Guest Column | September 1, 2016

How X-Ray Inspection Can Bolster Your Food Safety Program

How X-Ray Inspection Can Bolster Your Food Safety Program

By Karen Mills, former director of quality assurance, High Liner Foods Inc.

Product inspection is a critical and indispensable part of responsible food production. If it isn't already, it truly needs to be embedded in HACCP and prerequisite program(s) for food producers. Food contamination with foreign matter and/or impurities can have serious implications to food producers as they are the entities directly responsible for any issues posing health and safety risks to consumers. But, what are food makers doing to create and enable a robust food safety program? Oftentimes, they seek new technology and/or inspection equipment to support their written food safety and quality programs, such as X-Ray Inspection Systems.

But, what are food makers doing to create and enable a robust food safety program? Oftentimes, they seek new technology and/or inspection equipment to support their written food safety and quality programs, such as X-Ray inspection systems.

In the simplest terms, X-Rays are a form of invisible electromagnetic energy with short wavelengths and high energies. They are most-commonly seen in applications in the medical field. However, they are well-suited for use in the food manufacturing and processing industry as well. X-Ray can penetrate and scan various types of foodstuffs, which provide internal imaging. This imaging helps food safety and quality professionals identify potential contaminants or physical defects of the product.

 X-Ray inspection systems can detect any contaminants whose density differs from the density of the product being inspected. Generally, this applies to metals, such as steel and stainless steel, but also to the most common, and more-easily detectable substances, such as glass, ceramics, stones, and some plastics. They can also support, and in some instances replace, the more conventional, and well-known metal detector, though many companies are cautious about outright replacement.

X-Ray inspection technology is being used more and more frequently in the food sector with packaged and processed foods. It can be a real asset with commodities in packaging forms, such as cans, bottles, pouches, or jars.

Industry and technology have also highlighted the potential of X-Ray inspection for the grading of fruits, vegetables, and grains, and detection of bones in chicken and fish.

In addition, industry members have noted that some more advanced X-Ray machines have the potential to perform in-line quality checks for defects, missing or broken products, in counting components, monitoring mass and fill rates, and even inspecting packaging seal integrity. Any one of these attributes can greatly reduce food safety risk potential, as well as contribute to decreased inspection costs.

There are some other points to consider when working with X-Ray technology. The key to its strength and ability to accurately detect contaminants and impurities lies with the type and density of the material that is potentially contaminating the foodstuff. When using X-Ray inspection systems the greater the density of an impurity, the greater the potential for detection and removal.
 

Food Contaminant

Detectability

Gold

Easily Detectable

Lead

 

Copper

 

Stainless Steel

 

Steel

 

Iron

 

 

 

Aluminum

Detectable

Glass

 

Stone

 

Bone

 

 

 

PTFE

Somewhat Detectable

PVC

 

 

 

Acetal

Not Detectable

Polycarbonate

 

Nylon

 

 

 

Water

Typical Food

 

 

Polypropylene

Typically Not Detectable

Wood

 

Insects

 

Cherry Pit

 

Hair

 

The items above serve as a guide for common contaminants and X-Ray technology's ability to detect them. However, some types of thin or soft plastic, cardboard, even some thinner bones, may not be able to be detected well or at all, due to their lack of density.

This is where working with material suppliers plays a key role in building the quality and safety INTO the food material(s) prior to other industry obtaining it for potential end uses, such as further processing. The quality chain is strongest when the inspection and integrity is built in at the very beginning of the chain and not inspected in at the end.

Implementing X-Ray inspection technology can be cost prohibitive. However, when building a robust quality and food safety program, many of the potential cost factors are easily justified when paired with the potential for mitigated risk and proven safe, quality food.

The key to successfully implementing and using X-Ray inspection within your food manufacturing of processing facility lies in three areas. First, everyone must know and understand the technology's abilities and overall potential for detection. Next, your risk assessments should reveal your products' common physical foreign bodies and contaminants. If yours are detectable by X-Ray technology, implementing these systems might be the right move to bolster your food safety program. Finally, one inspection system isn't going to be a savior to your inspection program. You should use other inspection modes to support an overall inspection program that provides the most secure and complete food safety initiatives for all food industry stakeholders.

About The Author
Karen Mills is Director of Quality Assurance for High Liner Foods Inc. (Canada) and operates out of High Liner's processing facility in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. She leads teams that are responsible for internal food safety and compliance, as well as supplier/ vendor import and regulatory compliance. She and her team members work corporately with other High Liner facilities based in the U.S. Karen received her B.Sc. in Animal Science from the Nova Scotia Agricultural College in Truro, Nova Scotia.