Tools of the trade
Vision equipment provides a different type of detection that ensures proper sealing and labeling. 
In 2016, six of the top 15 recalls in pounds of meat and poultry products were due to foreign matter contamination. The six foreign matter recalls totaled more than 1.1 billion lbs. and ranged in materials from metal and glass pieces to hard plastic and rubber.

With brand competition, and reputations for food safety becoming more and more important, companies must do everything possible to ensure foreign matter stays out of products destined for human consumption. One public recall has the potential to damage a brand’s image for years to come, or even beyond repair. Also, taking the necessary precautions to produce safe food is just the right thing to do.

Different detection processes

Detection for foreign material may take more than one intervention point. For example, a metal detection system doesn’t have the ability to pick up hard plastic, bone fragments or glass. For contaminants not made of a detectable metal, X-ray machines are the next logical choice, and still other detections for packaging and label discrepancies can be used to ensure product quality.

“We have metal detectors throughout the facility on all our lines, on our grind lines and our tray pack lines,” says Shane Acosta, complex general manager, Cargill Turkey and Cooked Meats, Springdale, Arkansas. “Also we have the vision system on our MAP (modified atmosphere packaging) lines. Those pieces of equipment are looking for seal integrity, and ensuring that proper labels are on products, and making sure that the inkjet is legible on the code and those kinds of things.”

For certain products, the method and process for detection might be very specific. For turkey thighs at Cargill’s Springdale plant, lines utilize an X-ray machine to detect bone fragments in those parts. Thighs have a higher potential for bone fragments than other turkey parts, and depending on whether or not further processing will occur and where, bone detection can be more important.

“We want zero tolerance on bone and there’s no added step for some of the higher-end products. There’s no other bone detection step after it leaves here, from a technology perspective,” Acosta says.

He adds that most of the products produced at the Springdale facility that end up at a cook facility or some other further processing in house or otherwise, have an additional bone detection or elimination step. “Maybe not X-ray, but they have bone elimination, where some of the products that these thighs are destined for have no further step in bone elimination, so we do it here to provide a high-end, bone-free thigh product.”

 Tools of the trade
Some products have specific bone detection in place, providing an extra step to elimination. 
For Cargill’s Springdale facility, thighs are the only product that gets the extra X-ray step. “Other than that, everything is pretty much normal in flow with metal detection on grind and tray pack lines, and vision on the finished goods tray pack,” Acosta adds. But depending on a facility’s processes and products, additional detection steps and equipment might be worth the expense to ensure quality and food safety.

When a metal detector, X-ray machine or vision equipment does detect foreign matter or a discrepancy before leaving the plant for consumption, how to handle it varies greatly depending on a number of factors. At Cargill’s turkey plant in Springdale, it might get reworked, the bone fragment found, and then cut out. “It depends, sometimes we would divert that product to a totally different product line that would have a further bone elimination step,” Acosta says.

He notes that in the sausage making process at the plant there is bone elimination specific to sausage. So if a bone chip were to get through, it would go through additional bone elimination before the finished good was produced. However, if another bone elimination step does not exist, Cargill works the material until it is bone free according to the zero tolerance policy to protect consumers as well as brand reputation.