Metal contamination: A guide to handling a metal contamination food recall
by Fortress technology, UK
The crisis situation of food recall isone that requires immediate action to alleviate any longstanding financial
and reputational damage. Fortress Technology, metal detection specialists, examine the diverse factors that can make food operators vulnerable to a recall, even with inspection equipment in regular use.
The temptation to economise on equipment and the connection between compromising on food safety standards was recently highlighted by global insurance broker Lockton International.
98 percent of the manufacturers surveyed for the Lockton Food & Beverage Report agreed that continued price pressures would influence the final product on the retail shelves, with 42 percent judging that cost cutting is to blame for the current rise in the number of recalls.
Due to retail pricing concerns, survey participants suggest that safety standards are being compromised. The study also points to a significant increase in food recalls by the UK Food Standards Agency (FSA), with the number doubling in the last five years and a sharp rise in those with physical contaminants, including metal. Lockton's Food and Beverage Product Recall Risk Tracker found that food contamination linked to choking hazards were the cause of 22 percent of food and drink recalls over the past six years.
It implies that short-term thrift with equipment may have an adverse effect on food safety, putting a business and brand reputation in jeopardy. Understanding how to optimise metal detection systems forms a critical part of the planning for a recall process and is good business practice.
It can happen to anyone
Most food suppliers that face a recall will almost certainly have product inspection equipment in place, so what causes a metal contaminant to slip through the HACCP safety net? The answer is no system is entirely infallible.
Quality assurance often runs deeper than the obvious. Rather than considering the 'if' it can be prudent to think instead about the 'when'. To mitigate future contaminant risks means you are not looking for patterns but future potential holes in the security chain. From a practical perspective, food processing inspection risks are recommended to be reviewed every 12 months as part of a defined HACCP assessment.
Run mock recalls
Don't wait for a crisis to hit before developing your recall response. It can be advisable to run several mock rehearsals for different product scenarios Ensure you involve everyone that would be connected to a recall, from quality assurance managers to production line operators, customer service personnel to marketing. Testing your process regularly helps to clarify everyone's role. Have a contingency team too, to cover holidays, if the recall might hit out of usual operating hours.
Know your metals
First, there's the widespread use of stainless steels in the food industry. These are more difficult to detect than ferrous metals such as iron and steel or non-ferrous metals such as copper
or zinc. This is because metal detectors work by monitoring disturbances in an electromagnetic field, caused by magnetic and conductive characteristics of material passing through. Ferrous metals are both magnetic and good electrical conductors so they're relatively easy to detect. Non-ferrous metals aren't magnetic but they're good conductors.
Stainless steel, specifically the 300 series, is non-magnetic and is also a poor electrical conductor compared to other metal types. These characteristics make stainless steel the most difficult metal type to detect. In theory, this means that in a sphere of stainless steel hidden in a dry product typically needs to be 50 percent larger than a ferrous sphere to generate similar signal strength. That disparity can rise from 200 to 300 percent when inspecting wet product with conductive characteristics.
Consider product flow and shape
Food products come in all shapes, sizes and density. What's more, products don't always travel consistently in the same direction when passing through the metal detector aperture. Since size, shape, orientation and position of metal contaminants cannot be controlled; operating a metal detector at the highest possible sensitivity is generally viewed as the optimal method to detect the miniscule contaminants.
It's equally important to remember that metal detector performance is usually measured using spheres. However, metal contamination may not be spherical, thus the signal generated by said contaminant can vary in amplitude quite drastically in some cases. The most extreme example is small diameter wire, which may be easy to detect if it presents to the detector in one orientation, but very tricky to spot if it arrives in a different orientation. It's therefore important to optimise the performance of the detector to cope with the worst-case scenario.
An improvement in sphere size from 3mm to 2.5mm may not significant but it can be the difference between success and failure when trying to spot an irregular fragment.