Perhaps the greatest challenge manufacturers of food products face is not the palatability of their products as much as it is ensuring that they are safe to consume. These days, manufacturers are held to a much higher standard of quality than ever before, thanks to things like increasingly stringent government regulations and industry oversight.
To complicate matters, safety equipment (food grade metal detectors chief among them) used in the manufacturing process is also bound by its own set of considerable performance standards.
The FDA and Metal Detectors
When it comes to the ingestion of metal, the FDA is quite clear on the potential hazard it poses to the public, stating “Ingesting metal fragments can cause injuries to the consumer… injuries [that] may include dental damage, laceration of the mouth or throat, or laceration of perforation of the intestine.” As such, the regulatory body’s Health Hazard Evaluation Board supports regulatory action against the manufacturer of products containing metallic fragments measuring between 0.3”-1”.
To ensure that these metallic fragments (and those of even smaller dimensions) are detected, it isn’t enough to install a food grade metal detector at critical control points (CCP) throughout the system – proper calibration of said equipment also plays a vital role in detection. Several factors for instance, can impede normal detection of fragments; factors such as the orientation of the fragment relative to the sensors, or the ambient humidity produced during the manufacturing process or product acidity can create an interfering signal that could mask the detection of metallic inclusions. Proper calibration of the detection equipment can reduce the impact of these factors.
The FDA’s website provides numerous resources for the proper installation and usage of qualified detection systems and provides comprehensive guidelines for establishing responsible monitoring procedures.
Reigning in Foreign Contaminants
Food manufacturing is prone to three different types of contaminants, namely chemical, physical, and biological. While each contaminant poses its own type and degree of risk, the guiding principles of food safety implementation is the same for each of them. More to the point, getting a handle on food contaminants relies on a targeted approach consisting of identifying, reducing, and preventing inclusions.
Before any safety equipment is purchased and incorporated into a food production system, a series of risk assessments of the manufacturing process is required. Are the raw materials used inherently to any of the aforementioned contaminants? Will the manufacturing process have a number of CCPs that could open the doors to physical contaminants? These questions along with many others must be answered prior to production and can be addressed by performing regular hazard audits.
The Importance of Documentation, Implementation, and Maintenance
Documentation, implementation, and maintenance represent the three pillars of Good Manufacturing Processes (GMPs) that are designed to promote food safety. One such GMP that’s become standard in the food industry is the elimination of the use of low-grade wooden pallets, which can be a source of physical contamination. These have been widely (though not universally) replaced by pallets made of plastic.
Process documentation is necessary to create consistency when conducting spot checks of a product. Regular, preventative maintenance ensures production equipment is not only functioning as expected but to also make sure the equipment itself isn’t introducing contaminants (example: lubricants, food grade or otherwise) into the assembly line.
One might think that advances in technology would translate to fewer contaminants being introduced into the manufacturing process. While that idea is true to some degree, manufacturers that count agricultural products among their raw materials can experience quite the opposite, particularly in situations where crops are harvested mechanically. Mechanically harvested crops can arrive at a facility with a not inconsiderable inclusion of rocks, glass, rodents, birds, insects, and small pieces of metal. Of course, this form of harvesting is undoubtedly efficient, provided the processing facility possesses equally sophisticated equipment and best practices to ensure all contaminants are removed.
Metal Detections Solutions
There are a number of metal detection solutions available in the food manufacturing industry, each of which is viable depending on the intended application. Metal detectors can detect all traces of metallic content, depending on the size of the finished product and the packaging. Parameters should be discussed with the manufacturer of the detection system to ensure that minimum detection limits can be achieved. Also, ferrous, nonferrous, and stainless steel standards should also be established. As far as stainless steel goes, it’s important that the type of stainless steel outlined in the standards represents the type of stainless steel that is primarily used in the production of the
Regardless of the product, there is a metal detector suited for it. Some systems allow the product to pass products via a conveyor belt, while in-line systems detect ferrous and non-ferrous materials in pumped liquid products.
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