Targeting zero foreign material contamination

Reducing foreign body contamination to avoid food recalls

Poultry Processing Marel

How can food producers minimize the financial and reputational impact inflicted by recalls? Only through taking a proactive, multifaceted approach to foreign material detection at each stage of the supply chain. Consumers expect the food on their plates to be nutritious, flavorful and contaminant-free — and rightfully so.

With proteins transported over long distances from the point of production to consumers’ forks, contamination opportunities abound—and each possible contamination is a potential catalyst for a costly food recall.

Can the food processing industry achieve zero foreign material contamination?

It may seem like a lofty goal, but zero foreign material contamination is possible. As Sherry Williamson, MBA, vice president of global quality and food safety at the Kellogg Company outlined in "Food Safety Magazine", a rigorous approach to reducing foreign material contamination constitutes three factors:

  1. Cultural shifts
  2. Organization-wide programs
  3. Industry-leading detection solutions

But before we work through the solutions, what is foreign material contamination and where do risks arise?

What is foreign material contamination?

Foreign material contamination occurs when a foreign object enters the food during the processing or production process. While bone, metal and glass may be the first contaminants that come to mind, they can include:

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

Food contamination can also be biological or chemical. However, in the context of targeting zero contamination, the containment methods focus on physical contaminants in food processing.

SensorX bone detection technology

Cultural measures

On a cultural level, the quality of the produce ultimately begins and ends with the people involved in its processing.

Companies must invest in training, implement strict dress codes, and make contamination reporting processes clear to all employees. Further, establishing a “zero-defect mindset” culture at all levels of the organization means everyone is working toward the same goal. Encouraging this cultural shift begins with leaders modeling good behavior:

  • Taking accountability
  • Reporting and/or correcting defects
  • Following dress codes
  • Communicating risk factors
  • Empowering colleagues to take action when contamination risks arise

Organization-wide measures

Putting programs in place to reduce the likelihood of contamination is essential. Such programs can take the form of recognizing and creating awareness of potential contaminants along the supply chain and initiating protocols to handle them. Contaminant reduction programs should include:

  • Raising employee awareness
  • Documenting protocols
  • Establishing means of assessing the efficacy of the program
  • Creating a system of assigning accountability

Equipment measures

A key component of any contaminant detection program is the right equipment and solutions. An effective system might include X-ray technology, metal detection, optical sorting, magnets, and separation systems. Imperatively, contaminant detection must go beyond simple end-of-line inspection with the human eye. Food processors must leverage foreign material detection solutions throughout the supply chain in order to achieve the goal of zero foreign material contamination in consumer, retail and restaurant products.

Growing your business by targeting zero foreign material contamination

The three-pronged approach summarized above may seem straightforward to implement. However, as with myriad aspects of business, there is often a disparity between productivity goals and time availability. Productivity equals profit, and constant tension exists between the need to implement and operate processes and solutions to ensure a contaminant-free product, and the need to keep moving product down the supply chain.

However, the cost of a food recall — both in financial terms and the potential reputational damage — can quickly surpass the costs of implementation and operation of such processes and solutions. Especially if these solutions are designed in such a way that implementation and operation has minimal effect on the product flow.

In 2021, food recall cases have ranged from undeclared ingredients and improper packaging to bacterial contamination and parasites. No matter the cause, food recalls can have a devastating impact on a brand’s reputation, bottom line and future prospects — and that pales in comparison to the potential of human risk.

A poll conducted in 2012 found that 55% of consumers would temporarily switch brands following a recall, while 15% would never purchase the recalled product again. The omnipresence of social media in the years since then has likely skewed those figures further — it is easier than ever for individuals to broadcast instances of a food product falling short of the consumer’s expectations of quality, hygiene, and safety.

Food safety is in our hands

Food recalls may not be entirely avoidable, but through taking a dynamic approach to foreign material detection, they — and the damage they inflict — can be greatly reduced.

Increased awareness and advances in foreign material detection technology are helping food processors get closer to zero foreign material contamination. As a leader in food processing solutions, Marel is dedicated to zero foreign material contamination and engaging with innovative partners to reduce contamination and increase safety and quality throughout the supply chain.

Contact one of Marel’s specialists to discuss how we can work together on foreign material detection.

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