Foreign material is the third leading cause of food recalls by the FDA and poses a serious threat to food safety, so controlling it is a critical aspect of any food safety plan. Here are three tips for doing so:

1. Develop a Foreign Material Management Plan

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Each manufacturing facility’s risks will be different, so warrant a different series of controls. To better understand the risks specific to your facility, your food safety team can use hazard analysis, which will help them discover how foreign materials may get into your products. Based on this assessment, you can develop an effective foreign material management plan that includes a series of preventive controls to address and mitigate the risks found in receiving, throughout the manufacturing process, and in packaging.

2. Establish Preventive Controls

To assist in detecting foreign material, there are a variety of systems that can be used, including strainers, magnets, metal detectors, and X-ray units. Choosing the controls that are best for your facility should be based upon the hazard analysis you’ve conducted, which will provide an understanding of the risks faced, and direct implementation of the necessary detection systems. Examples of possible controls include:

  • Metal detectors  are among the most used, as they help ensure that contaminated finished product does not reach consumers. Metal detectors are also used to protect manufacturing equipment by detecting foreign material that could cause equipment damage.
  • Strainers are typically for screening bulk liquids during receipt and as the final monitoring step for foreign material control in liquids manufacture. The strainer’s ability to screen material is impacted largely by the viscosity of the materials being received and the flow rate needed to offload the material. When producing liquid products, the filtration provided by the strainer is often more sensitive than what can be provided by metal detection equipment.
  • Magnets are highly effective in screening out ferrous metals that may damage equipment, particularly as part of unloading of raw agricultural commodities. They will also help protect equipment in areas where there are moving parts that could be damaged by foreign material.
  • X-ray units are generally used when the type of packaging used for finished products interferes with screening of finished products for foreign materials. Manufacturers that package in foil, such as pies in aluminum tins, use these devices. X-ray machines can be set to detect materials despite the metal composition of the packaging materials. They are also effective in identification of non-metallic foreign materials, such as fruit pits.

Each of these systems is then most effective when used correctly as part of a foreign material management plan and overseen by a trained team.

3. Train Your Team

Despite the use of foreign material removal devices in food processing, employee training is one of the most effective ways to take control of this highly visible and potentially damaging issue. By supporting employees with training to identify possible sources of foreign material and improve their controls, you will further reduce your risks. For instance, even the best metal detectors can be bypassed by an employee who places rejected product back on the line or turns off the metal detector or reject device when numerous rejects occur. The most important aspect of a foreign material detection policy is to educate employees about the significance of rejected materials and what the device is trying to tell them.

For all manufacturers, we offer a Foreign Material Control Assessment that helps identify gaps in gaps in written programs, evaluate employee practices, and assess plant and equipment conditions, resulting in actionable recommendations that work for your specific facility. We also offer an online course called Foreign Material Management that is specifically developed for snack and baked goods manufacturers and the specific scenarios faced in those operations.

Having a good plan, with the proper controls, that is executed by a trained team will minimize your risk of food contamination and help exceed your customers’ expectations for food safety and quality.

For more on the importance of having the right foreign material detection equipment in your facility, our Bonnie Biegel offered her expertise in the January issue of Food Engineering. She also offered her perspective on having the proper controls and training in support of reducing foreign materials to BakingBusiness.com.

Should you have any questions or need help establishing or improving your foreign material control plan, contract us at info@aibinternational.com.

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