X-ray and metal detection systems go after harder-to-find contaminants to bolster safety, prevent recalls and improve quality.
Keeping an eye on the bottom line can involve keeping an eye on the product – a very close eye. Deployed at various points in a processing facility, detection systems can improve food safety and quality by finding foreign materials and helping processors keep those contaminants out of products bound for human consumption.

Meat and poultry processors are focusing (no pun intended) on detection technologies as one tool in a multifaceted approach to food safety and integrity for a variety of reasons. Compliance with food safety requirements, including the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) as well as other regulations, is a driving force. The desire to avoid costly and headline-making recalls is another factor in processors’ investment in detection technologies. The list of 2017 recalls published by the US Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) covers a spectrum of meat and poultry products, with foreign matter contaminants cited as a reason in several recalls, following the other common causes of undeclared allergens and potentially harmful pathogens.

While x-ray and metal detection equipment have been used for years to help find foreign bodies in meat and poultry, improved technologies allow for the detection of smaller and more varied contaminants. At the same time, various detection technologies can be used to analyze, measure and count products as part of quality checks.

Because of the nature of meat and poultry and the unique manufacturing environment, processors are impacted by certain challenges. “Besides regular contaminant inspection much of the focus is on bone detection,” notes Kyle Thomas, strategic business unit manager for Eagle Product Inspection, Tampa, Florida.

Thomas cites specific challenges associated with poultry. “Because of the age of birds and how they are basically constructed, the ability to get bones out of meat prior to going into further processing is critical and very challenging. Bone is also a concern with beef and pork, but there are other things that come into play as well with red meat, such as metals. That can be a problem, particularly when you start talking about raw product. So a lot of it has to do with the right detection technology.”

Tools of the trade
Anritsu XR75 series
Glenn Holliday, product manager, inspection, North America for Marel in Overland Park, Kansas, underscores such aspects of meat and poultry processing. “In deboned poultry and red meat products, bones or bone fragments are by far the most common contaminants. It is normal that around 5 to 10 percent of deboned chicken fillets are contaminated with bones,” he points out.

Both metal and x-ray detection machines can be found in meat and poultry plants, and each offers a type of value. “Metal detectors can be customized for the product, selecting the smallest aperture for the product for ideal detection of all types of metal. If additional contaminants are expected, such as bone, stone or glass, as well as metal, an x-ray system is the best solution,” says Robert Rogers, senior advisor, food safety, for Columbus, Ohio-based Mettler Toledo.

Steve Gidman, president of UK-based Fortress Technology, notes the value of metal detection systems. “Metallic inclusions are the No. 1 contaminant in meat food products, causing product quality and consumer safety issues,” he says.  

Suppliers of detection technologies have been refining their respective machines and software to provide better detection capability to prevent recalls and ensure quality. Those systems are often put into place at several areas of potential risk, as both stopgap and fail-safe measures.

“Ideally, systems would be placed at each critical control point,” Rogers says, citing some examples. “Systems can detect contaminants on bulk products, including pumped meats, prior to packaging, which can reduce the extra cost of packaging if a contaminant is found early. Placing a system at the end after final packaging is recommended as a final check, and can ensure portion control and integrity of the contents and package.”

Emmett Keim, regional sales manager for Anritsu, Elk Grove Village, Illinois, also points to the use of detection technologies at critical control points. “It’s possibly Step 2 or 3 in developing a sound HACCP plan. There are many varieties of meat applications which we can properly implement the correct x-ray technology,” he remarks.  

The Early Bird

Discovering contaminants as early as possible is an efficient and cost-efficient way of stopping a problem before it multiplies. That is especially true when dealing with the potential of bone contamination.

“It is best to implement x-ray detection for bone prior to cook as the density of the bone is greater in the raw form,” Keim says, adding, “Typically, pumping product through a pipeline system, right after the grinder is an ideal place to implement x-ray technology. If the product cannot be conveyed via pipeline, as with chicken breast typically, we would suggest a dual energy x-ray system at single layer chicken breast.”

Holliday, too, emphasizes the importance of early intervention. “Positioning the detection systems is vital since removing the contaminants from the product as early in the process as possible is the most cost-effective way. By positioning a detection system immediately after the deboning process, bones can be removed at the source of the problem, thus eliminating the risk of having to downgrade more valuable products downstream,” he notes, adding that early installation is also important for ground products that can be compromised during the mixing and grinding process with bones or metal fragments.

Likewise, Thomas says that inspection technologies like Eagle’s x-ray systems work well upstream in the production. “Most processors want to put inspection technology in place where it can help them improve the quality of the product or quality of the process and find contaminants to get meat segregated before anything is value added. The last thing you want to do is to add value to the product and get to the end and find out it is contaminated,” he observes.

Tools of the Trade
Eagle Product Inspection RMI 400

Downstream Deployment

Detection technologies are also crucial at other phases of production, because of the possible introduction of foreign material. “There are two different types of contaminants: one is indigenous to the meat, like bone, or metal that a pig or cow has ingested and is now embedded in the meat itself. And then there are other contaminants that are introduced into the product because there is an issue at some point in the process. Perhaps a piece of machinery has a problem and a piece of metal gets into the product or an operator accidentally drops a foreign object into the product stream,” Thomas explains. “So farther down the line, that’s a check that’s done when most of the value has been added.” There can be additional checks after secondary packaging and before final packaging, he adds.

Keim, likewise, says that later checks are integral to preventing contaminated products from leaving a plant. “Anritsu recommends implementing x-ray detection at the individual package level for final inspection. Case level inspection can be acceptable if the product is not too dense and the x-ray system can still detect anywhere from 0.7mm to 1.2mm metal at the case level,” he says. 

Vision for the Future

For use at various critical control points, suppliers offer newer technologies capable of finding smaller or harder-to-detect contaminants and providing quality checks.

For example, in addition to its SensorX x-ray system that has helped reduce false positives, Marel recently added detection solutions for the red meat industry. “Our latest developments for the red meat industry include a system that scans meat trimmings that are purchased based on having the correct fat-to-lean ratio as well being delivered bone free,” Holliday reports, noting that the system processes raw material and automatically rejects bones and contaminants while providing information on the correct fat-to-lean ratio of the incoming meat.

Eagle Product Inspection offers a variety of advanced detection technologies, including newer systems like the RMI 400 designed for detection of foreign matter in poultry products. Introduced in mid-2017, the RMI 400 x-ray inspection system allows for superior bone and contaminant detection in poultry, with a NAMI-standard design that withstands and overcomes the particular challenges in poultry settings, such as an inclined infeed and out-feed conveyor that reduces sanitation time and eliminates the need for radiation shielding curtains. “Customers have a better probability of detecting smaller objects and bone with the RMI 400, while also making sure that the machine is very hygienic and keeps clean over time,” Thomas says.

Eagle’s other detection systems include the RMI 3 series and FA3 series designed for raw products and some bulk products packed in crates and cartons. The Pack 400 HC, Thomas says, provides superior bone and contamination detection once the product is packaged and is suitable for the hygienic needs of environments like meat and poultry plants. Eagle’s systems also provide key information for quality checks, including inline fat measurement and analysis and mass-weight measurement and count.

Tools of the trade
Marel Sensor X 502
Mettler Toledo provides an array of x-ray and metal detection units precisely designed for the meat and poultry industry, according to Rogers. “The latest metal detector, the Profile Advantage, delivers up to 50 percent greater sensitivity in challenging applications where the product has ‘product effect’ – products that are hot, wet, cold, chilling or have high saline content such as those in the meat and poultry industries,” he reports. In addition, Mettler Toledo has developed an X39 x-ray system for formed frozen products, such as burger patties.

Anritsu, meantime, focuses on the longevity of its machines and their benefits for users. Keim uses the company’s XR75 technology as an example. “Our XR75 does not require the need for an air conditioner, allowing for a completely sealed electronics cabinet, resulting in no water ingress and ensuring that the production schedule goes on as planned.  Moreover, our XR75 sanitary design x-ray system offers a hygienic solution that mitigates biological hazards that can occur due to lack of proper sanitation,” he explains.

Keim also notes that Anritsu offers a low power x-ray system that allows for a “safer approach” to x-ray inspection while enabling users to find less-dense objects that are typically penetrated by traditional high-power x-ray systems.

For metal detection, Fortress Technology has introduced a new multi-aperture, multi-line metal detector, designed for greater versatility and efficiency in a smaller footprint. According to the company information, the system can improve the total cost of ownership by more than 65 percent.

Moving into 2018 and planning for the future, one can expect detection technologies to continue to improve. “As an industry and as a consumer, you continue to raise the bar. Therefore, slaughterhouses, processors, and, ultimately, those that are providing food that goes into stores want to meet consumers’ expectations,” Thomas says.