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By Meat & Poultry

March 3, 2022

Food safety, food integrity, consumer protection and compliance are the key objectives of any brand protection strategy. That’s why inspection systems that delineate foreign materials in meat or poultry are vital to an operation.

“Over the last 12 months, we have seen heightened demand for faster, more versatile and hygienic inspection systems as meat and poultry processors are facing increasing demand from retailers to provide products in different packaging styles and sizes,” said Eric Garr, regional sales manager at Fortress Technology, Scarborough, Ontario.

Metal detection and X-ray inspection are the most common types of technology utilized on meat and poultry processing and packing lines. Metal detection is most common, mainly due to the fact that metallic inclusions are the number one contaminant. However, X-ray can be used as a complementary technology providing the opportunity to detect some non-metal contaminants and it provides other product analysis features, such as fat content.

“Metal detection today not only remains the backbone of food safety compliance for the majority of the industry but has also made huge strides forward in the last few years in terms of accuracy and the avoidance of false positives,” Garr said. “Today, metal detection can rival X-ray inspection in some of the toughest metal contamination challenges, while retaining a far more affordable capital cost and cost of ownership.”

Robert Rogers, senior advisor of food safety for Mettler-Toledo’s product inspection division, Columbus, Ohio, noted the department primarily focuses on the manufacturing space, providing metal detection, X-ray inspection equipment, camera-based vision solutions and inline check weighing solutions.

“As far as physical contamination, you really see a broad range of our solutions utilized for that,” he said. “The metal detectors look for metal in the products; X-ray looks for other foreign materials; and the vision systems can do a bit of contamination inspection, primarily in empty container inspection.”

Steven Cummings, regional sales manager for Allen, Texas-based Anritsu, noted new food safety regulations have required all food processors to take corrective action very quickly and that has led to newer and better technology.

For instance, Anritsu’s XR75 X-ray system technology has numerous advantages to discover the smallest foreign material contaminants to ensure the best food safety for the processor’s customers.

“It offers best performance technology that finds smaller contaminants while tuning out false rejects, saving our customers a significant amount of money and time to rework product or avoid losses from product thrown out,” Cummings said. “Our XR75 standard system is our most popular also because it has a low energy HD X-ray tube that lasts 200% to 300% longer than our traditional competitors.”

Technology like this is important, he added, because it allows companies to avoid complaints that can lead to recalls that can cost a processor millions in product and reputation.

Meghan Tompkins, manager of quality assurance for Corbion, Totowa, NJ, noted the use of foreign material inspection systems is necessary to mitigate risks associated with foreign objects in finished products in the production environment.

“A combination of controls and technology, such as metal detectors, is essential to ensure no material with foreign body contamination could pose a serious health risk to our customers,” she said. “The utilization of foreign material inspection technology helps us provide safe, quality products and services with zero defects to our customers.”

Christy Draus, marketing manager for Eagle Product Inspection, Lutz, Fla., noted a range of industry challenges, including labor shortages, tight margins and increasingly stringent regulations, have led to demand for advanced inspection systems that can protect products and help safeguard processors’ businesses and reputations.

“Over the past two years, there has been a growing emphasis on automation and traceability, as manufacturers look to do more with less and seek to capture more information about what they produce for the consumer marketplace,” she said. “Accordingly, the latest Eagle X-ray inspection systems are designed with next-generation technologies that deliver on acute industry needs, with features that enable streamlined processes, help prevent recalls, aid regulatory compliance and keep up with the demand for speed and multifunctionality.”

Eagle Product Inspection helps meat and poultry companies successfully navigate the many changes in their industry. For example, as the demand for traceability expands, next-generation software like Eagle’s SimulTask PRO and TraceServer improve item level traceability, capturing detailed information and images about every product that is inspected,” Draus said.

“Eagle X-ray systems also work to reduce labor problems while automatically inspecting products for potential food safety hazards and quality issues,” she said. “One of Eagle’s newest technologies is designed to find the smallest contaminants that can derail a processors’ line and its bottom line: the breakthrough Performance X-ray Technology captures a greater amount of information about the product being inspected and produces more detailed X-ray images to deliver the most accurate contaminant detection in the industry.”

New and Improved

Fortress has witnessed a steep change not only in terms of neutralizing the most obstructive types of product effect, but also in key areas such as vastly increased sensitivity and single-pass product learning, allowing much higher levels of overall equipment effectiveness, compliance and product safety.

“Each type of meat – minced, large joints, cooked, frozen, etc. – has varying product effects and therefore behave differently in a metal detector,” Garr said. “Additionally, if each item is individually wrapped, then the overall packaging may be thicker or have effects of their own, which can potentially limit or adversely affect the performance of a metal detector.”

Therefore, Garr noted, a metal detector that can run multiple frequencies simultaneously, such as the Fortress Interceptor, is ideal for these types of meat products, as it can accurately inspect on a wider spread of products with varying effects.

“Producers of processed meats, such as patties or chicken strips that may have previously experienced trouble detecting thin, non-spherical and flat metallic flakes could benefit from the Interceptor DF,” he said. “Using a simultaneous multi-frequency operation, it is the world’s first metal detector to use multiple electromagnetic field directions and eliminate orientation effect of ultra-thin contaminants that could potentially get through a single field without creating a disturbance. This makes it ideal for use in low-profile applications, including meat and poultry patties.”

Additionally, the Fortress Meat Pump Pipeline is designed to deliver maximum metal detection sensitivity and uptime in around-the-clock meat manufacturing sites and optimizes hygiene standards and tackling cross contamination.

“Due to its highly conductive nature, meat generates signals that can mistakenly be interpreted by a metal detector as a contaminant,” Garr said. “Additionally, bubbles and voids in the product flow can trigger false rejects, leading to increased waste and needless production downtime. To overcome this product effect, the Fortress Meat Pump Pipeline addresses these challenges by applying powerful digital signal processing technology to clearly distinguish the signal generated by a metal contaminant from the product being inspected.”

In late 2021, Mettler-Toledo introduced the M30 R-series detector, which is pinpointed in mid-market areas to reach organizations that are trying to develop their food safety programs and are challenged in doing so because of capital investments.

“Powered by the smart, SENSE software, the system’s advanced algorithms make it possible for these entry-level models to deliver high sensitivity to all metal contaminant types with minimal false rejects,” Rogers said.

The company also has a new compact X-ray system that’s being released this year, with the small footprint making it much easier to put in for a processor.

Evolving Technology

With today’s social media culture and 24-hour news reporting, a single contamination incident can make national headlines almost instantly. The reputational and financial consequences can be devastating. And of course, this puts meat and poultry processors under increasing pressure. Consequently, inspection technology continues to evolve.

“Fortress has witnessed a step change not only in terms of neutralizing the most obstructive types of product effect, but also in key areas such as vastly increased sensitivity and single-pass product learning, allowing much higher levels of OEE, compliance and product safety,” Garr said. “Metal detection continues to surpass X-ray inspection in some of the toughest contamination challenges, while retaining a far more affordable capital cost and cost of ownership.”

Although the use of metal detectors for foreign material inspection has not changed over the years, the technology itself has evolved allowing for increased detectability and enhanced food safety standards.

“The evolution of foreign material inspection equipment allows our facility to continually improve quality and food safety systems and guarantee safe and quality products for our customers,” Tompkins said.

Staying on Top of Things

As the pace of change has accelerated in the meat and poultry industry, amplified by the pandemic, labor and supply chain issues and other circumstances and trends, Draus expects to see continued demand for automation and traceability, along with inspection machines that are truly multifunctional.

Although foreign material control is inherently process driven, if people aren’t trained to understand what could go wrong and what to look for, food integrity can still be compromised.

“Overall, there are multiple steps a meat and poultry processor can take to help control the introduction of foreign material into food products,” Garr said. “Instilling a strong food safety culture and routine audits can help.”