In 2009, there were 56 separate food safety incidents recorded in the U.K. caused by contamination from foreign bodies, such as glass or metal shards, stones or bones, or fragments of plastics or rubber. This has since risen to 118 in 2013, with plastic, metal, and glass contamination in 19, 12, and 10 incidents respectively. Interestingly, of the 118 recorded incidents, 62 originated from the U.K., 35 from the European Union (EU), and 11 were imported. In the U.S., there were 10 recorded incidents of extraneous material contamination in 2013, with 331,732 pounds of food recalled. According to USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service, the number of incidents significantly increased from five in 2009, however the amount of food recalled reduced from over 1 million pounds. These, combined with a number of other high-profile food scares, have had consumers in both Europe and North America increasingly worried about the safety of the products at supermarkets.
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For any brand involved in a safety incident, a product recall can be costly, especially when you factor in the time and effort spent initiating the recall, communicating it to customers and consumers, then working to rebuild their reputation in the eyes of both retailers and the general public. In addition, there are damages that have to be paid to customers left out of pocket, as well as the expense of lost and wasted product. It is no surprise then that manufacturers are keen to do all they can to avoid an incident.
To continually protect consumers against substandard products, food safety legislation and standards in both the U.S. and the EU have evolved. The International Featured Standards in France, Germany, and other European economies, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) Global Standards in the U.K., and the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) in the U.S. are all more stringent than ever before to combat food safety hazards, safeguard consumer wellbeing, and reclaim public trust in the food supply chain. They are now becoming the blueprints for similar regulations in emerging markets, such as China, both to improve safety for local consumers and to facilitate exports to Europe and North America.
As a result of these stricter rules around the globe, food manufacturers have had to evolve their product inspection processes to ensure compliance with regulations and minimize the risk of a costly product recall. At the same time, increasing worldwide demand for food products and growing globalization of the market has meant that they have had to maintain high levels of quality control while boosting their manufacturing output and productivity.
Product inspection manufacturers have had to develop their technologies, such as X-ray inspection systems, innovating to meet these requirements from customers with ever greater sensitivity and features to balance product safety and productivity. Incorporating fully integrated automatic rejection systems, for example, into X-ray technology has enabled manufacturers to significantly increase throughput rates on their line without compromising contaminant detection. The development and inclusion of advanced data management systems in product inspection machines has also resulted in more accurate analysis and monitoring, enabling food manufacturers to not only demonstrate due diligence in the event of an incident, but to identify potential sources of contamination to minimize the risk of it happening again in the future.
Where We Stand Today
Even with the developments in legislation, food product recalls remain a significant issue for manufacturers today. The number of recalls in the U.K. and U.S., due to physical contamination has increased over the last few years. However, this is due in large part to increased awareness of food safety among consumers and retailers, as well as stricter regulations—including audits—raising the bar for food manufacturers.