Don’t make a meal out of metal

Published on Tuesday 22 May 2012 (10:56am)

Safety is one of the most important aspects of the food industry. Any brand owner will understand me when I say that it is intrinsically linked to the quality of the end product and if it is neglected consumers will be left disappointed. If standards slip then the result can be serious reputational damage, lawsuits or worse.

Since production began, contaminated products have haunted food businesses. However, with huge demands being placed on manufacturers to get products on shelf quicker than ever before, the challenge is how to get the balance right between speed and safety. If you don’t, then your bottom line will suffer. 

Despite significantly improving the speed of the production of goods, processing machinery has, because of its many moving parts, increased the chance that foreign objects can end up in a finished product. We have seen scenarios where broken sieves, blades, and bearings and damaged milling equipment have ended up in the final pack waiting to be dispatched.

Now, it goes without saying that this is a huge problem for retailers, brands and manufacturers. After all, consumers don’t want to find a piece of metal in their cereal box on a Monday morning.

Brands can spend millions of pounds developing new products and creating innovative packaging for their goods, however, it can all be for nothing if, during the manufacturing process, a piece of metal that has attached to an ingredient is not detected at the end of the packaging line.

Reputation has always been a huge factor in the success of food and drink businesses. Brands that encounter issues with the quality of their products struggle through recovery and some have ended up on the scrap heap.

That is one of the main reasons why all major retailers and brands now require their suppliers to have metal detectors installed on their manufacturing lines. It’s their reputation that is at risk and in today’s Internet age, where one angry ‘tweet’ can spread to millions of people worldwide in minutes, businesses simply cannot leave anything to chance.

Checkweighers are weighing machines that are installed at the end of the production line to ensure that packs are the correct weight and these require calibration on an annual basis. Since they were introduced, they have become an integral part of any food manufacturers’ packing process, but over the last few years their importance has increased ten fold.

By integrating checkweighers with the latest metal detection technology, food manufacturers have been able to identify any products that contain metal before they are dispatched. Today, the chance of products contaminated with ferrous, non-ferrous and stainless steel material slipping through the net and ending up on the shelf has significantly decreased.

But it doesn’t end there. Detection systems at the end of the packaging line can also help to protect machinery further up the chain. By identifying a piece of metal in a pack, it can be traced back to the machine and any issues can be dealt with before they become a major problem.

In my opinion, manufacturers should not need brands or retailers to be telling them to install metal detectors in their factories. It should be a prerequisite in the age we live in. The reality is that it’s a simple piece of kit, which can be integrated into existing checkweighers, that will save you a significant sum of money if a contaminated product does end up on shelf.