Published On: Sat, Jan 28th, 2017

Guide to Metal Detection in the Food Industry

Metal detection and its place in the food industry

Food grade metal detectors are used as one of many ways to ensure the quality of a food product and to keep customers and employees safe. You might be asking yourself how they accomplish this feat. First, consider the fact that metal is one of the more common contaminants found in food products, given that metal equipment is used throughout the production process.

Now think about what might happen if a large piece of metal manages to go undetected throughout production. It may make it to a grocery shelf in one piece, wedged inside a burger patty or a snack cake. At some point, it will be ingested by an unsuspecting customer, and you can be sure that whoever bites down on it is going to be injured and upset.

In another scenario, that same piece of metal might not even make it into a final product in one piece. It may in fact be broken down into several smaller pieces as it gets processed along with other raw materials. At some point, your machinery may even break down as it attempts to process the metal, causing even more contamination and risking the safety of your employees. If it gets broken down into too small a piece, even a metal detector at the end of the production line would fail to pick up on its presence.

Without metal detectors placed along all Critical Control Points (CCP) following a Hazard Analysis (HA), you would have no way of figuring out when and where a contamination occurred. You would have no data to instigate further research into the matter, and a product recall without the appropriate data would be a logistical nightmare.

A safe product means a trustworthy brand, and industrial metal detectors for food industry use help keep your equipment, your products, your employees and your customer free from harm.

What types of metal contaminants exist?

Given the use of metal machinery throughout the food production process, metal contaminants can come from a variety of different sources. There are three categories of contaminants to watch out for:

  • Non-ferrous metals such as aluminum and aluminum alloys, copper, brass, lead and zinc
  • Ferrous metals such as wrought iron and cast iron, mild steel and carbon steel
  • Stainless steel

Of course, there are other contaminants such as bio-hazardous materials that may have a negative impact on a product’s safety, but other detectors and safety measures must be put into place alongside metal detectors for complete quality control.

What types of metal detectors exist for the food industry?

There are many different types of metal detectors available for use in the food industry. Two of the most popular options are the balanced coil metal detectors, and ferrous-in-foil detectors. The former can be used for many different types of products, so long as they are not wrapped in foil. As it is for general-purpose use, a balanced coil metal detector can work for fresh or frozen products, meats, fruits, vegetables, baked goods, beverages and more.

That said, you must use ferrous-in-foil detectors to find ferrous metals in foil-wrapped products. Ferrous-in-foil detectors will not work on non-ferrous contaminants, as they cannot be magnetized. Stainless steel can also be difficult to pick up, particularly if the product surrounding it contains a lot of salt or is wet. You may have to consider X-ray detectors for these types of situations in order to be through with the inspection process. X-ray detectors are more costly, but have the advantage of being able to detect other materials as well, such as glass or stone.

Of course, metal detectors can be quite specialized, and you will want to pick the appropriate equipment to handle different types of products to maximize the detector’s capabilities. For instance, you will find that there are metal detectors created specifically for handling powdered products while others are optimized for liquids. Don’t take a one-size-fits-all approach to food safety if there is a better option for your product. The more emphasis you place on preventative safety measures, the more you minimize the risks of costly repairs, recalls, lawsuits and a blow to your brand’s reputation.

Where are metal detectors installed in the food production process?

Following an HACCP approach to safety, you should install metal detectors throughout the food production process. Each product has its own specifications which will need to be considered. At the very least, there should be a metal detector installed before treating raw materials. This will be the first barrier against damage to equipment and it will help prevent your employees from getting injured. You should also have a metal detector installed at the end of the production pipeline to ensure that the finished product is consumer-ready.

Conclusion

Product safety should a keystone priority in the food industry, as this can only help to maintain or improve a brand’s image and standing amongst consumers. Nobody wants to be Twitter’s latest hashtag because a customer shattered a couple teeth on a piece of metal wedged in a candy bar. By placing the appropriate food grade metal detectors at all Critical Control Points throughout the production process, you can prevent harm to your equipment, your employees, your customers and your brand.

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