Updated metal detectors and X-ray systems help food processors prevent contamination.

Editor's note: To learn about the newest developments in contamination detection - including both metal detection and X-ray systems -Refrigerated & Frozen Foodsturned to Gerry Broski, director of marketing for Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc., Waltham, Mass., and Oscar Jeter, national sales manager for Mettler-Toledo Safeline Inc., Tampa, Fla.

R&FF:What's new in metal detectors and X-ray systems?

Gerry Broski:Current-generation metal detectors address the need for durability to withstand real world sanitation and washdown procedures, multiple frequencies for better detection over a variety of products, user-friendly operator interfaces and connectivity for data collection and integration.

We are seeing a stratification of the market for X-ray systems. At the high end of the market, X-ray systems are differentiated by smaller diode sizes for higher detection sensitivity and more powerful software with features such as mass measurement. At a "standard" level we have seen the need for systems which offer economical contaminant detection beyond metal detection, with a simple feature set and uncomplicated user interface.

Oscar Jeter:Metal detection continues to improve the ability to find smaller and smaller metal particles, especially in conductive (wet) products. There is also the ability to document all areas of the contaminant detection program to help comply with HACCP and vendor certification programs.

R&FF:Speaking of HACCP and vendor certification, what are food processors' biggest detection concerns?

Broski:   The greatest concern is contaminated product reaching the public, or a product recall due to contamination. Every food processor wants to put out a quality product. Tracking and tracing raw materials and finished products are critical to compliance with regulations and food safety. Prevention through diligent inspection and detection is the best way to ensure quality products. These detection systems also must be periodically tested and properly maintained for optimum performance. In terms of the actual equipment, food processors want reliability, sensitivity, high throughput, safety and ease of use.

Jeter:   With more product recalls in the news, all processors are deeply concerned about solid contamination of any type. Metal is still the No. 1 complaint generator for most food industry segments. Having a metal detector will not ensure a metal free product - but when implemented as a part of a comprehensive contaminant control program - it will provide assurance of product purity.

R&FF:What challenges do food plants face in using contaminant detectors?

Broski:   A key challenge is compliance with regulations and the ability to track and trace materials and products. Another challenge is the wide variety of products and packaging configurations. New materials are constantly being introduced to appeal to consumers. Foil pouches, metallic packaging, oxygen scavengers and product premiums may present challenges to contaminant detection systems.

[Today's processors must] maintain good records, audit and test contaminant inspection systems and stay informed on the latest detection technology. They also should work with the contaminant detection system manufacturers to make sure requirements are well understood when specifying a detection system.

Jeter:  There are many challenges in solid contaminant detection that food processors need help with. Wood is a contaminant that cannot be detected by metal detectors or X-ray inspection. Only a program designed to prevent the inclusion of these contaminants will be helpful.

R&FF:What are some of your company's latest technologies?

Broski:  Our newest developments in terms of solid contaminant detection are incorporated in our Thermo Scientific APEX metal detector product line. This line has a patented multi-coil design, which enables a 20 percent improvement in detector sensitivity and a low false-reject rate.

For X-ray systems, we offer our Thermo Scientific POWERx Systems, which provide state-of-the-art detection sensitivity and software capability for demanding applications, including glass-in-glass detection.

At the other end of the spectrum, we offer Thermo Scientific Ezx, which is designed to facilitate the transition from metal detectors to X-ray detectors. The graphic user interface is simple and easy to use. Product setup is easy with a quick-learn feature and auto calibration of the system components.

Jeter:   Our new developments are making the metal detector smarter so that less operator intervention is required. Icon-driven touch screen controls make it easy for even unskilled employees to quickly learn to use the detector. An early warning alert of component deterioration helps prevent costly downtime.

R&FF:How has contaminant detection changed during the last 10 years?

Broski:  In the last 10 years we saw widespread use of metal detectors as the principal means of product safety and brand protection. In the last five years, the cost of X-ray systems has declined and gained wider acceptance as a safe and reliable method of solid contaminant detection. Food processors are gradually integrating more X-ray systems as the preferred method of solid contaminant detection.

From a market standpoint, food is sourced and processed on a global basis and the threat of contamination has increased exponentially.

Government regulation of our food supply is increasing as tracking and tracing of materials and products become critical to maintaining a secure food supply infrastructure.

Jeter:The widespread implementation of X-ray inspection is the biggest change we have seen. Food processors are adding X-ray to their production lines in growing numbers.

R&FF:In your opinion, what's next in contaminant detection?

Broski:There is a lot of speculation as to what the next generation of products will be.  The next breakthrough will most likely be in sensor technology; be it electromagnetic, biosensor, micromechanical or some hybrid version of a combination of technologies.  Considering the diversity and complexity of our food matrix, the increasing globalization and transportation of raw materials and end products, and the diversity of food production, it's clear that the need for contaminant detection, including solid, organic and chemical will continue to grow. We can also expect that contaminant detectors will become more integrated into processing systems as data capture points for conformance and verification for quality assurance.

Jeter:Many options are being explored, but no huge breakthroughs are seen at this point in time. The present technology in metal detection and X-ray inspection will continue to improve and more features will be added to make the systems easier to use and increase uptime.