Exclusive: A Guide to Safe Food with the Help of X-ray Inspection
Food safety is a mainstream topic for the industry nowadays and potato processing makes no exception, since X-ray inspection can help potato processors accomplish certain requirements. To find more about these technologies, Potato Business asked the specialists Max Uusitalo, business development manager EMEA, Mekitec; Helen Morrison, managing director Detectamet Group; and Daniel Frank, sales and commercial director Sparc Systems, about the major aspects concerning this type of inspection.
Food safety consists of the analysis and control of biological, chemical or physical hazards in the food production and supply chain, the expert with Mekitec explains. “There are many different inspection systems that analyze the food products for different types of hazards. With X-ray inspection systems you can detect the most hazardous physical contaminants and remove them from your production line before they get to the consumers,” Uusitalo says.
With X-ray systems, processors can also inspect the overall quality of the food products, such as integrity, shape or missing content, which offers a lot more value and benefits to food producers. The consumer complaints will decrease significantly after the implementation of an X-ray inspection system, according to the Mekitec representative.
Most food producers choose to implement an X-ray system as their Critical Control Point (CCP) into their new production lines, as well as to replace or complement existing metal detector lines, ensuring top safety and quality of their products.
For the potato processing industry, Mekitec says that X-ray technology can be applied to both, pre- and post-processing stages. However, the strengths of an X-ray inspection system can be most utilized after the processing and packaging of the potato-based products. Moreover, X-ray inspection can control both product safety and integrity. For instance, X-ray systems can detect physical foreign material contamination and analyze the content of packaged items.
The Benefits and Challenges
X-ray systems analyze products based on density variations, Uusitalo says. Consequently, X-ray detection is not limited to specific foreign materials, but it can detect a broad variety of foreign contamination of various materials.
“The biggest benefits of X-ray detection are realized when inspecting primary packaged products at the end of a packaging line. By doing so, a food processor can apply small, accurate and cost-effective X-ray systems to control their production process,” Uusitalo details.
X-ray systems are less equipped to control product quality in the pre-processing phase of potato production. This is due to the size and capacity limitations of X-ray systems. Usually, one X-ray system per production line brings the maximum value as inspection accuracy and traceability of product flows are optimal.
Speaking about typical faults, X-ray systems are high-value adding precision instruments. “Thus, they need to be closely maintained and monitored in order to keep them on the highest level,” the specialist with Mekitec advises.
Asked about the biggest technological breakthroughs in this respect, Mekitec says that X-ray systems collect and process all the quality and safety data of the inspected products, thus providing valuable information and traceability for the food producer. Auditors and large retail chains expect food producers to have highly automated production lines, including the inspection, detection and rejection of contaminated or incomplete products.
Automation of Critical Control Points is developing to a higher level, where the quality control system monitors its level of performance and rejection confirmations are becoming a standard in the industry. X-ray systems collect more data and store images of the complete production to ensure full traceability. Producers can easily see the reason for the rejection from the X-ray image. These images and production line data are utilized when developing the production efficiency and food safety processes.
This trend is also identified within the food industry: according to a third-party survey, 72,4% of the food producers expect X-ray inspection technology in the food safety industry to increase during the next three years and 87,2% of them see the increase happening in the next 12 months, the expert with Mekitec adds.
A Broad Spectrum
On the other hand, Helen Morrison, managing director Detectamet Group, says that any type of plant which processes food, regardless of stage, is at risk from foreign body contamination.
“After inspection equipment, be it metal detectors or X-Ray, on production lines, the next step is to use metal and X-Ray detectable products in processing areas. This covers a broad spectrum and includes, amongst many, pens, clipboards, staplers, scissors, mixing and handling equipment, knives, food temperature probes, cleaning equipment, PPE and engineering materials,” Morrison explains.
Fundamentally, for anything used in food processing areas that presents an inherent risk, a detectable version should be applied, the specialist with Detectamet Group adds.
She continues by mentioning that the color of detectable products is also important, with blue long being used to stand out visually on a production line. “However, with the increased risk from cross-contamination of potentially life-threatening allergens, it’s prudent, through a HACCP plan, to use other highly visible colors to prevent this risk, and Detectamet offer many products in nine highly visible colors.
Another consideration when choosing detectable products is their ability to be sterilized to the high temperatures demanded by autoclaving, in order to remove any bacteria,” Morrrison with Detectamet explains.
Durability and Reduced Costs
Furthermore, Daniel Frank, sales and commercial director Sparc Systems, explained that X-ray technology can be used in potato processing to check for contaminants in any form of packaging (trays, nets, bags, boxes, etc.) and also for non-destructive checks of packages, for example when counting the right amount of jacked potatoes with crème on it, in a cardboard box without opening it. The process can also be used for all kinds of processed potato products (fries, wedges,) checking for contaminants such as broken cutting blades but also some foreign contaminants. “A typical example especially in potato industry is a golf ball which gets into the process and is chopped up,” Frank says.
Among the benefits brought by X-ray inspection in potato processing, the expert with Sparc Systems mentions the detection of small metals, but also non-metal contaminants, whereas traditional metal detectors would only be able to pick up metal contamination. Non-destructible tests are also possible. When it comes to challenges, Frank says that huge boxes and bigger packaging types reduce the minimum detectable contamination size.
“While an X-ray device can find much more types of contaminants than a metal detector, it is still no magic bullet which can find all. There are minimum sizes of contaminants which can be found and materials of contaminants which are non-detectable in potatoes,” the specialist adds.
X-ray technology can be used for packaging of raw potatoes, packaging of processed potato products, including frozen varieties. “Usually you would have one for the bulk flow of material and for customer protection you will need one after the final packaging is closed. A lot of retailers nowadays require the use of X-Ray detectors to make sure only non-contaminated products get on the supermarket shelfs. E.g. retailers like Marks&Spencer or Tesco would specify what contamination equipment the packer has to have and what standards this equipment needs to meet,” Frank says.