By Bob Ries, lead product manager, X-ray inspection and metal detection at Thermo Fisher Scientific
For food quality managers, protecting consumers from ingesting metal contaminants is becoming an increasingly high priority. Escapes of unwanted metal in packaged foods can have disastrous effects lasting months or even years, not just in terms of safety but also from a brand and business perspective.
Metal detection has been a standard part of the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points method and various codes of practice and regulations worldwide for decades. In recent years, regulatory bodies and retailers have been shoring up food safety protections for consumers. Through laws such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) Food Safety Modernization Act, regulators are also taking a more proactive, preventive approach to protecting the food supply. Meanwhile, food producers and distributors are demanding new technology with increased sensitivity to protect consumers, retailers, and their own businesses. Metal detection is an important part of this.
Escapes can result in mandated or voluntary recalls. These recalls are extremely costly and damaging to reputations, often generating publicity on social media and in major U.S. news outlets. In 2017, 12 recalls were issued in the U.S. for foods containing metal foreign material contamination. According to Stericycle’s Recall Index Q1 2018, foreign material was the leading cause of recalled FDA units (53.5%) for the first quarter of this year, and nearly four-fifths (78%) of those were recalled because of metal contaminants.
However, there is also good news. Advances in metal detection technology are enabling dramatically more accurate and reliable detection of hard-to-detect metal contaminants in foods.