Food safety is extremely topical, both for consumers and manufacturers. Protection against product recalls is driving manufacturers to incorporate product inspection into their processing and packaging lines. While an inspection step is a critical requirement for Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) and most likely needed for Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) compliance, before committing to a solution, it is important to establish what to look for in a product inspection system. With a multitude of options available on the market, it can be confusing to select a technology that will be the right fit for a production line. Furthermore, advanced inspection technologies can offer much more than contaminant detection, currently pushing the frontiers into total quality assurance.

A traditional form of inspection used before technology became popular was manual inspection. An appropriate method in the past, manual inspection presents many challenges that have made it unsuitable for food manufacturing including identification of contaminants only visible to the human eye, lower throughput speeds and inherent worker safety risk created by manually removing contaminated product from the line. It is critical to consider hazards that can be seen, such as a packaging defect that compromises the safe, airtight seal of the package or a foreign body contaminant protruding from a product but also those that are contained within the product. 

Metal is a common contaminant to appear in physical contamination recalls . Reasons for this include metal-to-metal contact in the processing stages creating loose metal fragments and the introduction of metal though raw materials. The incorporation of metal detectors became very popular for manufacturers looking to perform an in-depth inspection of their line for ferrous and non-ferrous metals, stainless steel and aluminum fragments. Metal detectors remain a quality solution for this common contaminant; however, challenges still remain such as difficulty inspecting inside low-density foil or metalized film, a popular packaging for snacks, confectionary and bakery products. X-ray inspection has the added advantage of being able to detect other common forms of contamination such as stone, glass and calcified bone, which are impossible for metal detectors to identify.

With safety regulations and certifications becoming increasingly stringent, such as the finalization of the FSMA and the revision of the British Retail Consortium (BRC) global standards, many manufacturers require additional inspection and quality checks. Capable of inspecting the full spectrum of food products, from confectionery and snack foods to meat and poultry, in loose, bulk, individual or multi-pack formats, advanced x-ray inspection technologies have become a familiar and trusted solution. With its ability to perform non-invasive inspection for contaminants like metal, glass, dense plastics and rubbers, mineral stone and calcified bone while maintaining high efficiency and throughput, modern x-ray inspection offers advantages over most inspection methods.

X-ray inspection gives a clear view into a product and package, allowing it to distinguish harmful contaminants from the components of a food product. The development of an advanced dual energy inspection technology, Material Discrimination X-ray (MDX), enables the detection of previously undetectable contaminants. With MDX, foods with varying densities, such as containers of trail mix or bags of frozen stir-fry that typically produce difficult or busy images to inspect, no longer pose a challenge as components are deciphered according to their atomic number, which makes contaminants easier to find. 

Not only are x-ray technologies capable of identifying contaminants, they simultaneously provide manufacturers with the quality checks required by retailers and certifiers. With a quick pass through the machine, quality checks for mass measurement, seal integrity, component count, fill level and packaging defects take place safeguarding product from future contamination or degradation and damage to brand integrity. Unlike other forms of inspection technology, advanced x-ray systems collect data on the products passing through the machine, aiding with reporting, traceability and due diligence in the event of a recall. 

Today, x-ray is a commonly chosen method of food inspection in modern food manufacturing. Staff working with x-ray inspection systems are protected by legislation and by design. The regulations set safety levels, while equipment manufacturers build even greater safety margins into their systems. Furthermore, studies from the World Health Organization (WHO) have also shown that x-ray radiation shows no adverse effects on the food products passing through it.

With functionality that is highly compatible with modern manufacturing methods, advanced x-ray inspection systems enable manufacturers to enhance both product integrity and consumer safety, while also protecting their businesses from the risk of product recall or sub-standard products hitting the market.