It should come as no surprise that, in a world filled with qualitative technologies, food safety standards are at an all time high. This watermark, though established to keep the consumer safe, is also the result of the widespread adoption of automated technology in the manufacturing process. In short, the mass production of goods is at least in part responsible for increased safety standards for the simple fact that the human eye simply can’t inspect the volume of goods produced.
Like anything else, the equipment used to produce safe to consume food stuffs is not all of the same quality or efficiency. For example, some are limited to the size of the contaminant, while others are only equipped to detect specific compositions. As stand alone detection devices, they may do an admirable job, but it is only when these systems work together that a manufacturer can truly feel confident that their products are safe.
Food Safety Requires Continued Vigilance
Once installed, it isn’t enough to simply let the various metal detectors, spectrometers, and photo eyes perform the tasks they were designed to complete. These highly calibrated devices require constant monitoring and testing to ensure they operate as expected. Additionally, each source material has its own density and chemical composition and, as such, may require additional screening equipment. The point is, as sophisticated as a system might be, it’s important to recognize that the detection technology used may need to change to reflect that which is being produced.
Food Safety Issues Can Destroy a Brand’s Reputation Very Quickly
Not only are consumers more aware about where and how their food is produced, they’ve also near immediate access to information surrounding food products — whether it’s new legislation, a story in the mainstream media, or via a consumer watchdog organization.
This means that in the event of a food scare, news about the nature of the issue can spread like wildfire, often before the manufacturer has had a chance to assess the situation and take action. Though the scare itself can be easy enough to manage, the real damage is often done in the mind of the consumer, who may decide to no longer support the product. The financial and societal ramifications of a batch of contaminated food is enough to force smaller operations to close their doors for good. It’s estimated the average cost of a recall in the food industry is around $10 million dollars (a number that factors in direct costs, operational interruption, lost sales, and of course, the cost to polish a tarnished brand image).
Some of the largest food recalls occured in the United States in the not too distant past. For example, Sara Lee was forced to recall millions of pounds of listeria-laden deli meats in 1998 after 21 people died after consuming various products. The financial toll on the company was not insignificant — $76 million to cover the cost of the recall, millions more in lawsuit judgements, and an additional $25 million to retrofit the originating facility.
Food safety recalls do not only occur due to biological contaminants. In fact, metallic contaminants are a much more common occurrence in the food manufacturing industry, as the processing of most products use a series of saws, blades, grinders, mixers, and conveyors throughout the manufacturing process. Just recently, OK Food Inc. based out of Oklahoma City, was forced to recall nearly a million pounds of ready-to-eat chicken products after consumers complained of finding metallic objects in their food.
Given the cost of such recalls and the longstanding damage they cause, it’s imperative that manufacturers identify metallic contamination early in order to mitigate these expenditures.
Identifying Contamination Early Can Lead to Increased Savings
Naturally, employing a metal detector to examine products at the end of the production will reduce the likelihood of contaminated products reaching store shelves, but doing so isn’t very cost effective, given that this is the most expensive part of the production cycle. For example, identifying a metallic contaminant in the raw ingredients prior to their use may result in the loss of a few hundred pounds of material, but the cost of this loss pales in comparison to losing significant quantities of the finished products.
For this reason, metal detectors in the food industry are used throughout the manufacturing process, at critical points identified by completing a HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points) analysis. Though a considerable investment, employing the correct number of food grade metal detectors at crucial junctures can not only reduce the cost of the lost product in the event of contamination, but can also help technicians locate the source of the contamination much more quickly, and reduce production downtime.
Though food safety regulations continues to become more stringent, it doesn’t have to be seen as just another hurdle for the food industry to successfully navigate. Instead, it should be seen as an opportunity to continue to deliver the best products possible while helping to ensure the continued viability of the company and brand.