean meat through the use of two specific x-ray energies.

By evaluating the ratio of energy absorbed at a high energy to the level of energy absorbed at a lower energy, the technology infers the average atomic numbers of the product scanned to provide the chemical lean value. This determines how healthy and lean the food product is for consumers who want to reduce their risk of certain health conditions such as heart disease. In addition to analyzing the chemical lean value, these systems also verify weight and inspect for contaminants at speeds of up to 145 tons of bulk or carton meat per hour.

What does the future look like for x-ray inspection systems in the food industry?

We believe the food industry will continue to invest in food x-ray inspection systems that incorporate detector technologies like MDX, PXT and DEXA as they will provide manufacturers a strong return on investment (ROI) very quickly. This is due to the overall low cost of ownership, from a simple low-cost maintenance and replacement structure.

Also, with ever-changing trends in the food industry, producers of x-ray equipment need to consider new food demands and more innovative packaging designs. To manage the increased desire for multi-textures, natural sweeteners and super fruits in foods, such as acai berry, goji berry and blueberries, the flexibility of the x-ray inspection system will need to develop. Innovative packaging designs also lead to their own challenges as machines previously calibrated to scan standard types of packaging will have to adapt in order to accurately analyze new packaging shapes, sizes and materials.

As food and drug safety regulations intensify, compliance and traceability through every stage of a product’s life cycle will grow in importance. For full compliance, it is essential that food manufacturers are able to access product tracking information simply and quickly. In the future, all product inspection equipment will need to dually function as management tools as well as process control tools to give company leadership the information they need to make informed decisions and guarantee compliance.

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