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January 24, 2020

Pierre DiGirolamo

Lifestyle trends, health and wellbeing will continue to be key factors shaping consumer purchasing decisions in the food and drink industry during the next decade, according to global market research firm Mintel ( Forecasting the trends for the entire decade through to 2030, Mintel says the focus on digestive wellness reflects the rapid rate at which the entire food sector and consumer tastes are evolving.

Whether creating dairy-free alternatives or single-serve portions, today’s food manufacturers must work hard to meet consumer demands. But regardless of changing tastes, the primary concern for operators must always be food safety. Metal detectors and inspection systems are essential to the food production process and must keep pace with evolving food trends if safety standards are to be met.

Rise of the single-serve offering

The U.S. population is shifting toward alternatives to the traditional family setup, and this change is being reflected in the way people eat. According to Statista, the number of U.S. single-person households rose from 26.72 million in 2000 to 36.48 million in 2019 ( Meanwhile, by 2060, the number of Americans aged 65 and older is predicted to reach 95 million, the Washington, D.C.-based National Academy of Sciences reports.

These changing demographics have led to a rise in preference for both convenience and health, driving new product development (NPD) for single-serve portions of prepared foods.

To accurately inspect single-serve portions and ensure they are free from contamination, producers need to ensure their metal detection solution is sophisticated enough to cope with all different sized food products, as well as different types of packaging.

Each type of food item — cheese, milk, yogurt etc. — has different conductive properties and, therefore, behaves differently in a metal detector. And if each item is individually wrapped, then the overall packaging will be thicker and sensitivity might be affected.

A metal detector that can run multiple frequencies simultaneously is ideal for these elevated convenience products, as it can accurately inspect a variety of conductivities at the same time.”

Plant-based boom

There is now a drive toward plant-based alternatives to dairy products, particularly based on oat, rice, hemp and/or cashew milk. Yogurt and cheese made from coconut are also gaining popularity.

Holistic health and digestive wellness is at the forefront of NPD, particularly in the dairy sector. Demand for products lower in sugar and salt also presents opportunities for flavor innovation.

However, complex supply chains bring new challenges to dairy manufacturers. Evolving issues regarding product recall regulations present growing risks to food manufacturers across North America.

Given that brand reputation is more important than ever, particularly with those that focus on transparency and sustainability, risk professionals should constantly revisit inspection protocols to look at potential holes in the security chain.

Manufacturers may optimize performance by installing several metal detectors positioned at critical control points throughout the process, rather than a single, big “catch-all” detector at the end of the line. From a practical perspective, food processing inspection risks should be reviewed every 12 months as part of a defined HACCP assessment.

Tackling waste with whey

Consumers are moving toward food with added benefits for both themselves and the environment. Whey protein is a key example of how the dairy industry utilizes waste to create products that come with added health claims.

However, low-profile foods such as whey protein bars and shakes can cause problems for inspection machines.

Just like snack products, the ingredients used to make whey protein bars are often dropped into a drum before being pressed into the required shape. If a contaminant such as a piece of metal falls into the drum rollers, it will get flattened and crushed, running the risk of it being incorporated into the final product.

Technology is continuing to evolve. The most recent developments that can help with the detection of ultra-thin metal contaminants in low-profile foods are multi-orientation food metal detectors. Capable of identifying contaminants that are non-spherical such as a flake of metal or shaving, they scan products from multiple fields, including horizontally and vertically as the product passes through the metal detector.

Given that brand reputation is more important than ever, particularly with those that focus on transparency and sustainability, risk professionals should constantly revisit inspection protocols to look at potential holes in the security chain.

A bright future

As food trends and consumer tastes evolve, inspection machine manufacturers will continue to work closely with dairy manufacturers to develop solutions that mirror the latest ingredient and packaging trends. Today’s flexible metal detectors are capable of overcoming almost any challenge.