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Zero brand recalls in the past does not mean immunity to future threats. Catching contaminants at the start of a bakery, cookie and snack processing line is one way to eliminate potential brand-damaging incidents at the most cost-effective phase of production. However, it is critical to assess and regularly review all production risks in context, ensuring that there are no HACCP gaps and that all the essential inspection points are covered.

Spokesperson Eric Garr at food safety specialist Fortress Technology examines the benefits of having a longer-term strategic investment plan and the hidden and frequently overlooked risks on bakery lines. He also examines ways to minimize rejects and waste, and how to intersperse machinery inspection assets out throughout production lines so there are no HACCP-holes.

An inspection system can be integrated almost anywhere along a commercial bakery processing line. Most commonly, processors will choose end-of-line checkweighing and contaminant inspection technology after cookies, bread loaves and snacks have been packaged. Functioning as a final safeguard, at this phase there is virtually zero possibility of a new contaminant being introduced. However, if products are rejected, the costs incurred as a result of wasted food, labor and packaging can be exponentially higher.

Food safety inspection and detection technology continually evolves. However, metal detection continues, in most cases, to offer the best price-for-performance value in most bakery applications. An X-ray inspection system can be added to a line if there are specific needs, such as target contaminants identified in a risk assessment that won’t be detected with a metal detector but can be easily detected using X-ray. Another example can also be if package feature will not allow use of metal detection, such as foil packaging.

Reviewing bakery risks

For commercial bakeries, rising farmgate operational costs and volatile pricing have significantly impacted ingredient commodities – notably rising maize, wheat and grain prices. Additionally, ever-changing consumer demands means that the average product portfolio can easily comprise 100+ SKUs, including healthy-eating, gluten-free options, new flavors and ingredients, own-label and sub-brands, and different pack sizes. It can be hard to justify the loss of valuable product if contaminants could have been caught and actioned upstream.

Additionally, with the hunt for more affordable raw ingredients intensifying, manufacturers may explore switching to other reliable flour, fat, sweetener, egg, cocoa, nut and fruit suppliers. Although the majority of external ingredient suppliers are extremely diligent, the more extensive a supply chain the more thorough quality control programs need to be.

Establishing the biggest contaminant risks and most cost-efficient CCPs and inspection solutions all help to ensure a robust HACCP-compliant food safety strategy. Delivering maximum profitability and avoiding costly waste.

No cookie-cutter checkpoints

There are three major sources that can introduce contaminants into bakery, cookie and snack lines. Foreign matter present in incoming raw ingredients; wear and tear from processing machinery; and human risks, including PPE or poor construction and maintenance of production facilities and equipment.

Potential contaminants can range from metal flakes, plastic, nutshell fragments, fruit pits and stones. If these larger contaminants aren’t detected at their full size early on, smaller pieces can end up being dispersed throughout an entire batch. Harder and larger contaminants could also damage processing equipment, resulting in downtime, expensive repairs or even machinery replacements.

Metal remains the most likely contaminant on cookie and bakery processing line. This is typically due to high levels of automation in production plants, for example, sieving and mixing raw ingredients, rolling, conching, cutting, baking and scoring, and grinding flavorings, e.g., cinnamon and cocoa. If processing equipment is not properly maintained, this augments the risk of metal fragments entering a production line.

These issues can be safeguarded by being strategic when selecting high-contaminant-risk checkpoints and inspection equipment.

Avoid ‘half-baked’ CCP dangers

Each sector and product application has its own set of more prevalent risks. For example, contamination hazards on a bread production line can be very different to a packet of mini cookies. Although having one metal detector at the end of a bakery line is clearly better than none, a carefully considered inspection plan will pay dividends.

Some baked goods and snack processors inspect bulk ingredients, including flour, sugar, salt, flavorings and cocoa powder before the processing stage. At this CCP, a bulk gravity or large bag metal detector may be deployed. If melted chocolate or other semi-liquid products are on the ingredient list, a pipeline metal detector may be used. Smaller Vertex machines at this ingredient checkpoint may also inspect decorative sweets, nuts or chocolate chips.

Mitigating any contaminant risk early on in the production process results in considerably fewer rejects compared to only inspecting finished, packaged products. It also enables a processor to identify where the source of a potential problem may be. Whenever an ingredient is added, or where there are multiple mixing, rolling, cutting and baking processes, there is an increased chance of a contaminant entering the production chain.

Performing supplier weight checks upstream is also advisable to safeguard against unnecessary stock losses. This becomes even more imperative for high-value raw ingredients. Here, bulk checkweighers can be utilized to efficiently monitor incoming stock and return rates, ensuring processors are receiving the exact weight, volume or quantity ordered. The most robust caseweighers can accurately verify the weight of incoming ingredients in formats up to 50 kgs.

Catch before you batch

Product characteristics also need to be considered. Air bubbles and density in baked goods can change minute-to-minute. Even in the same batch. This can impact a metal detector’s ability to distinguish between any metal contaminants that may have been introduced during the mixing process, and the false signal given by the combination of product attributes.

For commercial and artisan bakeries, in-line checkweighing can be extremely valuable. Designed to increase accuracy and efficiency, one of the key rationales for inline dough inspection is it allows for further fermentation and changes to the temperature and dough density prior to the proofing stage. This helps to mitigate the risk of a batch being out of tolerance before the baking process. 

Safety first and last

The number-one requirement for all food manufacturers is to ensure products are safe for consumption. Inspecting products after packaging using an end-of-line Metal Detection system is the most important CCP. Although processing speed is clearly important, it should never supersede safety.

Generally speaking, metal detectors are capable of phasing out and running biscuits and cookies packaged in metalized film with a good level of sensitivity. However, if pure aluminum foil is being used, a ferrous in foil detector, or X-ray may be advisable.

Where there might appear to be a need for multiple machines to cope with the increase in upstream output, Fortress recommends closely examining the options. For example, could a multi-lane system offer a better return on investment in a smaller footprint? Is it possible to channel multiple product lanes through a larger aperture? What sort of reject system is required?

A combination system provides an alternative space-saver. Combining a checkweigher with metal detection or x-ray or, both, can result in a far smaller footprint than stand-alone units would occupy.

Robust recordkeeping

Advanced software and connectivity enable fast, reliable and easy product set up and reporting. Additionally, collating live OEE data and reporting results directly to QA and technical personnel is increasingly imperative on fast-moving bakery and cookie production lines.

For traceability and audit purposes, records must be retained in order to verify that each system is performing to defined FDA and GFSI food safety standards and to prove that inspection procedures are being followed consistently and correctly. Switching to digital record-keeping is generally favored as they are more secure, not prone to human errors and tests cannot be performed retrospectively. Additionally, it gives bakeries immediate access to documentation in the event of an unannounced supplier or third-party inspection.

Automatic testing is also advisable.  Fortress Halo Automatic testing solution is available for use on gravity and conveyor bakery Metal Detectors to eliminate human errors, reduce labor demands and save time and money. One of the key benefits of automatic testing is food safety and QC standards are maintained, in many cases improved upon, without compromising production. The results from tests are automatically logged and digitally stored for GFSI audits.

Stay strategic

HACCP guidance states that critical control points (CCPs) should be located at any step where hazards can be prevented, eliminated, or reduced to acceptable levels. Every food manufacturer’s needs are different, dependent on their product and process.

Rather than looking for patterns, examine potential CCP-holes. This is even more critical if a production process or packaging is changing.  An annual HACCP assessment – a requirement for most bakery and snack processing facilities – will help to ensure all essential inspection points are covered and, most importantly, retail and food-service compliant.