The problem of foreign materials in any type of food product is one that manufacturers try hard to avoid every day. Metal scraps and shards in meat are particularly concerning, not only to consumers and food producers, but more notably to the government.
While the FDA puts a size of 7 mm as the limit for an “acceptable size” of foreign material, the USDA puts the responsibility on the food manufacturer to establish its own critical in-house limits, meaning that each manufacturer must meet its own standards for detection. And while each plant sets its own limits, it must always have an eye on how to meet those standards and prevent metal from entering food products.
When a piece of metal finds its way into food, it can cause serious injury to anyone who consumes it. It can create health problems due to laceration of the mouth or throat, damage to dental work or even perforation of the intestines.
Unlike biological or chemical contamination of food, which can affect a large number of consumers, contamination by a physical hazard like metal usually affects a much smaller number of people. However, the results can still be devastating for the producer; it can lead to a recall or lawsuit that can cripple a company and forever change how well consumers trust it.
Despite efforts by manufacturers to avoid metal contamination, it still occurs. For example, in 2015, a major food retailer had to recall more than 50,000 pounds of prepared meat products after a restaurant discovered a piece of stainless steel wire in one of the beef products. And, more recently, a major hot dog maker recalled more than 210,000 pounds of product after metal shards were discovered.
Preventing the metal from contaminating the food to begin with is the goal of all manufacturers who are committed to following USDA metal detection standards, but sometimes this is easier said than done.
Metal Contamination Has Many Entry Points
One of the challenges with meat is that there are many different opportunities during the production process for metal to find its way into the food. Metal fragments can find their way into the food during the slaughtering process, arriving at the manufacturing plant already contaminated.
It can also happen in many ways during processing; metal bolts can come loose from machinery and land in the meat; metal-to-metal contact of can openers or mechanical cutting devices can create metal shards. Other sources of metal include equipment with smaller metal parts that can break loose, such as wire mesh belts, screens and injection needles.
Stainless steel is the most commonly used metal in meat processing, which means it is also a greater threat for food contamination. Part of the problem in the past is that stainless steel is difficult to detect due to the poor conductivity of stainless.
And, as food manufacturers know all too well, salt, moisture, pH and other factors play heavily in disrupting a metal detector’s signal and thus its effectiveness.
The Demand for Better Detection Standards
The USDA calls for the use of detection and control devices to manage the possibility of metal fragment contamination. Among the solutions it proposes to detect metal in meat are:
- Screens and sifting
- Metal detectors
- X-ray devices
With the USDA’s attention to the hazard of metal fragments and the problems they create within the food industry, more grocery retailers are requiring food to be X-rayed before putting it on the shelves. That goes for all types of packaged and processed food, including meat and meat products.
Today, many meat producers realize that X-ray inspection offers the advantages they need over other, less reliable forms of monitoring and detecting metal contamination in meat. In addition to being able to provide more efficient and accurate inspection for metal, X-ray equipment can easily see stainless steel and also can identify non-metallic contaminants like bones, glass and wood.
A Solution That Fits Today’s Food Industry Needs
In the past, food manufacturers have found X-ray solutions to be costly and out of reach. Even as X-ray technology becomes more commonplace, it still has limitations. At production speeds, it maintains better performance for metal detection than a metal detector, but it still has limitations in seeing small sizes and detecting other types of foreign material.
An outside solution such as FlexXray provides the advantage of advanced X-ray technology when you find a contaminant in your food. FlexXray can find the contaminant in your bracketed product and save the cost of disposing of the entire product run, while at the same time ensuring the contaminated product never reaches consumers.
Identifying metal contaminants and keeping them from ever reaching retailers’ shelves does more than protect consumers; it preserves your reputation as well. To meet the highest industry standards that your customers expect for the detection of metal and other contaminants, let FlexXray provide you with both the technology and peace of mind needed in today’s competitive world.