New Tools in the Fight for Food Safety

In April, in direct response to FSMA requirements, the FDA launched an easier-to-use version of its food recall search engine. Under the new law, the FDA was required to create a more consumer-friendly version of the food recall search site within 90 days. The new version provides recall information organized by date and presented in table format going back to 2009, and includes product brand name, product description, reason for the recall, and the recalling firm, as well as whether the recall is ongoing or completed.

Yet, despite such actions, 73% of Americans are more concerned now about the safety of the food they eat than they were five years ago, according to Deloitte’s 2011 Consumer Food and Products Insight Survey, conducted in March. With several high-profile food recalls hitting the headlines in recent years, safety concerns have skyrocketed: A year ago, a little more than one-third (36%) of respondents called the safety of foods and food ingredients a “top concern,” but in this year’s survey, that percentage jumped to nearly half (49%).

Food industry suppliers, including packaging materials and machinery manufacturers, are addressing these concerns with a variety of new products.

The Cognex OmniView is a multi-camera system that provides fast, accurate inspection and traceability of cylindrical products, such as cans, bottles, jars, tubs, and vials in color or monochrome. The vision technology reads products at any orientation as they pass through the OmniView station without having to slow the line.

The Cognex OmniView is a multi-camera system that provides fast, accurate inspection and traceability of cylindrical products, such as cans, bottles, jars, tubs, and vials in color or monochrome. The vision technology reads products at any orientation as they pass through the OmniView station without having to slow the line.

Vision Systems

Cognex Corporation of Natick, Mass., is addressing the food safety initiative through a full line of machine vision systems and image-based ID readers.

Cognex OmniView is a multi-camera system that provides, in color or monochrome, fast, accurate inspection and traceability of cylindrical products such as cans, bottles, jars, tubs, and vials. The OmniView vision technology does not require turning the label toward the camera; products can be in any orientation as they pass through the OmniView station. The system’s four or five cameras will acquire the image without having to slow the line.

The system helps minimize product recalls caused by mismatched labels and lids or bad seals, and aids in tracing the product through the supply chain by ensuring the accuracy of labels and ID codes. OmniView ensures product quality, helps control the process by identifying defects early, tracks parts through the supply chain by reading labels and codes, and streamlines labor by eliminating the need for manual inspection.

“Printed label accuracy is a great application for machine vision,” said John Lewis, market development manager. “Our OmniView technology is particularly well suited for inspecting labels on cylindrical containers with random 360-degree orientation that are moving at high line speeds of up to 1200 parts per minute.

“One application is detecting torn or stained labels on high-end products such as fine wines,” Lewis explained. “Another application is bright-stock labeling of soup. After soup cans are filled, they are often stored without labels because labels can be damaged from handling in the warehouse. The cans are not labeled until an order comes in, for example, for a pallet of clam chowder with a particular store brand label. When the cans are pulled for labeling, a five-camera OmniView system verifies a character string printed on the cans. The string identifies each can’s contents to match it with the correct label.

Track-and-trace is also essential for protecting the U.S. food distribution chain, and DataMan bar code readers from Cognex address this function, said Lewis.

“The Bioterrorism Act requires that any part of the food chain be able to trace back their source ‘one step,’ and trace forward the food destination ‘one step’ on all food within 24 hours,” he said.

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