Physical contamination and how to prevent it

Every month items of food produced or sold here in the UK are recalled because they have been found to put consumers at risk.

Attempting to eradicate that risk for both the manufacturer and the consumer is a key objective of food factory consultants like FESS Group, who use the expertise and technology at their fingertips to advise on and implement processes which prevent food contamination.

In this blog, we’ll focus on physical contamination in food production; what it means and how it can be prevented.

What is ‘physical contamination’?

There are different types of food contamination, but when we refer to ‘physical contamination’ we mean the presence of a foreign object in food. So a physical thing in the end product that was not intended to be there.

Food can be contaminated at any part of the production process and may result in serious consequences for the consumer, including choking. As well as the contaminant itself causing harm, it may also carry traces of microbial contamination.

Examples of physical contamination include pests, hair, plastic, metal, materials and paint. They can contaminate food through numerous entry points, including faulty or dirty machinery; human error (e.g. not wearing a correctly fitted hair net, or wearing jewellery in the factory); or from the raw material stage (e.g. stones).

For food to meet safety standards, physical contaminants must be identified in the production process and action taken before it is consumed.

Are there other types of food contamination?

Alongside physical contamination there are three other types of contamination that food factory consultants like FESS Group will support your business in preventing, namely:

  • Allergenic contamination – when food comes into contact with an allergen which isn’t clearly marked on the packaging
  • Microbial contamination – food which has been contaminated with a microorganism such as bacteria
  • Chemical contamination – when contact is made with a chemical substance, for example a pesticide

Food producers have a legal responsibility to take steps which ensure rigorous processes are put in place to prevent all types of contamination.

Why is it important to prevent it? 

Food contamination is preventable. And it’s vital for consumer safety that steps are taken by factory consultants to detect contaminants and prevent contaminated food from being consumed.

Why? Well, contamination can have serious consequences for those who eat it, from sickness and broken teeth to death.

Alongside this, there is the harm it will do to the reputation of the business, and the cost involved in recalling items and any potential legal battles.

Ensuring compliance of food safety is ethically the right thing to do, as well as good for business.

What equipment prevents physical contamination?

Factory consultants like FESS Group will use a range of specialist equipment to prevent physical contamination at every stage of the production process.

X-ray inspection systems for example have an incredibly sharp detection capability, picking up contaminants including stone, glass and bone, as well as metal. These are placed at control points to identify contaminants early.

Metal detectors are also used, isolating from the production line any metal contaminant in the product which interferes with a constant electromagnetic field; through which the food is passed.

Ultrasound relies on interactions between high-frequency sound waves and matter to gather information about the composition, structure and dimensions of materials through which it propagates. Here at FESS Group we use ultrasound technologies for multiple processes, including the safety of food products.

Other ways to prevent physical contamination…

A full-proof and compliant Health and Safety assessment will support every aspect of your food production business, from protecting your team to preventing physical contamination.

Alongside specialist equipment, examples of other ways to prevent physical contamination include, but are not limited to:

  • Ensuring employees follow dress code best practise.
  • A pest control system.
  • Replacing faulty equipment.
  • Regularly auditing equipment.
  • Training employees on compliance.

 What is X-ray food inspection?

X-ray is a hugely useful tool for effectively detecting physical contaminants, not just metal. It is extremely accurate, allowing a screening process of the product which is consistent.

On the radiograph image of the product which is created by the x-ray, any dense materials inside the product are detected. These can include glass, metal, plastics, bones and even clumps of the produce which would affect its standard.

However, x-ray won’t pick up less dense contaminants, like paper; which is why it is vital that multi-technology inspection processes are implemented in the food factory setting to detect all physical contaminants at every stage.

Why choose FESS Group?

Our experienced team of food factory consultants here at FESS Group can support your business with all areas of health and safety, including inspection systems and compliance. Based outside Doncaster we’re well placed to help businesses the length and breadth of the UK with food engineering support services.

Call our team on 03335 330 007 to find out more and receive a copy of our services brochure.

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