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Keeping food safe with product inspection technology

22 September 2023

Ian Robertshaw discusses how product inspection technology has advanced to help keep food safe.

Food safety is a top priority in the food industry, and with increasing consumer demands for safe and high-quality products, manufacturers need to implement robust measures to help ensure the integrity of their food offerings. 

By automating the detection and rejection of foreign body contaminants, ensuring precise weight, preventing mislabelled products and protecting businesses through real-time monitoring of all inspection activities, product inspection technologies are helping to revolutionise food safety practices.

The presence of foreign bodies in food can lead to serious health risks and costly product recalls. To combat this, advanced metal detection systems should be employed. These systems utilise electromagnetic fields to detect and reject metallic contaminants in various food products, in a pipeline, under free-fall conditions, or on a conveyor. From dry goods such as chocolates through to wet foods like dairy products, metal detection systems can be seamlessly integrated into the production process, acting as a critical control point for foreign body detection.

X-ray inspection
Metal detection systems excel at detecting metallic contaminants, but what about other foreign bodies, for example calcified bone, dense plastics and glass? This is where x-ray inspection technology comes into play. X-ray systems can provide a versatile solution for detecting a wide range of foreign body contaminants, including glass, stones, plastic and even bone fragments. With the ability to identify foreign bodies at critical control points in the production line, x-ray inspection provides a high level of food safety. Importantly, x-ray technology is safe for food products and does not emit harmful radiation.

X-ray inspection technology not only detects a wide range of contaminants but it carries out comprehensive quality checks that can contribute to overall food safety. By utilising x-ray inspection, manufacturers can verify product integrity, ensure proper filling, detect missing or broken products and confirm the presence of inserts or seals. These additional checks provide an extra layer of assurance to deliver safe and high-quality food products to consumers.

Precision weighing is of the utmost importance when it comes to food safety, especially for vulnerable consumers like babies who rely on specific portions of milk, food or powder. Integrated into the production line, checkweighers play a vital role in verifying the weight of individual products. By precisely measuring and rejecting under- and over-weight items, checkweighers can help to mitigate the potential risks associated with incorrect portion sizes. The inclusion of innovative load cell technologies can enhance checkweigher performance by offering rapid and accurate weighing capabilities, even in high-speed production environments. 

Additionally, design advances specifically for harsh washdown environments are helping product inspection systems to withstand rigorous cleaning procedures, eliminating any potential sources of contamination. This combination of advanced features helps to complete contaminant detection and precise weight control checks, even in challenging production settings, bolstering food safety efforts.

No mislabelled products
Accurate labelling is vital for consumer safety and regulatory compliance. Vision inspection technology offers a reliable solution for detecting mislabelled products. 100% fully automated label inspection systems are now available which address 100% of label challenges as well as 100% of orientation issues, inspecting all product shapes with the utmost precision. 

By integrating high-resolution cameras and advanced image analysis algorithms, vision inspection systems can verify label information, including text, graphics, barcodes and expiration dates. Any discrepancies or errors can be immediately flagged, helping manufactures feel confident that only correctly labelled products reach the market. 

Food safety is not only essential for consumer well-being but also crucial for protecting a manufacturer’s business. All product inspection systems complete real-time monitoring of all inspection activities and capture the data. For additional traceability, innovative software solutions are now available to help manufacturers to digitally capture and combine all inspection data, track products throughout the supply chain and provide comprehensive traceability in case of any incidents. Software solutions can assist in demonstrating due diligence through regulatory compliance and can also help facilitate product safety audits and recalls. 

Boosting productivity
Implementing product inspection technologies not only leads to food safety but also helps to boost productivity. Automation of essential processes reduces human error, enhances production efficiency, and minimises the risk of recalls. By streamlining operations and maximising uptime, food manufacturers can meet consumer demands effectively while maintaining the highest standards of food safety. One example of streamlining operations plus saving space at critical control points is integrating a combination inspection system into the production line. Based on a manufacturer’s quality assurance requirements, companies can benefit from a system which combines either metal detection or x-ray inspection with checkweighing and/or vision inspection technology. Manufacturers can save factory floor space, time and money through having one training to use the system, a smaller machine footprint, a reduction in spare parts and one service provider to support the machine.

Product inspection technologies are indispensable tools for keeping food safe and protecting both consumers and businesses. By detecting and rejecting foreign body contaminants, ensuring precise weight, preventing mislabelled products and leveraging digital solutions for real-time monitoring and traceability, manufacturers can enhance food safety practices, comply with regulations and deliver products of the highest quality. Embracing cutting-edge technology is the key to protecting the food supply chain and building consumer trust in an increasingly demanding market.

Ian Robertshaw is Global Key Account Manager at Mettler-Toledo Product Inspection.

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