Food Safety Methodology to Prevent Recalls

Mettler Toledo webinar explores six steps to reducing physical contamination to prevent recalls and future-proof contaminant detection systems.

Consumer trust revolves around a company’s transparency, which includes its commitment to food safety.  This commitment is perhaps more important than ever before—even vital—as it can make or break a brand. Mettler Toledo, a manufacturer of precision instruments and services for use in laboratories and manufacturing, recently released a free webinar, “Food Safety MasterClass,” which explains that consumers expect to see a company’s commitment to food safety through accurate labeling, safe packaging, and natural and organic labels in order to trust its brand.

In the event of a recall, 64% of consumers are unlikely to purchase the brand even six to 12 months later, according to the company’s research. However, they are more likely to forgive a brand they trust. Beyond consumer trust, recalls can go so far as to tarnish the reputation of the industry or the home country of the brand, and further result in legal action against a company, as well as health concerns for consumers. Each recall is also a significant financial blow, the average cost being $10 million.

To help companies combat this issue, the Mettler Toledo webinar provides a methodology for controlling food quality and reducing the likelihood of recalls due to products containing a foreign body, which according to Mettler Toledo’s research, is the second-most prominent case of recalls. 

Foreign bodies, or physical contaminants, include:

  • Ferrous and nonferrous metals
  • Glass
  • Dense plastic
  • Calcified bone
  • Mineral stone

Step 1: Understand how contamination occurs 

Food contamination can occur at various points along the food supply chain, such as on receipt of raw materials, during processing, and during the packaging stage. A company must look at its facility and determine what types of foreign bodies are likely to be present on-site. This allows a company to choose the proper technology to enable it to detect these foreign bodies. There are three main considerations to identifying foreign body types: the product, application, and its packaging.

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Step 2: Identify areas of weakness on your line

To mitigate risks, Mettler Toledo suggests completing a Hazard Analysis and Critical Point (HACCP) or Hazard Analysis and Risk-based Preventative Controls (HARPC) audit. The HACCP allows a company to identify the risk of contamination by establishing critical control points designed to mitigate the identified risk. The HARPC includes additional planning for intentional adulteration, food fraud, and terrorist acts. The webinar discusses the risks of contaminants being introduced at the raw material stage, accidentally being introduced by employees, being caused by equipment malfunctions or breakage, occurring during product packaging, and resulting from structural or infrastructure defects within the facility, particularly in the food storage areas.

Step 3: Having a strong line of defense

More than one defense mechanism is required for food safety. Early detection is beneficial for a number of reasons, including protecting the downstream processing equipment from damage, detecting contaminants more easily as they tend to be larger early on, and eliminating the contaminants before additional production value is added.

A second line of defense could be midway detection during processing, which would allow a company to identify processing problems, reduce wastage, and protect an application before additional value and time are added. An additional, final line of defense is end-of-line inspection. This entails inspecting for contaminants due to breakdown in the packaging process. Mettler Toledo emphasizes that this can help prove the company is doing its due diligence, aligning with food safety regulations, to keep its products and consumers safe.

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Step 4: Select the appropriate contamination detection technology

Once a company has identified the types of contaminants its products are exposed to, the weaknesses in production, and the lines of defense that need to be implemented, the detection technology—namely metal detection or X-ray inspection—needs to be chosen accordingly. In some cases, both technologies may be suitable for a company’s packaging line.

Metal detectors identify ferrous, nonferrous, magnetic, and non-magnetic metals. X-ray inspection on the other hand, detects metal and nonmetal foreign bodies—such as glass, mineral stone, calcified bone, high-density plastics, and rubber compounds—by measuring density.

Step 5: Future-proofing the detection technology

This step requires taking a deeper look into the company’s application, product, and facility. (See Table 1 for examples of considerations and associated benefits.) According to Mettler Toledo, a future-proofed system gives a company and its customers additional confidence that the company has a robust quality assurance program and the technologies in place to prevent contaminated product from leaving the facility now and in the future.

Table 1: Future-proofing and its benefits.Table 1: Future-proofing and its benefits.

Step 6: Introducing digitalization

Inspection technology has advanced to detect a wider range of contaminants, in smaller shapes and sizes, with better resolution, and lower false reject rates, which results in increased product line efficiency and management control. Thanks to advances in software, streamlining processes for quality control standardization is possible. These advances, made possible through digitalization, also improve food traceability and serialization, creating a more transparent supply chain. Digitalization allows a company to access data from multiple devices and facilitates remote control systems. Mettler Toledo explains that using human machine interface (HMI) and Open Platform Communication (OPC) networks is becoming a best practice.

Utilizing these six steps allows a company to meet regulatory, retailer, and consumer requirements. In addition to these steps, further food safety options that can integrated into processes include checkweighers that can help identify anomalies, which is essential to food safety requirements, according to Mettler Toledo. Another available technology is vision inspection, which checks individual labels for accuracy of content and can check certain film seals for integrity, preventing further potential recalls. 


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