A Guide to Minimizing Food Contamination by Food X-Rays

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Processed foods make up approximately 73% of the American diet, making detecting contaminants before they reach the food supply a critical task. Food x-ray machines play a pivotal role in food safety, not only for detecting possible contaminants but also for maintaining high levels of food quality without compromising its integrity.

In addition to keeping food safe for human and animal consumption, the use of x-rays is critical to avoiding the severe consequences that come with safety recalls and the detection of foreign objects. A single incident can easily cost hundreds of thousands of dollars if not millions. Avoiding these catastrophes with effective x-ray detection is, as such, a more than worthwhile investment for any food producer.

This article provides an overview of how businesses can use x-ray inspection to ensure food safety and quality.

How Food X-Ray Machines Work

Many people are already familiar with the x-ray technology used at airports and medical screenings. The way x-rays are utilized in food production is very similar.

In the food industry, x-ray machines work by using a technique called radiographing, which sends high-energy waves to convert electrical signals into images. Depending on the density of the object, it will show up darker in an x-ray image.

For example, a frozen pizza will have a lower density than a piece of plastic that was displaced by a machine during the food manufacturing process. As a result, an x-ray machine can detect the presence of plastic on an x-ray image because it will appear darker than the pizza dough, sauce, toppings, and even packaging.

Many x-ray machines are even deployed on the manufacturing line for real-time detection capabilities. This allows a company to detect the presence of foreign objects in a food product before it gets to the next level of production.

What Kind of Contaminants Can Be Detected?

As x-ray technology has continued to evolve, the detection mechanisms have become increasingly advanced at identifying foreign objects in the inspection of food. At TDI Packsys, our x-ray machines can detect the following objects:

  • Glass and ceramic
  • Metal contaminants, including stainless steel
  • Bone fragments
  • Stone and mineral contaminants
  • Salt
  • Plastic and rubber
  • Limestone
  • Insects and pests
  • Density variances

Each of these contaminants is critical for detection before an unsuspecting consumer (or large group of consumers) is exposed. In the past, it was more difficult for x-ray machines to detect lower-density objects like plastic and rubber. However, new advances in x-ray systems have made the machines more sensitive.

By being able to detect a broader range of materials, food manufacturing and processing companies can elevate their quality control and ensure a higher level of safety. In turn, this inspires consumer confidence and can contribute to a brand’s reputation for creating superior products.

Why Choose X-Ray Technology to Inspect Food Products?

fresh fruits vegetables and magnifying glass

Because food is ingested, the stakes are high when it comes to quality assurance standards. Food can and should be inspected at multiple points in the production process, and x-rays can help at several of these stages. Minimizing food contamination by using food x-rays is a superior way to detect foreign objects and contaminants in a non-destructive way.

Highly Sophisticated Detection

X-rays do have some limitations, such as not being able to detect hair, for example, but overall, the detection is extremely sophisticated. Most importantly, a foreign object does not need to be large or substantially sized to be detected.

Further, quality x-ray machines can detect the presence of an object where it’s not supposed to be, even if it is the same material as the packaging. For example, x-rays can detect a shard of glass in a glass jar of spaghetti sauce or bone fragments in fish.

In addition to detecting foreign objects and contaminants, x-ray machines can also be used to detect product irregularities and check for homogeneity. Depending on the specific type of food, this can be critical for perceived brand quality. There could also be legal regulations that require food products to maintain a certain level of consistency.

Therefore, the sophisticated detection capabilities of food x-ray machines are helpful for a variety of purposes, not just noting the presence of foreign objects and other contaminants.

Safe Level of Radiation

Many people express concern about the presence of radiation in x-rays; however, in this application, radiation is not an issue. Specifically, x-ray exposure is less than one second, and the x-ray radiation is not absorbed into the food. It merely passes through momentarily to capture the image.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has also confirmed that x-ray inspections have no effect on the safety of food or its nutritional content. However, it is still important to include safety features to protect workers utilizing the equipment daily.

Long-Term Cost Advantage

managers analyzing report using laptop and calculator

While there is an initial upfront cost to acquiring and installing an x-ray machine, the investment can easily pay for itself. Failure to detect food contaminants can result in having to discard vast quantities of product at a significant cost. Early detection can save production time and make a plant more efficient, too. Another cost advantage is that equipment issues can be detected before they reach a critical failure point because the loss of a screw, piece of plastic, or other part would be identified promptly.

Simple Maintenance

X-ray machines designed for food contamination detection applications are meant to be user-friendly and relatively easy to maintain. They will often include self-diagnostics and automatic calibration checks to ensure that everything is in working order. With proper training and a routine maintenance schedule, your x-ray machine can remain in impeccable working condition for years to come.

Improve the Customer Experience

Perhaps the most obvious and substantial cost savings come from preventing the release of contaminated food products into the marketplace. On average, one of these incidents costs a company $10 million. This doesn’t include the cost of fixing machines, retooling lines, or the catastrophic costs to brand reputation.

Food X-Ray Machine in Regulatory Compliance and Standards

quality assurance icon printed on wooden cube

Various regulatory bodies have strict standards and regulations that food manufacturers must meet if they want to introduce their products to the market at large.

In addition to labeling compliance, weight regulations, hygiene, and product traceability, there are also several rules regarding how a company must meet uniform density standards and control contamination. An x-ray machine can be a critical component in helping a company meet and exceed these standards.

Following Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP)

The Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) is a standard protocol in the food production industry. It requires that food processors and manufacturers proactively identify any potential hazards and resolve them before a product is released to the public. The use of x-rays is one of the best ways to ensure that HACCP standards are complied with.

Prioritize After-Sales Service When Choosing a Food X-Ray Machine

Companies interested in long-term success understand the importance of working with suppliers committed to after-sales service. At TDI Packsys, our x-ray machines are state-of-the-art, and we work closely with our customers to provide top-notch service.

As a result, when you purchase a food x-ray machine from TDI Packsys, you can expect expert technical support, preventative maintenance and training programs, access to spare parts, extended warranty options, and five-star customer service.

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