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Friday, July 19, 2024

Food contamination: reputations on the line

Food safety scares can destroy the worth of a brand name overnight – which makes product inspection technologies such a critical investment, writes Russell Morgan

Russell Morgan

Product Inspection Specialist


Food contamination incidents are on the rise. According to Europe’s Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF), the number of total alerts reported in 2017 is almost 70 percent higher than for 2012, with physical contamination incidents 25 times higher. This significant increase cannot be simply explained by tighter regulations or changes in reporting methods and should be a matter of concern for CEOs across the food sector. The primary concern in eliminating physical contamination in food is customer safety, but there’s more to it than that. Product recalls are also a considerable risk to reputation. Brand values painstakingly developed over time can be seriously undermined in a matter of hours by bad publicity surrounding a food scare, and sometimes they do not survive the experience. According to a recent food recall strategy report by Emerald Insight, recalls often trigger a chain reaction effect throughout the supply chain and society as a whole.

Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty calculates that a major product recall in the food industry costs approximately eight million euros on average. In a worst-case scenario, health problems arising from foreign bodies in food can lead to legal actions, adding a further cost burden over time. Implementing a robust quality management program that includes product inspection technologies to detect and remove physical contamination at source is, therefore, a sound investment.

Reducing recalls, protecting reputations
Manufacturers of product inspection technologies use continuous development to make sure their systems keep pace with the needs of modern food production: whether it is a retailer’s desire to specify a process for rejecting and securing sub-standard products, or a manufacturer that needs to improve overall equipment effectiveness (OEE).

For example, automated product setup has dramatically decreased the chance of human error during programming and product changeovers. Enhanced sensitivity, particularly in metal detection, is helping to eliminate false rejects and makes it possible to detect metal contaminants up to 50 percent smaller than previously possible. Twin beam x-ray systems mean difficult-to-detect contaminants – such as glass fragments within glass containers – are picked up before they can cause harm.

In addition, greater digitalisation is enabling the collection and analysis of data as a tool to support consumer safety and effective brand protection. Many modern inspection systems are now equipped with interfaces that enable data collection in real time. This information is essential for predictive benchmarking and uses trend analysis to prevent errors. In the case of a serious incident, the product inspection data will provide vital information about error sources and potentially affected batches: so any recall can be carried out more easily and more precisely. In cases of malicious intervention post-production, data like x-ray images can prove that goods left the production facility in perfect condition.

Physical contamination continues to be an extremely serious issue, both in terms of consumer health and brand reputation, and effective counter-measures need to keep pace as food, packaging and production trends change over time.

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