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Ensuring conformity of packaged food

07 April 2018

Integrating advanced product inspection technologies into production processes can help ensure consistency and repeatability at all times to meet the packaged food conformity demands of food retailers. Daniela Verhaeg reports. 

Conformity of packaged food takes many guises. The fundamental requirement is that food is free from unwanted contaminants and is of high quality, and that the label is accurate and correctly positioned. The product also needs to be within the correct weight tolerance and must comply with national and international food safety standards, regulations or legislation.

The potential severity of non-conformity is huge, especially if it is due to foreign body contamination. For an individual, it may have long-lasting health implications or even prove fatal. For the businesses concerned, it may result in a product recall, financial penalty, criminal prosecution or even closure.

Conformity goes much deeper than food safety compliance. On reaching the consumer, both product and package must be presented with no defects and must accurately reflect brand expectations. This could be as simple as ensuring that a novelty insert is included or the label is always in exactly the same position. However, it can also be as complex as ensuring that all the chocolates within a box having the same amount of topping.

Advanced product inspection technology – such as modern x-ray and vision inspection systems – can perform multiple integrity checks simultaneously to prove product conformity. Checkweighing technology can be used in combination with vision, metal detection or X-ray within one machine.

A Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) evaluation will identify the potential types of contaminants that could affect product conformity. By considering the different product types and packaging materials involved, this evaluation will determine how and where a contaminant is likely to enter the process.

Metal detection technology provides the best means of detecting ferrous, non-ferrous (brass and aluminium) and stainless-steel metal contaminants. Until recently, it was not possible to detect small unwanted metal items using a metal detector when products were packaged in metallised film. However, advances in metal detection systems use multi-simultaneous frequency and product signal suppression technology to deliver high sensitivity in such applications.

X-ray inspection systems can inspect all packaging types for unwanted physical contaminants, such as calcified bone, glass shards, metal fragments, mineral stone, dense plastic and rubber compounds. They detect foreign bodies, irrespective of their shape or location within the product, at fast production speeds. As x-ray technology examines the overall product, several additional inspection checks can be performed simultaneously to ensure food safety and product conformity.

Product and packaging integrity
X-ray inspection technology can also inspect for missing items within the primary or secondary package. In the primary package, this can include counting sausages to ensure the correct number are contained within one pack or identifying the presence of a plastic measuring scoop in infant formula containers. Within secondary packaging, X-ray systems installed at the end of the line, before dispatch, will check that each box contains the correct number of primary packs.

X-ray gross mass measurement checks the overall weight of each pack and will reject any non-conforming products outside of a specified weight range. Zoned mass measurement is best suited when the mass of individual items inside the pack must be examined, such as each compartment of a ready meal.

In-line checkweighers ensure that each package is accurately weighed, in real time, based on the predetermined content weight of each compartment. This enables filling deviations to be investigated at the processing stage. As an option, the checkweigher can be set up to control upstream filling machines. If the checkweigher detects any unacceptable deviation it will reject non-conforming products and can adjust the connected filling machine automatically.

Seal integrity
Spillage and spoilage during transportation and storage is another threat to product conformity. Product trapped underneath the seal can lead to a weakening of the closure, a risk to the freshness of the product and to actual contamination.

X-ray technology can detect dense product between the outer and inner edges of the seal, whilst vision systems check sealed edges for excess food. Both systems successfully remove all non-conforming products from the production line for further investigation. Tamper-evident seals are becoming more popular to give consumers confidence of product integrity. Advanced vision technology enables the inspection of tamper-evident seals in real time to guarantee that the product was securely sealed when leaving the production facility. It can also verify the individual serialisation numbers to protect against security breaches further on in the supply chain.

Label accuracy
Vision technology can also inspect the positioning and content of labels at high production speeds and verifies that the right label is attributed to the correct package. It can inspect all label information to ensure consumer safety and compliance with labelling regulations, irrespective of variable print applications. Checks for the presence and quality of the date and lot information minimise the risk of expired product entering the marketplace and are vital in the event of a product recall. Recent innovations even verify the accuracy and quality of inkjet dot printing and provide an additional level of quality control.

The latest innovations in product inspection technology enable X-ray systems to simultaneously check for dents or damage to the package, while advanced vision inspection can verify if branding guidelines have been upheld and that all relevant information regarding ingredients is correctly displayed.

Utilising the data
Vital for any successful conformity initiative is access to quality data. Connected product inspection systems will give access food safety management information in real time. To centrally control and monitor all food safety activities and production data, inspection data management software can provide seamless integration of product inspection devices. This allows for constant monitoring of all conformity-relevant data and ensures quality assurance processes are documented in a more streamlined, accessible and efficient way. This data can be centrally stored and made available for statistical analysis and production line control.

Installing product inspection technology not only facilitates all aspects of conformity and food safety compliance, it also protects bottom line profits through reducing product giveaway and avoiding spoilage during transportation. Combining advanced product inspection technologies, robust food safety management programmes and quality assurance processes will enable manufacturers and brand owners to consistently produce conforming packaged food.

To learn more about how to ensure conformity of packaged food, download a white paper from Mettler Toledo at

Daniela Verhaeg is a product inspection specialist at Mettler Toledo.

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