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Taking steps towards better food safety

19 July 2021

Rob Rogers outlines five key steps – which are applicable across all applications – for food processors to improve food safety. 

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Understanding the nature of food safety contamination, when it can occur and how to defend against it, is of paramount importance to food manufacturers and processors to ensure that their product is safe. Consider the following:

Understand how contamination occurs: There are three main considerations to understanding how contamination occurs.

1. The format of your product – including all the ingredients, will help determine the type of foreign body. There are product contaminants, which can be endogenous (from within the product itself –  for example bone) and exogenous (for example, not belonging to the product, such as metal). 

2. The application – The type of contaminant will be aligned to the materials used during processing including the physical equipment which is in contact with the product. 

3. The packaging stage can also introduce contaminants to the product – For example, broken shards of glass can fall into the product during the capping process.  

Identify weaknesses on the production line: The key phrases here are Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) and Hazard Analysis and Risk-based Preventive Controls (HARPC). Undertaking these audits will help food manufacturers to highlight where there are weak areas in their manufacturing process. They should establish Critical Control Points (CCPs) at locations where risk has been identified, with the aim of mitigating that risk. The HARPC audit includes additional planning for intentional adulteration, food fraud and terrorist acts.

Have strong defences at every point: Based on all the information compiled, food manufacturers might then consider deploying and integrating technology such as product inspection at several points in their line. It is often easier to detect contaminants at an early stage, when they might be larger, and ingredients are not yet processed. 

Early detection can also protect downstream processing equipment from damage, and save substantial costs associated with product wastage and operational downtime. Midway through processing there is still an opportunity to detect contaminants before additional value is added to the product, again reducing waste. At the very end of the production line – after the packaging stage – product inspection can be introduced as the last line of defence.

Future proofing: Consideration of the required investments and actions can result in additional benefits for food manufacturers, related to their products, their facility, and the way they operate. For example, changing packaging types and formats can lead to a reduced total cost of ownership. Improved security infrastructure, monitoring and reporting capabilities will help protect the business and prove due diligence. Facility space restrictions may also be assisted by new technology installations and combination product inspection machines. These are factors not just for the immediate, but for the future benefit of the company. 

Invest in digitalisation: The first step is to invest in data management software which will record all inspection activities in real-time. This data should then communicate with other production line technologies and management systems within a production facility. Having transparent data resources will improve the traceability of food products and their ingredients thereby making it easier to track individual products – and, if needed, recall them quickly. The benefits of digitalisation are plentiful including proving due diligence, increasing production line efficiency, improving management control, streamlining quality control processes, and the ability to serialise.

Modern product inspection equipment is digital and highly automated. It therefore goes beyond its primary role of defence against food contamination, helping improve manufacturing efficiency and proving due diligence while contributing to the development of digital traceability. As the food supply chain moves towards digitalisation, the benefits of utilising advanced product inspection technologies, which communicate to other management systems, provides the next level of food safety – one which is accountable and trackable, in real-time, at the touch of a button.   

Rob Rogers is senior advisor food safety & regulations for Mettler-Toledo Product Inspection.

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