Today’s processing lines are complex and, increasingly, automated, making the detection of foreign contaminants in both raw materials and finished products more challenging than ever. Companies need comprehensive programs to ensure that contaminants never reach the consumer. Good manufacturing processes are an essential component of any overall program.
Explore this issueOctober/November 2008
While no single technology can guarantee that contaminants will not reach consumers, utilizing a variety of technologies can reduce the likelihood dramatically. Two types of technology that can effectively contribute to an overall contamination control program are metal detection and X-ray inspection. While neither of these technologies is new, both offer a high degree of reliability and have undergone dramatic improvements in terms of software, automation, and ease of use.
In the past, a human operator watched the monitor, flagging errors in products when the machine detected them. Today, no operator is required; instead, the system automatically rejects any predetermined setting or contaminated package. Today’s systems are also extremely user friendly. An operator with very little training can easily perform the initial product setup using a touch screen color monitor. With recent software advances and these ease-of-use improvements, plants are able to operate more efficiently while improving product safety.
Of course, all line operators must be trained in proper equipment use. Imagine if this key process was not in place. A device might be in place without a proper reject bin, for example, so that contaminated product simply dropped onto the floor. An untrained operator entering the scene might simply pick the product up and put it back on the line, not realizing it had been rejected due to contamination.
It is important to inspect the product at several stages of the production line. Even when a contaminant is found and rejected at the beginning of the line, it is still possible for a different contaminant to be introduced at a later point, resulting in a contaminated end product. Inspecting only at the end of the line does not make sense, either; this strategy results in much greater product waste. In addition to these procedures, each company must make certain that all ingredients are purchased from a supplier with equally strict inspection policies.
One of the most common product contaminants is metal. Metal contaminants can be introduced to product as shards that break off of machinery in the production line. If left in the product, such metal pieces can destroy equipment farther down the line, creating a much larger problem, with multiple fragments in more product. This kind of problem can grow exponentially if it is not caught early.