Product recalls involving foreign objects cost food companies millions of dollars each year, damage their reputations, and put consumers at risk for injury. Recent recalls such as the FDA recall of ice cream due to metal contamination are a reminder why food safety inspection is so crucial.
Foreign object detection, especially in dairy foods, is a critical step in food processing. While there is always pressure to ensure food safety regulatory compliance without hindering productivity, pressure has only increased during the global pandemic as food processors face acute needs to meet changing supply chain demands for more at-home consumption of frozen, processed and shelf-stable foods.
Identify and understand contaminants
Metals such as ferrous, nonferrous and stainless-steel shavings or fragments from production equipment are among the most common foreign objects of concern in dairy processing plants. As part of Hazard Analysis and Critical Controls Plan (HACCP) assessment, food processors must identify where these foreign objects could enter the process and ensure that a control such as a metal detector is in place to reduce escapes. Finding metal foreign objects in dairy products can pose particular challenges to metal detectors because of many products’ high salt and fat content, making inspection all the more crucial.
Overcome detection challenges
Metal detectors have long been used to find foreign metal objects in food. However, until recently, metal detection had its shortcomings.
Metal detectors were susceptible to environmental conditions such as temperature swings and electromagnetic interference from nearby equipment in the processing plant. They posed an ongoing challenge to avoid excessive false rejects, which increase the potential for costly scrap or rework, impact operational efficiency and slow down the product to market timeline.
The food being inspected also presented obstacles to the technology. High-salt-content foods, including cheese, yogurt and ice cream, are highly conductive and can mimic metal signals.
Recent advances in metal detection
Recent technological advances are designed to overcome product effect and noise. One newer technology enables the operator to quickly and easily select and fine-tune a high-performing operating frequency to achieve optimal detection sensitivity, finding only the metal and ignoring the host product.
Advances in software enable time-saving automated setup of detection parameters. Additionally, the instrument is designed to allow adjustments on the fly by line workers without the need for intervention by highly skilled operators. What used to take hours can be accomplished in minutes, resulting in maximum food safety and operational efficiency.
Armed with new metal detection technology that delivers a higher probability of detection, dairy processors have the best possible ability to find metal foreign objects in their food, supporting food safety, brand protection and consumer safety. Along with how easy this technology is to use, processors save valuable time in recipe setup, troubleshooting and adjustments to achieve optimal performance in support of production goals.
With challenges due to current events and trends shifting toward more at-home consumption of frozen foods, the need for such technology to meet the inspection challenges of dairy processors only increases.