AIB and Fortress discuss foreign material control in food manufacturing

In addition to well-documented contaminants, extraneous materials introduced from equipment or packaging need to be taken into account

Fortress Technology has released an episode of its Food Safety First podcast which zones in on foreign material control, including the sources and preventative measures that companies can take to stop contaminants of all types entering the food chain.

VP of AIB International, Jeff Wilson, and Fortress MD Phil Brown spoke about the risks, facility considerations and technology features that form part of the total contaminant control picture.

Pest control, good manufacturing practices, machine maintenance, facility design and performing foreign material inspections at various stages of the supply chain are all factors food manufacturers have to account for. In addition to well-documented contaminants, extraneous materials introduced from equipment or packaging, or even the fabric of the facility itself, need to form part of a root cause analysis, opines Wilson.

Given the numerous critical control points in a manufacturing plant, the podcast advocates taking a systematic approach to identifying potential hazards. From identifying raw material hazards, having processes in place to isolate glass and ceramic packaging breakages, to recognising equipment and structural plant risks, the key is to have detailed protocols in place that identify and then action these potential hazards, Wilson suggests.

Although foreign material control is inherently process driven, if people aren’t trained to understand what could go wrong and what to look for, food integrity can still be compromised. Touching upon this in the podcast, Jeff explains: “Thankfully there is a high level of understanding about foreign material control across the food manufacturing sector. Yet often, inspection equipment can be tested by those who don’t always fully comprehend the inner workings of the technology.” Yet machines, if not understood fully, can also exacerbate food contaminant issues.

Equally important for food safety custodians is understanding which natural contaminants are more likely to be prevalent in harvested or raw foods. For example, pips, shells, stalks, bones, stones and insects. Upstream is often the best place to identify these contaminants. Although gravity metal detection inspection systems can be used, screening and sieving ingredients is more typical, particularly when trying to eliminate insects.

Taking flour as an example, Jeff emphasises the importance of sifting through a 600-micron screen to remove the smallest of insects. Additionally, changing a supplier, sourcing from a different country, or altering the process and product flow raises many other questions.

Additionally, moisture levels, the air bubbles and density in baked bread can change minute to minute. Even in the same batch. This can impact a metal detector’s ability to distinguish between any metal contaminants that may have been introduced during the mixing process and the false signal given by the combination of product attributes.

Overall, there are multiple steps a food manufacture can take to help control the introduction of foreign material into food products. Instilling a food safety culture and routine audits can help.

Both Jeff and Phil suggest a deep dive internal review of all food risks and processes at least once a month, including an inspection of everything from production lines and all machinery, to refrigeration and the outside roof. Jeff also advocates mixing people’s skills up and creating a truly multi-disciplinary team, including finance, engineers and quality control. He cites it as the ideal way to spread knowledge and embed an inspection culture that becomes natural.

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