Physical Contamination Prevention in the Food Industry

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mindful chef using face mask to prevent food contamination

Contamination is a major problem in the food industry. Physical contamination of food items can occur in factory production lines or in the preparation areas of restaurants, cafes, bakeries, and takeaways. When this happens, the consumer’s health and your business reputation are at risk.

To tackle physical contamination prevention, you must identify risks and employ robust safety practices when preparing food. Innovative technology can also help spot and remove physical hazards from food products.

Understanding Contamination Sources

Physical contaminants include any non-food object found in a food product or serving. These objects may be organic or manufactured. Choking, broken teeth, and soft tissue damage are just a few ways these foreign objects can endanger consumers who chew or swallow them.

Sometimes, there’s an overlap between physical and chemical or biological contaminants. When this happens, the contaminated food can become toxic and cause dangerous illnesses. And that’s not to mention the consumer’s disappointment, negative reviews, potential loss of revenue for your company, and possible liability issues.

Physical contaminants in food include, but are by no means limited to:

  • Dirt from inadequately cleaned produce
  • Stones, shells, and bones
  • Wood chippings
  • Pips and peels
  • Human hair
  • Fingernails
  • Bits of fingernail varnish
  • Insects
  • Animal droppings or fur
  • Plastic particles (for example, from packaging)
  • Shards of glass and metal

Identifying Weaknesses

Usually, food products are more vulnerable to contamination during certain stages of their production. Physical contamination prevention includes identifying such points and using extra safety measures during these critical steps.

Audits like the Hazard Analysis and Risk-Based Preventive Controls (HARPC) and the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) can help food manufacturers identify high-risk spots in their production chains. HACCP focuses on identifying contamination risks, while HARPC can help prevent food fraud and intentional adulteration.

With a clear picture of how and when contamination occurs, you can pinpoint the food production steps that need increased monitoring. The professional term for these steps is Critical Control Points (CCPs) or Preventative Control Points (PCPs). Awareness of and planning for these points makes it easier to avoid contamination.

Choosing Effective Inspection Technology

beverage conveyor flowing with with bottle products

Advanced inspection technology like food metal detectors and x-ray inspection systems can improve the safety of your food production line. This protects people who consume your food products while helping your company avoid costly liability lawsuits and protecting your reputation.

Food X-Ray Machines

Food x-ray systems are useful for detecting a wide range of physical contaminants in foods. In the same way an x-ray in a healthcare setting checks for broken bones, x-ray machines scan food products for foreign objects like metal, plastic, and other non-food items.

X-ray inspection can measure product mass, locate broken products, and verify the integrity of food packaging. Apart from physical contamination prevention, this technology is useful for quality control. For example, an x-ray scan can help spot defects in food products or ensure that fill levels comply with standards.

Food x-ray systems come with a considerable price tag. However, the upfront investment could make sense if a HACCP audit indicates that your products are at a high risk of non-metal contaminants like glass, stone, rubber, or plastic.

X-ray food detection systems are highly secure. Built-in technology prevents excessive emissions and keeps radiation levels within FDA-approved limits to protect operators. X-ray scanning doesn’t alter the inspected products or compromise their safety.

Metal Detection Systems

Food metal detectors can locate metal contaminants like bits of metal wire, aluminum foil, and metal shards. The technology works by identifying changes in the detector’s electromagnetic field when a metal object passes through it.

Metal detection systems can spot ferrous and non-ferrous metals, and work well for almost all food products. The main limitation of this technology is products packaged in metal, like canned or foil-wrapped foods. The detector cannot distinguish between the metal packaging and contaminants.

Nevertheless, thanks to their affordability, food metal detectors can be a solid choice when the likely physical contaminants are metallic and the product doesn’t include metal packaging or inserts.

Reporting any Faults with Equipment and Safety Mechanisms

Slip-ups can occur even when you use the best and safest food production technology on the market. Equipment can malfunction from wear and tear, and detection systems may miss contaminants. In some instances, bolts, screws, and other loose parts may end up in food.

Keep an eye on the production line and run periodic self-inspections. If you detect a safety failure or a scanning equipment breakdown, you must report and resolve these issues before resuming food production. You must also remove any contaminated foods from circulation and inform the relevant regulatory bodies.

A Root Cause Analysis (RCA) can help you improve practices after a food contamination event or an equipment failure. Look into RCA results to see what you can do to prevent similar incidents in the future.

Employ Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP)

employee doing pest control on their production site

Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) in the food industry can help reduce the risk of physical contamination, meet regulatory requirements, improve product quality, and promote your brand’s reputation. While some contamination incidents are inevitable, many are preventable with robust safety practices such as:

  • Proper sanitation. Keep the work environment clean. Sanitize surfaces and equipment as required to prevent contamination.
  • Adequate employee training. All workers must receive the necessary food safety education and follow hygiene and sanitation practices.
  • Material control. Proper storage, handling, and processing of raw materials will help ensure the final product’s quality and safety.
  • Pest control. Address any pest problem on your premises immediately to prevent contamination on your production line.
  • Record keeping. Keep timely, accurate records so that if you detect contamination, you can easily trace its source and take the necessary safety measures.

Inspect Supplier Products

Sometimes, errors occur in the earlier stages of the supply chain rather than during food production. You must inspect your processes and any raw materials and supplier products that you incorporate into manufacturing. You may find that the problem originates somewhere outside your production line.

For effective physical contamination prevention, inspect incoming products before processing, blending, or mixing them with other materials. Detecting contaminants at this early point can prevent a safety failure and protect your production line equipment from physical damage due to hard contaminants like metal parts or glass shards.

If you notice recurring contamination issues in materials from a specific source, you might reconsider your relationship with this supplier and look for alternative providers.

Employee Training and Awareness

food employee training and awareness

Food industry employees can play a crucial role in preventing contamination. It’s vital to give your staff detailed training and periodic refreshers on everything related to food safety, including production, storage, handling, preparation techniques, hygiene, and identification and reporting of potential contaminants.

Ensure all your workers are on board with company policies and fully committed to delivering safe, high-quality food products.

Maintain Good Hygiene

Many physical contaminants, like dirt and pests, end up in food products because of poor hygiene practices. You can improve food safety when you instruct your employees to do the following:

  • Keep a clean, sanitized work environment.
  • Discard any worn-out cleaning sponges, brushes, and scourer pads to avoid contamination by crumbling particles.
  • Throw away corroded or chipped metal trays that could become a source of metal bits in food.
  • Handle food with ladles, tongs, or other tools rather than hands as much as possible.
  • Avoid using any damaged or broken packaging.
  • Wash any fresh produce thoroughly to get rid of dirt buildup or pests.
  • Keep edible products away from detergents and cleaning materials.
  • Report and address any pest infestation immediately.
  • Wear bright, easily noticeable bandages for minor injuries to make them easier to spot if they fall off in the production areas.
  • Avoid eating, drinking, or using tobacco products near the processing line.
  • Wash hands thoroughly after using the restroom, eating, blowing one’s nose, or smoking.

Follow a Dress Code

Sometimes, contaminants come from the production workers and food handlers themselves. These include hair, fingernails, jewelry beads, cloth fibers, and other objects. It’s possible to reduce this type of contamination if your facility enforces a proper dress code with the following stipulations:

  • Clean clothes or uniforms free of rips, holes, and loose buttons
  • A clean apron worn over the clothes or uniform
  • Secure, closed, properly fitting shoes with non-slip soles
  • Tying back long hair and covering it with a hat or a hair net
  • Minimal jewelry and accessories, especially jewelry with loose parts like beads
  • Short, clean fingernails
  • Disposable gloves when necessary

Ensuring Future-Proof Production

businessman choosing the check icon instead of ex icon

When making a plan for physical contamination prevention, consider not only current but also prospective needs. Contaminant detection strategies should extend beyond specific products and applications. Consider whether the detection equipment you choose today will continue to serve your needs when launching new products, expanding your production line, or switching to new processes.

When deciding to purchase an inspection system, choosing high-sensitivity, modular equipment that can detect a wide range of contaminants and adapt to your growing needs is often a wise strategy.

Integrating Digitalization

The food industry uses advanced digital technology to improve efficiency, safety, quality, and cost savings. Real-time monitoring, automatic detectors, and performance data collection are all part of the digitalization and automation trend. Your company must keep up to stay competitive and ensure compliance with safety standards.

There’s a strong link between food safety and digital technologies. For example, if any equipment or machinery malfunctions, digitalization can help you identify the problem and address it quickly. If you need to recall a product or undergo an audit, you can easily provide relevant records because your system will save any data automatically.

Advanced contaminant detection systems usually include features like customizable programming, detailed production logs, and remote technical support options. Password-restricted access ensures that only authorized staff members handle an inspection system.

TDI Packsys: Innovative Safety Solutions for the Food Industry

Physical contamination prevention in the food industry becomes easier with advanced technology from TDI Packsys. Our innovative inspection systems make food products safer by detecting all types of physical contaminants, including stone, glass, hard plastic, and bone.

Want to learn more about how our customized solutions can streamline operations by minimizing the risk of physical hazards in your food production line? Call 877-834-6750 or fill out our online form.

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