Successful foreign body detection is critical for all food, beverage and dairy product safety and involves identifying risks and establishing plant-wide protocols for preventing contamination.
Dr Evangelia Komitopoulou, global technical manager – food, SGS, a leading inspection, verification, testing and certification company, explains more.
Food borne hazards encompass all those undesirable, biological, chemical and physical substances and contaminants that can be found in food and that pose a health risk to consumers. When it comes to dairy products, these may include certain viruses, bacteria and other pathogenic microorganisms (biological hazards), mycotoxins, pesticide residues, industrial and environmental contaminants (chemical hazards) as well as foreign objects such as metal, wood, glass, plastic etc (physical hazards) most of which pose risks of injury or choking to consumers. Physical hazards more often associated with milk and dairy products include: metal fragments, screws and rivets, machine filings, glass pieces, stones, insulation/paint, plastic material fragments, personal effects such as jewellery, buttons, nail fragments, nail varnish, and dressings, hair, dust, insect parts and fragments.
Contamination by any of the above hazards can take place at any stage of food production and may happen naturally in raw materials or food ingredients or unintentionally during processing, mainly as a result of poor equipment or maintenance/construction work that takes place in the vicinity of the affected production line. However, there is also the possibility that foreign material is deliberately added to the food during processing but also at retail for example as an act of blackmail, or revenge.
During processing, milk is subjected to different procedures that are able to remove physical contaminants (eg filtration). Contamination of milk by physical hazards more often happens at the farm level, when milk is stored in the bulk tank. It is therefore recommended that producers identify and assess the risks for physical contamination during storage and take the appropriate preventive measures to ensure that such risks are minimised; for eg the use of shatterproof light-covers has been recommended and widely employed to prevent glass contamination in the areas where bulk milk storage tanks are located. Contamination with glass fragments, very often caused by glass bottle breakage, may be a result of bottle damage during transit to the processing plant, or damage to bottles caused during handling for example cleaning, filling, or capping. A glass-free policy including the replacement of glass bottles with other packaging types is thought to be the best prevention/control policy against glass contamination.
Contamination by metal fractions is most often the result of friction between the metallic surfaces of equipment used in processing and it is therefore important that equipment maintenance is part of the necessary control measures.
The effective prevention and control of foreign bodies in food manufacture requires that a quality management system is put in place that follows a structured preventive approach without solely relying on finished product analysis and factory inspection. Effective identification and analysis of foreign body hazards and assessment of their potential risks and impact requires that detailed information covering the whole production process, from incoming material to processing, storage and distribution, is made available. Irrespective of the size of the company, physical hazard identification should be part of a HACCP plan that should be used to identify those points in the manufacturing process that critically affect product safety.
Methods of controlling and preventing foreign body contamination include raw material inspection and specification, vendor certification, use of metal detectors and X-ray technology as applicable, effective pest control at the facility, preventative equipment maintenance and proper sanitation procedures. Additionally, the adoption of appropriate shipping, receiving and storage practices and the use of tamper-proof and tamper-evident packaging material are also considered to play a significant role in controlling intentional and unintentional contamination.
REFERENCES: Edwards, M (2014) Food hygiene and foreign bodies, Hygiene in Food Processing, 2nd ed, pp 441, 464. Jooste, PJ, Anelich, L and Motarjemi, Y (2014) Safety of Food and Beverages: Milk and Dairy Products, Encyclopedia of Food Safety, 3, pp 285-296
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