In an increasingly competitive global market, it is more important than ever for food manufacturers to maintain strong relationships with retailers.
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By Daniela Verhaeg, Marketing Manager, Mettler-Toledo Safeline X-ray
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As consumers continue to pay close attention to food safety, retailers need manufacturers to provide high quality food products at all times. Any potential contaminant, such as glass, metal or mineral stone, for example, must be detected before the product reaches the supermarket shelves. In order to protect their brand reputation with consumers, major high street retailers have even introduced their own food safety guidelines which manufacturers must adhere to in order to supply them. If food producers provide retailers with sub-standard products, there is a high risk that the contract will be cancelled, with other manufacturers ready to take over. Consequently, it is vital for manufacturers to find reliable ways to optimise product safety and quality, plus minimise the risk of contamination from foreign bodies.
At the same time, food manufacturers are witnessing an increasing demand for glass packaging. This is driven by retailers focusing on the sustainability of their products as a strategy to appeal to the growing awareness of consumers for environmental issues. While glass is 100% recyclable, its transparency also gives food products an undeniable appeal on the supermarket shelf since it allows consumers to take a close look at the product before buying it. Moreover, industry surveys now show that consumers are less worried about food contamination when the product is packaged in glass. Not surprisingly, the global glass market is expected to grow by 3.6% between 2014 and 2020.
The challenges of glass
Glass packaging presents manufacturers with particular product inspection challenges. Given the high density of glass, it can be challenging to detect contaminants in this packaging material. For example, a dense foreign body in a liquid, such as a fragment of glass or metal in sauce, is likely to sink to the base of the pack, where the glass is thickest. Moreover, the raised dome at the base of some containers can make it even harder for manufacturers to detect contaminants. However, if the contaminant is less dense then it will be contained within the product, or even at the top of the glass package. In particular, detecting contamination by glass shards is an especially tough task due to the identical density of the contaminant and the packaging.
The exact location of the x-ray inspection system is also a major consideration. A Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) audit will not only identify the potential type of contaminant threat but where on the production line contamination could occur. For example, a potential Critical Control Point (CCP) is the capping process whereby if the cap is not applied correctly onto the glass container then the glass may splinter, thus contaminating the product. Installing an x-ray inspection system will help detect and remove such packages, ensuring that only contaminant-free products leave the manufacturing plant.
In order to overcome the challenges of glass inspection, more and more food manufacturers are investing in advanced product inspection systems. X-ray technologies in particular are capable of detecting glass contamination, including glass in glass, with high precision. Furthermore, a variety of other potential contaminants can be detected and removed, minimising the risk of foreign body contamination reaching consumers, such as metal shards, fragments of high-density plastics and rubber as well as calcified bones and mineral stones. This can enable manufacturers to uphold product safety and guarantee a contaminant-free product.
While x-ray inspection technology ensures product safety, it can also monitor a number of additional quality parameters. Food manufacturers can employ an advanced x-ray technology, such as Mettler-Toledo's Safeline X-ray X37 Series for tall, rigid containers, to inspect the products' seal integrity, ensuring that they will remain fresh in transit and on supermarket shelves and minimising the risk of premature product spoilage.
Not just for glass
X-ray inspection systems can be used by manufacturers to maximise contaminant detection in a broad array of packaging formats, as well as glass.
In 2013, for example, Euromonitor reported that flexible, lightweight and compact packaging, such as doypacks and pouches, enjoyed the highest volume share in global food packaging, particularly due to the increasing accessibility of bakery and confectionery products to consumers in the developing world. This trend is set to continue with the growth of more innovative opening designs, spouts, zippers, perforated and recloseable seals and materials ranging from plastic films to aluminium foil.
X-ray inspection systems can be customised to handle both rigid and flexible packaging types. As such, manufacturers can use x-ray inspection technologies to monitor the fill levels of their products in order to reduce product giveaway and waste, plus maximise productivity.
The key to food safety
Overall, installing advanced x-ray machines enables manufacturers to provide retailers with best quality products, supporting them in upholding brand reputation and customer satisfaction.