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Optimising contamination detection in pipelines

03 January 2017

Kyle Thomas explains how pipeline X-ray technology can help ensure the safety and quality of a range of pumped foods. 

Food manufacturers are increasingly looking for new ways to comply with ever more stringent health and safety demands, while optimising production line efficiency.

When properly installed and operated, product inspection equipment can help realise these goals. However, pumped production lines can often pose problems for traditional inspection systems. 

A wide range of processed foods are passed through pipelines every day –from meat and poultry to dairy products, fruit and vegetables to confectionery. Contamination detection in pumped products can prove problematic because processing makes it harder for traditional inspection systems to detect foreign bodies as contaminants are often broken down into smaller, less identifiable pieces.

Removing contaminated product on pumped lines can also prove tricky and reject portion sizes tend to be larger for pumped applications. This is because standard reject mechanisms are not able to isolate a single item. Downtime is also a possibility, caused by contaminants damaging downstream processing equipment, such as grinders, while product passing through a pipe will perform differently to product travelling on a conveyor, so speed variations also need to be taken into account when undertaking contamination detection. Finally, pipework can run across roofs or at strange angles, which often makes it more challenging to incorporate inspection technology. 

Using traditional product inspection solutions, the above mentioned factors can have an impact over and above issues with minimising the risk of contaminated product reaching consumers.

First, the product that is being rejected accrues more cost as it moves down the production line, generating more financial loss.

Second, to ensure contaminated product is removed from the production line, it may be necessary to reject additional conforming product, thereby increasing waste.

Third, to ensure accurate detection using traditional solutions, it may also be necessary to use narrow pipework, which can decrease throughput rates, slowing down the production line and reducing productivity.

Optimising detection
Contaminant detection on pumped lines can be enhanced by installing a pipeline X-ray inspection system. These contain a flat manifold inspection area which promotes uniformity of inspection and maximises detection of dense contaminants, including metal, glass, mineral stone, calcified bone, high-density plastics and rubber compounds. 

While pipeline inspection systems can be used at different stages on a production line, depending on the identified Critical control points (CCP), a common location is at the start of the production process when product value is low and the risk of contamination from incoming raw materials is at its highest. 

Innovative systems are now available which incorporate a range of fully-integrated reject valves, including a three-way ball valve. All valves can be synchronised to the pump to help minimise rejected portions and saving costs.
Advanced systems also allow accurate setup of the reject valve to shorten the time it is open, helping to reduce product waste.

Some pipeline X-ray systems feature integrated reject valves with a blade for solid/muscular products. This is able to can cut out and reject just the contaminated product, minimising the amount of good product rejected. Such systems may also contain a sensor to help ensure contaminated product is rejected, even if the speed of the pumped product changes. 

Maintaining optimal hygiene standards of pumped production lines can also pose a challenge. 
However, pipeline X-ray systems that are IP69 compliant can support and facilitate rigorous hygiene regimes, maximising uptime and optimising productivity. Such equipment can also be disconnected from the pipework for easy cleaning.

Regular equipment maintenance can also be an issue on pumped production lines, as can performance testing, which is a requirement for compliance with many Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI)-approved standards.

Pipeline X-ray systems can offer a number of features designed to simplify maintenance and testing procedures for manufacturers. This includes piping and inspection manifold systems which can easily be removed for cleaning and maintenance.

Despite the challenges, the benefits of inspecting pumped foods before final processing and packaging are numerous. Typically, contamination detection levels are better in the early stages of the production process, where unprocessed pumped product can be presented in a shallower depth and with a more uniform (homogeneous) texture than in sealed packs. 

Catching contaminants early in the process many also allow manufacturers to recover product and feed it back into the line after contaminant removal, helping to lower waste while preventing possible damage to downstream processing equipment caused by larger contaminants. In addition, isolating and removing contaminants at this stage of production saves packaging materials and the related cost that would have been wasted if inspection only occurred after final packaging. 

As well as helping manufacturers adhere to a diligent Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) program, installing an X-ray pipeline inspection system can also help achieve compliance with GFSI-recognised standards, such as the British Retail Consortium (BRC) Global Standard Version 7, and national food safety regulations as well as retailers' own food safety requirements.

Kyle Thomas is strategic business unit manager at Eagle Product Inspection.

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