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Ensuring MAP quality for gluten-free products

11 February 2018

An Ishida AirScan leak detection system is helping to ensure seal integrity of a range of gluten-free pasta and baked goods from Swiss company JOWA AG. 

The company needed to be confident that its modified-atmosphere packaging (MAP) is sealed properly to prevent cross-contamination from products made using conventional methods. An intact protective atmosphere is also essential for products that do not contain any preservatives.

The gluten-free production at JOWA’s factory involves a complex process chain – from strict controls on ingredients and stringent production safety requirements to the need to pack the products in a cleanroom. This protects products from contamination with gluten, while the sterile conditions render preservatives largely unnecessary.

Fully intact MAP is essential to keep food free of gluten and ensure a shelf life of up to 180 days. Rochus Liniger, site manager at JOWA adds: "Gluten-free food is susceptible to variations in consistency if the protective atmosphere is not quite right."

A variety of thermoformed tray formats are employed across the wide product range. The need for effective leak detection arose when the company came to automate the wrap-around packaging process at the end of the packing line. Employees had previously carried out this aspect of inspection when manually applying the wrap-around packaging, while spot checks on random samples provided an added layer of security. However, the time had come for fully automated leak detection. "We were looking for an in-line machine that could work at high speed with reliability and would be capable of picking out individual packs,” said Liniger.

Itech AG, which represents Ishida in Switzerland, was the only supplier to offer a suitable solution with AirScan, an in-line system for detecting leaks in MAP. The system uses laser technology to detect leaking carbon dioxide. The system checks each individual thermoformed tray in less than 20 milliseconds.

With an output of up to 180 packs per minute, the AirScan is able to find holes as small as 0.25 mm in diameter. Any identified leaking packs are separated from the line using a powerful air nozzle and ejected into a locked reject bin. Although the reject rate is low, there is always a risk of bits of product getting into the seals and causing leaks. Packaging can also suffer damage from the crusts of bakery products, which are sometimes quite sharp.

The AirScan has been easily integrated into the packing line, with the compact system installed above an existing conveyor without the need for time-consuming modifications to the line configuration.

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