Given the heightened awareness of safety risks in the global food supply chain, it is increasingly important for manufacturers to be aware of any amendments to guidelines and regulations regarding production lines. Failure to comply jeopardises regional sales and overseas exports.
However, there are a number of myths that persist regarding food safety standards that must be dispelled. By separating myths from facts, manufacturers will gain a greater understanding of the regulations governing the industry, and this will help them guarantee the quality of their products while ensuring consumer safety.
Myth #1: Compliance with one standard guarantees compliance with all
While a company may need to comply with regional and international food safety regulations, specific standards will vary depending on the manufacturer, the countries in which it operates and retailers or customers it wants to supply.
Manufacturers must carefully consider which standards they must meet to operate in their respective markets. They will need to adapt product inspection systems and processes accordingly to adhere to required guidelines.
This includes having the correct equipment with the necessary failsafe features and having the means to collect production and process documentation.
Many regulations are based on the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) audit process, which was developed by NASA in the 1960s to ensure the quality and safety of food rations for astronauts. While today’s regulations share similar aims of the HACCP system, each safety standard has variations designed to deal with specific threats to food quality and safety.
For example, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) Food Standard was originally intended to standardise and monitor quality and manufacturing practices for private label. The BRC Food Standard certification is now required by a majority of retailers in countries for private label products and branded products.
The International Featured Standards (IFS) are similar to the BRC Global Standards, but are applicable chiefly to EU markets, particularly France and Germany. However, the Food Safety System Certification (FSSC) 22000 is an international quality standard that offers a broad food safety management system framework as well as specific criteria for controlling risks in the manufacturing process.
GFSI has approved FSSC 22000 as a part of its portfolio and it is accepted by the majority of retailers.
Myth #2: Standard inspection systems fit all products
Each product and production line is different and brings with it unique challenges to comprehensive inspection.
Standard contaminant detection and checkweighing systems can be applicable in certain cases, particularly for small- to medium-sized enterprises establishing new operations, but many production applications require a customised solution.
If this is the case, each machine must be designed and set up to suit the needs of the production line, the products it is inspecting and the requirements of each applicable food safety standard to ensure complete regulatory compliance.
Myth #3: Manual rejection by operators is as good as automated rejection systems
The fact is, automated rejection systems are far more reliable than manual systems, and increasingly safety standards are demanding the installation of automatic systems on food production lines.
Alternatively, conveyors must be able to be stopped when contamination is detected so that substandard products or foreign objects can be removed.
For example, BRC Food Standard Version 6, Clause 18.104.22.168, introduced in January 2012, states that x-ray inspection systems or metal detectors should incorporate either an automatic rejection device or a belt stop system.
An automatic rejection device would serve to divert contaminated products out of the product flow to a secure unit or lockable reject bin accessible only to authorised personnel. A belt stop system would sound an alarm for production lines where products cannot be automatically rejected, as in the case of large packs.
If the system has been stopped due to a suspected contamination issue, it is important that the system is only able to be restarted by an authorised person once the issue has been fully investigated.
BRC Food Standard Version 6 also requires food manufacturers to implement traceability and other security systems to prevent contamination.
Myth #4: There is no need to test product inspection systems once they are installed
Regional and international food quality regulations require manufacturers to regularly test the performance of their x-ray inspection, metal detection and checkweighing systems to ensure they are all operating correctly.
They must also continue to meet pre-set strict sensitivity standards. For example, in the case of metal detection systems, BRC Food Standard Version 6, Clause 22.214.171.124 states that companies must establish and implement documented procedures for operating and testing metal detection and x-ray equipment to ensure that all systems are working, including memory and reset functions.
Many new food safety standards stipulate particular procedures to make certain comprehensive testing of product inspection equipment has taken place.
The BRC Food Standard Version 6, Clause 126.96.36.199 contains recommendations regarding sample materials to be used in testing, sample sizes and locations of test samples on production lines.
Myth #5: There is no real need to train all employees on food safety regulations
An increasing number of food safety regulatory authorities are insisting that all employees be fully trained on standards compliance, correct operations and system test procedures.
For example, the IFS Food Standard Version 6, Clause 1.2.4 KO, which also went into effect in January 2012, states that the senior management of food companies must ensure that employees are aware of their responsibilities relative to food safety and quality.
The clause also stipulates that clearly identified and documented mechanisms should be in place to monitor the effectiveness of operator performance.
- Neil Giles is marketing communications manager at Mettler-Toledo Product Inspection Division of Mettler-Toledo, in the UK. He specialises across x-ray, metal detection, vision inspection and checkweighing product inspection technologies. A member of the Chartered Institute of Marketing, he has over 20 years of experience in the food and pharmaceutical industries and knowledge of equipment for the packaging, process weighing and inspection sectors.
- Stay tuned for Myths 6-10 from Mettler-Toledo Product Inspection that will be revealed next week!