Product inspection – a must for meat
Neil Giles, a product inspection specialist with Mettler Toledo, looks at the vital importance of product inspection in the meat and poultry industry and the benefits that advanced inspection systems can offer manufacturers in terms of productivity, protection and quality.
Speed of detection
Once a manufacturer has identified the need for a product inspection system, the next challenge is to ensure that executing these inspection checks does not interfere with production. Downtime is the enemy in any manufacturing environment, so to remain competitive it is very important that lines are able to run unhindered. This is where in-line inspection systems come into their own, as 100% of the product is able to be inspected for contaminants without having to stop or decrease line speeds.
Where metal is identified as the main contamination risk, metal detectors are often positioned strategically on the line. Meat is considered to be a ‘wet’ product and the high moisture content can cause what is known as product effect: a phenomenon whereby the characteristics of the product itself can inhibit the inspection equipment’s ability to identify specific contaminants. This can lead to higher wastage due to false rejects, particularly in products that are challenging to inspect – such as meat and poultry. Modern metal detectors, such as the Profile Advantage from Mettler Toledo, have been specifically designed to overcome product effect in challenging applications, ensuring waste is kept to a minimum and that profit margins are protected. These advanced metal detection systems have the ability to not only overcome product effect, but also to find smaller real-life contaminants; safeguarding consumers and enhancing brand protection.
Where a wider variety of contaminants may be encountered, x-ray systems are the best choice. These systems can detect foreign materials such as calcified bone, glass, mineral stone, high density plastics, rubber and, of course, metal. X-ray inspection can be used in all applications for contaminant detection and is capable of very accurate results at high speeds. Systems can often be found in bulk flow applications, pipeline systems and in the inspection of processed unpackaged and packaged products; whether they are fresh, chilled or frozen.
Benefits beyond contamination
For many people, product inspection systems are synonymous with contamination detection – but there are many other tasks that can be carried out simultaneously in order to add value, improve productivity and improve product quality. Checkweighers are often used to monitor completeness in packaged products. They are also able to interact directly with fillers, for example, to ensure regulatory compliance in areas such as weights and measures without wasting valuable product – either through giveaway or the need to rework. This additional quality assurance element adds value for manufacturers and their customers alike in terms of consistency.
X-ray systems are able to fulfil a wide range of tasks, such as checking packages for missing components or for product defects such as shape and edge defects or holes. X-ray systems can also be used for mass measurement purposes – which is critical in applications such as fresh minced meat, for example – and other quality checks such as fill level inspection and the identification of trapped product within the seal of a package.
Multiple simultaneous integrity checks should not compromise production. This is particularly important where the product is frozen: for example, frozen burgers and patties cannot be held for longer than eight minutes in a blast freezer without suffering degradation. The X39 is a recent innovation that has been developed specifically to meet these requirements. It can inspect products across multiple lines and accurately targets individual patties for removal in real-time – irrespective of product position and without the need to stop production. Developed for free flow, frozen formed food applications, the X39 can conduct 10 integrity checks at 1,800 pieces a minute – an industry first. This significantly reduces waste, rework and downtime to deliver bottom-line savings.
Reject systems used in conjunction with product inspection systems can also be custom designed to suit a wide variety of applications. These provide a further level of protection against wastage as less good product is removed once a contaminant is identified on the line. One such example is a multi-lane scoop reject device, which accurately rejects only the area of the belt containing the non-conforming product without removing excessive good product. Likewise, multi-lane air blast rejection devices can remove a smaller, more targeted section of product on the belt – limiting waste.
Given the environment in which meat is processed and packaged, thorough cleaning is essential to avoid any risk of bio-contamination and cross-contamination. As a result, food safety regulations require very strict and often harsh wash-down to be carried out on all production line equipment. Compliance with food safety and quality standards such as BRC, IFS, FSSC 22000 or SQF is vital, so systems from Mettler-Toledo are designed to meet EHEDG (European Hygienic Engineering & Design Group) and NSF (National Sanitation Foundation) hygienic design guidelines.
This means that systems are easy to clean and are of stainless steel construction throughout. Surfaces are designed to be smooth, with no sharp angles, reducing the risk of accumulations of unwanted matter that could harbour bacteria. Where appropriate, systems are also complaint with IP69 ingress protection ratings, meaning they can be washed down using high pressure washers and chemicals with no risk of damage to the electronics.
By installing a system that has been designed for use in a harsh environment, such as a meat processing plant, manufacturers can be assured that biological and chemical contamination risks are reduced, regulatory requirements are satisfied, and that the systems will stand the test of time due to the rugged design and construction. In addition, systems that are designed to be simple to clean enable operators to reduce the amount of downtime associated with wash downs.
There are many different applications in the meat and poultry industry and it is vital to select the correct inspection systems based on both production and regulatory requirements. For meat, product can be bulk flow, pipelined, unpackaged, packaged, cooked, raw, frozen, dried and everything in between. Whatever the product, when dealing with meat a HACCP review will first take place to establish the critical control points. Then it is up to the business to ensure that those points are covered adequately and in a way that fits in with its overall quality control programme.
By working with an expert supplier of product inspection systems, manufacturers can be assured that the best possible solution can be found without exception. Mettler-Toledo, for example, works in partnership with its customers to drill down into the true needs of a business ahead of suggesting an appropriate solution. The company’s ability to cover all of the bases in terms of technologies, and also to support those systems with a large network of expert support staff, has been instrumental in keeping its customers productive, protected and above all producing the very highest quality products.
Neil Giles works for the Product Inspection Division of Mettler Toledo in the UK, and is a specialist across all four main product inspection technologies: x-ray, metal detection, vision inspection, and checkweighing. With more than 20 years’ experience in the food and pharmaceutical industries, he has extensive knowledge of equipment for the packaging, process weighing and inspection sectors.