Manufacturers in the food industry use x-ray inspection technology to protect consumers from contaminants, and safeguard their reputations as safe and reliable food brands. X-ray systems are able to detect fill level, physical contaminants, product defects, and more. Food product characteristics and packaging vary widely, so companies use different types of x-ray food inspection systems depending on their unique applications.
This post explores some common types of x-ray inspection systems used in the food manufacturing industry. It explains how they work, what they detect, and other crucial information to consider before selecting the ideal system type for your needs.
What Is an X-Ray Food Inspection System?
Many foreign contaminants find their way into food products, including metals, plastics, rubbers, bones, mineral rocks, glass, and more. Food manufacturers use various quality control and food safety systems, including metal detectors, checkweighers, and x-ray inspection machines.
An x-ray food inspection system uses x-ray technology for detecting contaminants, monitoring fill levels, and identifying defects in glass jars and other containers. Manufacturers of food and pharmaceutical products use these comprehensive inspection machines to ensure product safety, minimize waste, and remove broken products from the production line.
In-Line X-Ray Inspection Systems
Companies install in-line x-ray systems at critical control points along the food production line to detect contaminants as products pass through on a conveyor. Unlike conventional metal detectors, these systems can detect foreign bodies in food products packaged in foil or containing high salt contents.
Single-Energy X-Ray Inspection Systems
Single-energy x-ray inspection equipment uses one energy spectrum to detect ferrous and non-ferrous metals and other foreign materials like calcified bone, glass, high-density plastic, and rubber. These systems work best for food products with homogeneous densities, such as butter, jelly, or yogurt, but may struggle to identify contaminants in heterogeneous products like a bag of mixed nuts or hard candy.
Single-energy systems often work well for products packaged in metal, ceramic, or glass containers, boxes and cartons, bags, and other common packaging materials. They also suit applications with high line speeds of up to 400 feet per minute, although acceptable speeds depend on the system’s camera and the product being inspected.
Dual-Energy X-Ray Inspection Systems
Dual-energy x-ray detection systems use two energy spectrums, providing superior contaminant detection sensitivity for flat glass, stone, and low-density contaminants. These x-ray machines detect physical contaminants based on chemical composition, so they more readily identify inorganic materials in products with various densities and textures, such as a bag of salad, mixed nuts, or cereal.
Manufacturers may opt for dual-energy systems for food products packaged in non-traditional packaging and multi-product packs because they can produce images that remove package edges for a complete picture of potential contaminants.
These systems are also ideal for difficult-to-inspect products, such as young chicken, for the detection of lower density contaminants, including cartilage, rubber, plastic and low-density bones. Dual-energy x-ray offers an advanced solution for inspection of most protein products.
Large-Format X-Ray Inspection Systems
Food manufacturers sometimes use different types of x-ray food inspection systems based on the size of the packages needing inspection. Large-format x-ray inspection systems can accommodate products that other equipment can’t due to size and weight limitations, such as large bags of pet food, seeds, or powders.
For example, our large-format system can inspect packages up to 19.88 inches tall, 25.76 inches wide, and 353 pounds.
X-Ray Inspection Systems for Specific Applications
Inspection system companies like TDI Packsys design x-ray systems for specific applications, such as detecting bones in finished chicken and fish products. Systems created with particular applications in mind provide superior detection sensitivity, unit size, and automation solutions to simplify quality control for specific food manufacturers.
Visit the link above to view examples of application-specific x-ray technology for detecting chicken bones, fish bones, and contaminants in cheese blocks.
How Does an X-Ray Inspection System Work?
An x-ray food inspection system consists of one or more x-ray generators, an x-ray image camera (detector), a cabinet or casing that contains radiation emissions, and a computer control system.
Systems work by sending x-rays through products to create x-ray images. The resulting images are inspected manually or automatically, and then compared to predetermined standards of acceptance. As the x-ray beam passes through a product, the x-ray energy gets absorbed, and the remaining energy that reaches the system array generates a grayscale image. The light and dark variations within this x-ray image indicate whether or not the product contains foreign material, missing components, product or packaging defects, or the proper fill volume.
The use of x-ray inspection systems has become commonplace in the food industry to fill the gaps left by metal detection systems, which can’t effectively detect non-metallic contaminants.
Why Are Some Materials Not Detected By Other X-Ray Inspection Systems?
Different types of x-ray food inspection systems provide effective contaminant detection for different products and foreign materials. For example, some food manufacturers assume that a dual-energy x-ray system will always provide better detection, but single-energy is preferable for certain applications.
Disparities in effectiveness have to do with the x-ray machine’s size, the number of generators used to generate x-rays, production speed, and other factors. Since the food industry produces a massive variety of products, x-ray inspection equipment requires specialized designs and optimizations based on the needs of individual facilities.
X-ray technology has also improved and become more automated through the use of artificial intelligence. For example, an x-ray system installed 20 years ago may not detect small, low-density contaminants as effectively as a modern system. TDI Packsys is proud to be an industry leader in the advancement of artificial intelligence.
Do X-Ray Systems Produce False Rejections?
Like a metal detector, an x-ray inspection system can produce false rejections for various reasons. Potential causes of false rejections in x-ray machines include the following:
- X-ray tube is too far away from the detector
- Machine has not been cleaned and maintained properly
- Contaminants are stuck in the conveyor
- System uses unreliable software
- System needs to be optimized for the specific application
Food manufacturers understand that any production process will produce false rejects, but excessive rejection rates can lead to a lot of unnecessary waste. If you encounter a high rate of false rejections, we recommend contacting the x-ray system’s manufacturer for guidance on how to identify and solve the problem. You may need to clean the system more thoroughly, update the software, or optimize your sensitivity settings.
Are Food Products That Pass Through X-Ray Inspection Systems Considered Safe?
If you know that x-rays are a form of radiation, you may wonder if food inspected using an x-ray system is safe to consume, but there’s no need to worry. An x-ray inspection system uses a “closed cabinet” design, and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has found no known negative effects of consuming food or beverages that have gone through closed-cabinet x-ray inspection.
Another food safety consideration has to do with the limitations of an x-ray inspection system in detecting lightweight and low-density materials like aluminum, wood, and hair. Manufacturers concerned about a wide variety of contaminants may use other inspection solutions in addition to an x-ray machine, such as a metal detector, to detect as many contaminants as possible.
Your food industry operation may benefit from both metal and x-ray detection for the ability to detect non-metallic and metal contaminants.
Considerations When Selecting an Inspection System
X-ray inspection manufacturers create a wide range of x-ray detection systems to suit various applications. Factors like whether your facility needs a single- or dual-energy system will inform the type of system you choose.
The type of product you produce and the common contaminants you encounter will help you select an appropriate solution. For example, common potato contaminants (stones, rubber, and golf ball pieces) differ from common ready-to-eat product contaminants (glass and metal) and may require different types of systems for accurate detection.
Keep the following considerations in mind when choosing equipment for x-ray inspections to ensure you get the ideal system for your needs:
- Product density, texture, and size
- Most likely contaminants
- Packaging material
- State inspection standards
- Distributor inspection standards
- Production line speed
- Existing inspection process and equipment
If you need help understanding the many x-ray systems available, and which will best suit your product and production process, get in touch with an inspection systems manufacturer like TDI Packsys.
Contact TDI Packsys for Reliable X-Ray Inspection Systems
At TDI Packsys, we provide inspection solutions for manufacturers in the food production and packaging industries. Our team has experience maximizing uptime in a broad range of facilities, so we understand how to ensure smooth and safe food manufacturing operations.
We have the FDA-certified x-ray inspection equipment you need to ensure quality control at your facility, and we offer all the technical support to keep your system running optimally. We’ll handle the installation and provide thorough on-site training to ensure your team knows how to operate our systems effectively.
We have the solution no matter your application needs, with many different types of x-ray food inspection systems available. Call us at 877-834-6750 or contact our sales team online to learn how one of our customized solutions can improve the safety of your products.