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Producing perfect patties

02 September 2018

Food Processing reports on the journey taken by Bell Food Group to ensure optimal quality assurance at all times on its burger patty production line. 

Bell Food Group is a processor of meat and convenience products in Europe, supplying a variety of retailers including a well-known international fast food chain. Increased customer requirements and demands in terms of quality assurance and production capacity gave the company the push to rethink the configuration of its burger patty production line. The decision was made to dismantle the existing line, carry out a hall conversion and replace individual production line components as part of programme of modernisation at the facility. 

The company chose a new X39 x-ray inspection solution from Mettler-Toledo to support the improvements in its quality regime.  This decision was made after the company had experienced the X39 in real time at two comparable sites in Ireland and Germany.

"I think X-ray inspection is currently the ultimate extra that we can offer our customers when it comes to detecting foreign bodies in the burger patties", said Nicky Berger, who is responsible for the quality management of fresh goods at Bell's Oensingen site in Switzerland. 

In addition to metallic contaminants, the X39 can also detect various additional foreign bodies that are commonly found in meat, including bone and cartilage, stones, high-density plastic or glass. The system also provides a range of other options for checking the burger patties for product errors and visual defects: such as patties joined together, holes, dents and product flakes.  

One million patties
The inspection system, installed on the Bell burger line, is currently checking in excess of a million patties a week – most of these being one of three standard products, which vary in terms of size, form and weight. 

"We are happy with the advice and support provided and the installation of the system", said Berger. "In comparison to our previous product inspection technologies, we can now trace and reject foreign bodies that are half the size. A definite safety bonus." 

Ueli Schönenberger, in charge of patty production at Bell, highlighted the high standard of the automated product integrity checks: "We used to remove patties that were broken or had holes in them from the belt by hand, or has to separate them manually before packaging. Thanks to the X39, the line manager can now define the tolerance limits for visual defects and the system will reject patties which do not meet the standards."

Depending on the variant of burger patty, the X-ray system will inspect between three and six lanes. If a visual defect is detected, the patty is rejected using multi-lane air nozzles. This significantly reduces the volume of patties rejected in comparison to simpler X-ray system variants that reject entire batches from production. Bell is even able to differentiate between individual rejections by product error. 

"Using the X39, we can first define and save the tolerance parameters for individual reasons for rejection, said Schönenberger. “Then we can get a detailed picture of how many patties were rejected as the result of foreign bodies, such as bone and cartilage, or as the result of visual defects. An image of each individual rejected patty is saved in the image library so that we can analyse exactly where and how the problems occurred." 

Once the patties enter the X-ray system its integrated control laser checks that the patties have been separated properly: otherwise they are rejected and prepared for rework. This minimises product loss without losing out on any of the benefits of the product integrity check solution.

The majority of product settings and tolerance limits for each patty variant have been validated within just over half a year and saved in the X39. Employees now only have to select a product from the product library in order to run the inspection process, based on the pre-approved product data. While employees can carry out calibrations and rectify simple defects, line managers have further access options that enable them to carry out additional settings changes on the X-ray system. 

Future plans
"The next step that we want to consider, in terms of validating and refining the product library, is the subject of glass when it comes to detecting foreign bodies," said Berger. "In future, we also want to archive all data collected by the X39 within a network and evaluate it. This makes it easier for us to pass on quality indicators to customers. In turn, the customers can then analyse the figures for their own quality optimisation processes." 

Schönenberger concludes: "The X-ray technology provides us with big quality assurance benefits. We inspect the patties not only to check for foreign bodies, but also to ensure that the patties have no visual defects. This simplifies packaging and the customer receives a perfect-looking burger."

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