The top challenge for processors in foreign objection detection is there is not one single perfect way to detect every object that may have gotten into the product stream to avoid a recall. Good manufacturing practices (GMPs) around keeping plastic, glass, wood and metal out of their finished products is much more effective than trying to pick it out, says Donna Schaffner, associate director of food safety, quality assurance and training for Rutgers Food Innovation Center, Bridgeton, N.J.
“That is under the control of the processor,” she explains. “That is a personnel issue and a management issue, more than buying expensive equipment, [to keep] the contaminants from getting there in the beginning or at least keeping them being added by the processing plant.”
Under current GMPs, which is also covered through the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), it is a requirement for any manufacturer subject to federal regulations and similarly for state regulations to have preventive control food safety programs that include updated GMPs to prevent, eliminate or minimize the entrance of any foreign material, adds Craig Henry, a food safety consultant with Intro Inc., Brandon, Miss.
“Each manufacturer, each process, each plant has to be individually evaluated for the potential for foreign material to enter into their finished product through a hazard analysis,” he says.
The fundamental training of employees and preventative maintenance, along with GMPs, should be clear cut focuses for production, Schaffner adds.
When processors buy ingredients, packaging material or anything else, under FSMA, they must do the proper due diligence and proper auditing of suppliers upstream to ensure that they’re not buying a “problem,” such as a product adulterated with foreign material, Henry says.
For avoiding bones in products, processors should have a bone separator on the grinder which prevents hard pieces of bone from entering the product stream, Schaffner says.
For metal, most processors use metal detectors as a critical control point.
“Metal detectors need to be maintained according to the manufacturer’s recommendations,” Henry says. “And then of course, they need to be calibrated and tested accordingly and based on their hazard analysis.”
To further prevent recalls, some processors also have begun to incorporate X-ray technologies, which still fall on the more expensive side, to aid in foreign object detection. Processors still have to validate that they can find the other types of material in their products because of the density of the foreign material compared to the product.
“It’s not a guarantee that an actual machine will find all types of foreign material either,” Schaffner says.
Foreign object detection technology is advancing too with X-ray laser imaging now using multiple arrays instead of being one directional. With more sophisticated equipment and computer module controls, processors have more information and can differentiate more foreign materials than they could in the past, Schaffner says.
Importance of Employees
Employees also play a huge role in foreign object detection. For example, employees could have caused the contamination by not following GMPs, dressing improperly or misplacing equipment, such as a pen.
“Training of employees and making sure that they’re appearing to the training is one way of keeping the contaminants from getting into the product,” Schaffner says.
Henry agrees avoiding human error is an ongoing challenge. “Many processing plants can experience 30, 40 to 50 percent turnover each year,” he says. “That means education and training is absolutely paramount and requires much more due diligence by verifying food safety programs are being implemented and monitored for proper execution.”
In addition, maintaining equipment and checking to make sure all small pieces are accounted for after production remains key to avoiding recalls.
Henry believes the real expectation by regulators is that a manufacturer will do the proper thing to ensure public safety. This could mean upgrading equipment or changing the manufacturing processes based on the history of foreign material in their product and/or what is being reported publicly through recalls, either through USDA or FDA.
“Through the hazard analysis, manufacturers should show the written program, but certainly show through their records that the programs are effective,” Henry says. “If they are not updating their food safety programs on a regular basis, then their ability to produce a safe product consistently for the marketplace may be in question.”