Food producers, packagers, and distributors are under increasing scrutiny when it comes to the safety of their products. The complexity, scope, and speed of the supply chain have made it so that a localized issue involving food-borne contaminants can quickly balloon into a nationwide recall. The food industry has responded by implementing stringent inspection and safety processes. For detecting foreign objects in food products, X-ray technology is an established best practice.
Thanks to improved safety processes, the incidence of foreign objects in packaged foods has decreased significantly. In the most recent FDA report, “The Reportable Food Registry: Targeting Inspection Resources and Identifying Patterns of Adulteration,” foreign objects accounted for less than 1 percent of reported food safety hazards.
However, when foreign objects are discovered in food, the impact on both the consumer and the brand is immediate and visceral. These foreign objects pose a significant safety risk because of the associated choking hazards. These incidents tend to be highly publicized because they are unusual and dramatic. That compounds brand damage, in addition to possible liability. As a result, food manufacturers and packagers must be meticulous in detecting and eliminating foreign objects before goods are distributed. Contamination incidents can also put contracts with large retailers at risk, depending on how stringent their requirements are.
The FDA considers a product adulterated if it contains hard or sharp foreign objects that measure 7 mm to 25 mm (1/4 to almost one inch) in length and is “ready to eat” or requires minimal enough preparation that cooking would not neutralize the hazard prior to consumption. These physical hazards vary depending on the type of food, but the most common objects found in food are glass, metal, plastics, wood, and stones. The contamination may occur during harvesting, processing, packaging, or at other stages in production.