Brand building can take years for a food manufacturer and a single quality issue can have damaging effects on how a brand or product is perceived in the market. Investing in appropriate inspection and detection technology is a sure solution to mitigate quality risks.
Automation in packaging and processing is on the rise and presents challenges in achieving effective quality control. While it’s vital to maximise efficiencies and minimise costs, automation leaves fewer opportunities for human intervention to spot problems on the line.
Quality is more than the prevention of unwanted contaminants in a pack. A broken product, missing item, or damaged pack all have the potential to impact on a brand or product’s reputation. When it comes to consumer safety there is an increasing emphasis on the value of X-ray inspection systems. Retailers are also aware of the importance of protecting their image.
The result in an increased focus on the relative values of metal detection versus X-ray inspection technologies.
Designed for quality
X-ray inspection systems have the versatility to spot a wider range of foreign bodies, including glass, plastic, stone and rubber. Some X-ray inspection systems are so specialised they detect bones in meat fillets.
This type of technology is flexible in its ability to work undeterred in even the harshest of environments such as humid, wet atmospheres and extreme hot and cold temperatures. Foreign bodies can be detected through aluminium foil and in tins, regardless of the temperature or the salt and water content of the product.
The machines can handle a variety of pack formats. This includes top sealed, thermoformed trays, flexible bags and unpacked and bulk products.
X-ray technology is able to spot additional quality issues such as broken, undersized or missing items in packs. It can also detect deformed products or under-filled compartments in ready meals, products with cracks or fissures, grains stuck together in powdered products and missing metal clips.
Effective weight estimation is another benefit of this technology. If a pack is supposed to contain four pieces of meat of approximately the same weight yet one piece is overweight and another, underweight, the X-ray system will detect the discrepancy in contents despite the total weight of the pack being correct.
The huge popularity of convenience in the fresh food sector is another area that brings challenges in terms of maintaining quality. Leaks in sealed pre-packs of meat, poultry and fish can quickly lead to product deterioration. Such imperfections cannot be detected by the naked eye. To prevent this, seal testers are able to test the integrity of sealed, flow-wrapped or lidded trays in different materials and sizes. They typically apply controlled pressure to each pack going across a conveyor to detect and evaluate any subsequent ‘give’.
Gentle testing is a major benefit of the process, allowing failed pack contents to be re-packed. In addition to detecting leakages, the system can pick up an early warning of deterioration in the sealing process.
The latest advanced laser technology is now able to identify CO2 leaks in MAP packs from fissures as small as 0.25mm and at high speeds up to 180ppm. This ensures quality without compromising on throughput.
An important part of the comprehensive quality monitoring process is accurate labelling. Vision systems ensure a label is positioned correctly and verifies the overprinted data with a company’s information system. This ensures the correct dates, weights, prices and barcodes are included and are legible.
In the drive for market share, food companies continue to invest in new product development, advanced manufacturing and packing operations to create high quality products. The establishment of an effective monitoring system is an equally wise investment.