In its most recent Global Food and Drink Trends report[i], analysts Mintel forecasted trends for the entire decade through to 2030, reflecting the rapid rate at which the entire food sector and consumer tastes are evolving. As we enter the 2020’s, Pierre DiGirolamo, Director of industrial metal detector manufacturer Fortress Technology, gives his take on the food safety challenges these changing trends pose and how to overcome them.
Whether it’s meat-free alternatives or single-serve snacks, today’s food manufacturers must work hard to meet consumer demands. Regardless of changing tastes, the primary concern for operators must always be food safety. Metal detectors and inspection systems are essential to the food production process and must keep pace with evolving food trends if safety standards are to be met.
Rise of the single-serve
The global population is shifting towards alternatives to the traditional family set-up and this change is being reflected in the way people eat. According to statista, the number of single-person households in the United States rose from 26.72 million in 2000 to 36.48 million in 2019[ii]. By 2060, the number of Americans aged 65 and older is predicted to nearly double from 52 million in 2018 to 95 million[iii].
These changing demographics has led to a rise in preference for both convenience and health, driving new product development (NPD) for single-serve portions of foods that were previously prepared. WholeFoods predicts a rise in packaged portions of items such as hard-boiled eggs, pickled vegetables, and drinkable soups[iv].
According to Pierre, in order to accurately inspect single-serve portions and ensure they are free from contamination, producers need to ensure their metal detection solution is sophisticated enough to cope with not only different kinds of foodstuffs simultaneously, but also different types of packaging.
Pierre explains, “Each type of food – protein, salad, vegetable, carbohydrate, etc. – has different conductive properties and therefore behaves differently in a metal detector. And if each item is individually wrapped, then the overall packaging will be thicker and sensitivity might be affected. A metal detector that can run multiple frequencies simultaneously, such as the Fortress Interceptor, is ideal for these kind of elevated convenience products, as it can accurately inspect a variety of conductivities at the same time.”
Fighting food waste
In the US, food waste in the supply chain is estimated to account for between 30 to 40 percent.[v] As such, food waste and sustainability has been climbing up the consumer agenda for a number of years, and is set to really take off in 2020. Heightened awareness of the environment is driving consumers to purchase vegetable and fruit boxes containing irregular shaped produce and products containing otherwise wasted ingredients. In a bid to support these efforts, leading retailers also seek sustainable packaging solutions. For example, SNACT, an organization that produces jerky made from wonky fruit, recently switched to compostable packaging to tackle plastic waste.
However, food producers need to be aware of the issues they could encounter with recycled cardboard. Pierre explains, “Cardboard is shredded during the recycling process, exposing the aluminum that is often found inside it and triggering an alert on an inspection system. While it is possible to calibrate or reduce the sensitivity on the detector to bypass the alert caused by aluminum, this will also decrease sensitivity on the product.
“In order to ensure a safe product yet avoid false readings, we advise our customers to only purchase recycled cardboard and compostable materials from a supplier that has a metal detection system on site; thereby ensuring their packaging is free from contamination before it enters their factory,” advises Pierre.
With holistic health at the forefront of NPD, consumers are moving towards food with added wellness benefits. Demand for products lower in sugar and salt presents opportunities for flavor innovation. Also in the shopping baskets of those seeking a healthier lifestyle are meat alternatives. Currently, one in three Americans now consider themselves a ‘flexitarian’.[vi]
However, processed foods can cause problems for inspection machines, explains Pierre. “Just like snack products, the ingredients used to make meat alternatives are often dropped into a drum before being pressed into the required shape. If a contaminant such as a piece of metal falls into the drum rollers, it will get flattened and crushed, running the risk of it being incorporated into the final product.”
As these ultra-thin contaminants can be difficult to detect, Fortress developed the Interceptor DF. Using a simultaneous multi-frequency operation, it is the world’s first metal detector to use multiple field directions and greatly improves detection of ultra-thin contaminants. This makes it ideal for use in low-profile applications.
A bright future
As food trends evolve, inspection machine manufacturers such as Fortress will continue to work closely with food producers to develop solutions that ensures food safety that mirror the latest food and packaging trends. Today’s flexible metal detectors are capable of overcoming almost any challenge as Pierre concludes, “I’m confident that whatever food trend is on the horizon, Fortress will develop a solution with the client to successfully inspect it.”