X-ray inspection is ideal for finding contaminants such as stone,
glass, bone and other foreign objects.
By Bob Ries, Lead Product Manager, X-ray Inspection and Metal Detection, Thermo Fisher Scientific.
Food safety is an increasing concern for food manufacturers in Southeast Asia as the region sets its sights on both local markets and growing export opportunities. Consumers are quick to complain if they come across contaminants. And with social media, those complaints spread quickly. The food company can face recalls, re-work or scrapping large amounts of expensive ingredients and end products. Even worse, they may be mentioned in negative news reports and may face lawsuits.
Greater expectations of quality and safety are coming from both today’s consumers and food safety regulatory bodies. As global trade has expanded, producers have had to raise their standards.
Manufacturers are increasingly realising that improving their production process with a focus on food quality and safety can make their brands more popular, leading to more sales and higher prices. For decades food companies used metal detection, but now there’s a trend toward retailers in western markets mandating more advanced X-ray inspection technology. These retailers know that they will face unhappy consumers if someone bites into a shard of glass, a rock fragment or metal wire from a sieve.
The Good News
Fortunately, X-ray detection manufacturers have responded to this need with solutions that:
- • Perform well
- • Are reliable
- • Are safe
- • Don't take up too much room
- • Are easy to operate
- • Are affordable
Let’s look at these qualities and what they mean for today’s food processors:
The Thermo Scientific NextGuard X-ray Inspection
System makes the transition easy from metal detection
to X-ray inspection.
X-ray technologies are used in many fields, including medicine. The advances have reached food inspection equipment, giving processors more ability to find a range of dense, sharp objects, both metal and non-metal.
To achieve better performance for food applications, manufacturers look to improve the quality of the X-ray source, the detector and the multifaceted inspection software that controls and interprets the information produced by those two elements. The machines may also come with optional high-power X-ray sources and high-resolution detectors – perfect for peeking through dense products. Some solutions may also provide a “refine” function so that as you run production, you can tune the machine’s performance on false reject images.
Some manufacturers offer the ability for food companies to do upgrades to an existing X-ray system, rather than replace it, as new capabilities are introduced. For example, with the Thermo Scientific NextGuard X-ray inspection system, as we develop new ways to capture and process images and new algorithms to find anomalies, we can transfer these advancements to our customers with a simple USB memory stick/one-button software upgrade.
Today’s X-ray detectors are two to three times more sensitive now than a decade ago. Consequently, the power needed to produce an image is much lower, so the source runs cooler and lasts longer. Detectors receive less ionising radiation as well, so they, too, last longer.
While X-ray technology used in food applications is extremely safe, it still needs to be well-controlled. Our machines build in several features to limit potential problems.
For example, the NextGuard platform uses safety circuits, e-stops, lock-out keys, long-life LED warning lights/labels, software indicators and robust, no-lead shielding curtains. In addition, the machines are made of food-safe materials so that the products passing through the aperture are not exposed to any dangerous chemicals.
Floor space is usually at a premium in food manufacturing facilities. Many modern X-ray machines are designed to be space-efficient. (One of ours has a footprint of 1 meter by 1 meter and a height of 1.5meters.) Small systems usually are lightweight and can be wheeled between lines or removed for cleaning.
Easy to operate
Many of the new machines are equipped with simple menus and buttons with icons and wizards to guide the user through set-up and troubleshooting. Each step may include on-screen help text. When something goes wrong, color graphics help pinpoint the cause. If expert help is needed, built-in software allows a technician thousands of miles away to access and run the machine.
With NextGuard, the equipment even warns the user when the detector should be replaced, and the X-ray source displays the hours it has been run and number of times it has been switched on and off. This ensures that preventive maintenance is scheduled in advance of a failure.
In the past, X-ray machines cost three to five times more than a comparable metal detector. Now, that ratio has dropped: quality X-ray machines are priced roughly twice as much as metal detectors.
X-ray inspection helps ensure food quality and helps guard against the potential of physical contaminants entering the food supply and the resultant costs of recalling product, receiving unwanted publicity, losing major customers and facing lawsuits.
What Steps To Take
The Thermo Scientific Xpert Bulk X-ray Inspection System
is ideal for inspection of bulk foods such as nuts close to
You may want to review how well prepared your company is prepared for food safety challenges and regulatory requirements to ensure you're up-to-date. If you want to explore how X-ray technology can be used in your plant, talk to an inspection company with an established X-ray inspection technology. You’ll want to provide samples of your product along with information on potential physical contaminants from your production environment. Armed with the test information, the manufacturer can report the type and size of contaminants that are possible to find, recommend the right system for your application and help determine where to place it in your production line.
At Thermo Fisher, we even have a program geared to help companies new to X-ray inspection. In this program, you can rent a system and “try before you buy” to experience the technology’s effectiveness and ease-of-use.
X-ray inspection is arguably the fastest-growing segment of product inspection worldwide. The trend is projected to continue for the next 10 years and beyond. That’s good news for food manufacturers, as equipment companies push the boundaries of these powerful inspection devices, paving the way to a safer food supply for everyone.