What is a Food Grade Metal Detector?
Food grade metal detectors serve the purpose of alerting workers to the presence of unwanted metal contaminants in a product throughout a given food manufacturing process. There are many different types of metal detectors, and they can work on a range of different products, including foil-wrapped and frozen items.
Importance of Metal Detectors in the Food Industry
A food processing facility is a commercial operation where raw ingredients are transformed, manufactured and packaged for consumers to purchase at a later date and different location, such as a grocery store. It is important to make use of industrial metal detectors in the food manufacturing process, because there are so many points at which a product can be contaminated before even leaving a processing plant. Metal is one of the most common sources of food contaminants, given how frequently products come into contact with processing equipment made of metal.
Undetected metal contaminants can cause machine breakdowns and stall the production line. Broken equipment can also lead to further contamination, as things like blades begin to chip off in pieces, winding up in food. Beyond costly machine repairs, employees may also be put at risk when metal contaminants end up where they shouldn’t be in the production process. Finally, if metal contaminants make it onto grocery shelves undetected, consumers will be put in danger, causing brand confidence to plummet and putting companies at the risk of lawsuits.
Types of Metal Detectors
Metal contaminants come in three major categories:
Ferrous metals, which include contaminants like carbon steel, wrought iron and cast iron
Non-ferrous metals, including copper, brass, lead, aluminum, aluminum alloys and zinc.
As such, there are different types of metal detectors created with specific contaminants or packaging conditions in mind.
For products wrapped in foil packaging, a special ferrous-in-foil metal detector must be used. However, they can only detect ferrous contaminants, as the name suggests, because non-ferrous contaminants cannot be magnetized and will therefore get by undetected. Similarly, stainless steel can be troublesome to pick up, especially if the food product is wet or contains a high level of salt. While X-Ray detectors are more expensive, they are quite multipurpose in that they can cover the above situations and more. For instance, they can detect materials such as glass, in addition to different metal contaminants in foods that are packaged in foil.
The most popular metal detectors are called balanced coil metal detectors, which have been in use since the late 1940s. They are for more general use than ferrous-in-foil detectors, and can be used to detect different types of metal contaminants so long as they are not wrapped in foil. The products may be liquid or solid, fresh or frozen, and can be anything from meat to fruits to beverages.
How to Select the Right Metal Detector
Selecting the right metal detector involves doing an assessment of your product and the production line itself. You’ll want to know the types of metals your food might come into contact with throughout the production process, identifying any critical points using an HACCP safety approach. You also need to know how your product will be packaged, and whether or not it has a high liquid or salt content, as these factors will determine your metal detector selection. That said, more likely than not, you’re going to need to invest in multiple metal detectors of all different kinds in order to cover all critical points of potential contamination.
Where to Install a Metal Detector
Metal detectors can and should be installed at multiple points in your production line. Two places you’ll definitely want a metal detector, however, are at the beginning and at the end of the manufacturing process. The first will be used to ensure that any raw materials coming in aren’t already contaminated from the get go. Modern metal detectors can provide lots of data, and this can be particularly important in the event of a recall… you’ll want to know if a contamination came from within your plant, or from an external source, and the date and time of the detection.
The end of the production line is also an important place to have a metal detector, as you’ll want to be sure that the final product is absolutely safe before being shipped out for public consumption. That said, you’ll want other detectors in between the first and the last, at critical points such as right before any processing equipment such as a blender. This can help prevent machine breakdowns and employee injuries. Furthermore, if metal does pass through processing equipment undetected by human intervention, it may get processed to too small a size for the final detector to pick up on. This will therefore still put your consumers at risk of ingesting unwanted, sometimes poisonous metal contaminants.
There is no reason not to invest in the appropriate industrial metal detectors throughout the food production process. Indeed, it is a requirement in most countries for such safety measures to be put into place prior to shipping out a product for consumption. Make sure you take the time to carry out a proper assessment of your product and production line in order to purchase the right equipment, as a blanket-approach to metal detection does not always yield the best results.