More than metal and bone

The hidden physical food contaminants

Marel Physical Food Contaminants Poultry

Food travels a long way to get from the farm to consumers’ forks. If the protein lands on their plate in perfect condition, it’s thanks to a string of safety measures like food contaminant detection technology. But the health hazards are often hardly visible. So what can food processors do to detect these hidden risks?

As global protein consumption rises and the protein ingredient market climbs towards $100 billion US dollars, food safety standards are in the spotlight.

We know that food contamination hazards come in many forms, from bone fragments to biological elements to chemical contaminants. Cross-contamination is also a risk throughout the food production value chain.

Many of the physical contaminants that pose a risk to consumer health (and a company’s reputation) are too small to see without specialized equipment. However, food producers can’t ignore these risks. So what’s the solution to safe, sustainable, contaminant-free food?

What are the common physical contaminants in food manufacturing?

Physical contamination, also known as foreign body contamination, occurs when a foreign object enters the food during the processing or production process. It can cause severe upset, discomfort, and even harm, ranging from broken teeth and choking to cuts and abrasions.

Foreign material in a product can have a devastating impact on a brand, now that social media gives everyone a platform for expression. So there’s a lot at stake.

In terms of physical contaminants, bone, metal, and glass usually come to mind first. These are the worst offenders, but there are more to look out for:

  • Metal and metal shavings
  • Bone fragments
  • Glass
  • Pests and parasites
  • Plastic
  • Jewelry
  • Hair and fingernails
  • Dirt
  • Fabric

The added risks of physical food contaminants

Often the contaminants are hidden from view or too small to see with the naked eye. But that doesn’t make them any less risky.

When a physical contaminant reaches the consumer, the health risks are serious and varied. And in the age of social media, a negative consumer experience can be devastating for a company’s reputation, affecting profit margins, supplier relationships, and future product developments.

As if this weren’t enough, physical contaminants may also carry harmful biological contaminants, amplifying the risk of illness to the consumer.

This kind of cross-contamination involves contaminants such as harmful bacteria transferring from a surface, object, or person to a food product somewhere during the processing or production stage. Common cross-contamination sources include dirty clothing, improperly used utensils, and pests – a very similar list to the most common physical contaminants.

How many people fall ill from contaminated food every year?

Food contamination affects an estimated 600 million people globally each year. That’s nearly 1 in 10 people who suffer from contaminated food, costing more than $100 billion US dollars in medical expenses and lost productivity alone.

Marel helps food producers detect and eliminate hidden food contaminants

How food manufacturers detect and eliminate physical contaminants

As we have seen, the health hazards of physical food contamination during processing are worth attention. The good news is that food manufacturers can take many steps to minimize the chances of contamination occurring:

  • Regularly inspecting all equipment
  • Implementing a pest control system
  • Requiring a strict dress code and employee hygiene
  • Inspecting every piece of product at multiple stages
  • Investing in industry-leading x-ray inspection equipment
  • Collaborating with suppliers, laboratories, and downstream processors to raise food safety standards
  • Educating staff on best practice food handling techniques
  • Strictly adhering to legal guidelines

Contamination of food can occur at any point during the food production process. Avoiding it is critical from a food safety perspective, not to mention a brand’s reputation, supplier-customer relationships, and food producers’ profit targets.

Marel has already established itself as an industry leader with the groundbreaking SensorX solution, on which many of the world’s leading poultry processors companies rely.

SensorX detects bone, metal, stone, glass, and other physical contaminants down to 5mm with an outstanding 99% reliability, making it the most accurate system on the market. SensorX, the industry standard for bone detection, guarantees peace of mind for poultry processors and consumers alike.

See SensorX in action.


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