Foods and Foreign Materials

It is imperative that food processors understand their products and the foreign materials that
may be associated with said products/processes. This is something that is learned through
experience, customer/buyer complaint records, the type of products and how they are
handled/processed and history. For example, freezers or canners that receive mechanically
harvested produce understand that the mechanical harvesting equipment does not discriminate.
It picks up everything: birds, mice, glass, stones, sticks, frogs and snakes. Many years ago, I
watched a load of green beans being dumped into a receiving tank. As the front-end loader
began to drop his load, a five-foot-long snake dropped over the side on the ground. To this day, I
don’t know whether the snake or the workers moved faster. Knowing this, processors install
equipment that is designed to remove these items. Fluming or float tanks not only wash fruits
and vegetables but also allow stones and other dense items to sink. Air blowers remove chaff
and leaves. These systems are designed to remove gross contaminants before the products
reach the actual processing lines.
Meat processors have a different set of issues, primarily metal. It seems that a local pastime in
some places is taking potshots at cattle in the field with birdshot or buckshot. The animals heal
over and carry the shot until they head off to the slaughterhouse. Metal detectors will then find
and remove the meat containing the shot. Another concern is needles. It is apparently not
uncommon for a needle to break off below the skin when a cow gets an injection. Rather than
dig the needle out, it is left in the animal.
Cocoa bean buyers know that their suppliers may add a few stones or other items to bags of
beans, so they need to implement procedures and install equipment to remove these
contaminants. Again, the message is know your raw materials and products, and what foreign
materials have been issues in the past. Knowing the problems allows processors to develop
programs or install equipment that can find and remove the foreign materials.
Interventions to Minimize Foreign Material Contamination
Processors can do many things to minimize the potential for foreign material contamination. The
following programs must all be developed, documented and implemented. Workers must also
be trained, and records must demonstrate that the tasks are being carried out. Finally, the

Another tool for minimizing finished product contamination is to specify how the raw material or ingredient is packaged. many operations do not consider foreign materials when looking at packaging and packaging suppliers. as birds are slaughtered at a young age when many of the bones have not yet calcified. The same program may also be utilized as a means for minimizing the potential for foreign material contamination of raw materials and ingredients. There is a greater push within the food industry toward sustainability and being “more green. so adopting recycled packaging may create a bit more work for production and quality personnel. more easily detected or seen. Buyers can mandate that what they are buying be sieved or screened. This requirement should be written into the purchasing specifications. Also. Pest Management – Selling food that contains insects or parts of pests may not cause someone to become ill. X-rays will detect some bones. the bright blue or green plastic will be more visible. Glass packers have had to work with their suppliers to ensure that fiber from the case does not get into their products. but packaging can create problems. include an evaluation of potential risks from foreign materials. and thus. The pest management . a package that holds a pouch or bag and is not a food contact material. Most companies keep the rejects and investigate the issue. Supplier Approval Programs – Supplier approval programs have become an integral element of all food safety management systems. Recycled fiber may contain small metal fragments. There is no guarantee that X-rays will detect all bones in poultry. more and more companies are mandating their suppliers move from metal detection to X-ray machines. In fact. production and marketing may need to work together. Currently. Air washers may not be effective in removing such contaminants. Many processors will mandate that ingredients be packaged in cases with bright green or blue liners. These programs must.” A means to do this is to utilize recycled materials for secondary packaging. However. a processor buying deboned meats or poultry can mandate that the supplier pass the products through an X-ray machine prior to packaging. of course. The principal part of the program is an evaluation of the food safety programs at the supplier. but they are certainly not aesthetically pleasing. passed through a metal detector or X-ray machine immediately prior to packaging.processor needs to develop and implement programs to verify that the programs are being carried out according to documented procedures. But there is one foreign material issue on which quality. The thought is that if a bag is torn or damaged. improving both safety and quality. that is. which will set off metal detectors.

It is expensive. birds and rodents will be a greater concern. but interventions like washing will minimize the chances that any pests end up in the final product. note the location of glass or plastic. Cleaning and Sanitation Programs – Keeping a plant. since many operations have determined that a screen or sieve is a Critical Control Point (CCP) for potential foreign material. keep it clean and discourage pest access. In addition. In other words. Receiving for most fruits and vegetables is outside. Glass and ceramics shall be confined to the offices and break area. It has been estimated that 90 percent of the pest control program is good sanitation. part of the cleaning and sanitizing program must include inspection of equipment as it is being cleaned. There are different challenges for processors receiving raw agricultural commodities no matter how they will be processed. This is especially true of equipment that must be disassembled prior to cleaning: unit operations such as sieves. then there is a potential that something may have gotten through the screen and into a finished product. The master list should then be audited on a regular schedule. However. There shall be no glass or ceramics carried into or used in the food processing area or warehouse at any time. Eyeglass lenses shall be manufactured from shatterproof materials. . When conducting the inventory. Glass and Brittle Plastic Controls – The glass and brittle plastics program is also a proactive means to control adulteration. If a screen is damaged. Companies should inventory all glass and brittle plastics in areas where foods and ingredients are stored or handled. If there is an alleged glass complaint. the equipment and utensils clean is an essential prerequisite program when it comes to ensuring food safety.program must be designed to keep insects out of the plant. the results of the inspection must be documented frequently to demonstrate control. deny harborage and monitor activity. so insects. The inventory should then be transferred to a master list and each item on the list subjected to a risk assessment. Determining what was trapped on the screen can help troubleshoot a problem that occurred upstream. High-risk items must be addressed immediately. screens. the type (if possible) and whether it is shielded or strengthened in any way. Light fixtures in processing areas should be properly shielded. choppers and grinders. Sanitation is still important. In addition. windows in production or warehouse areas must be shatterproof or coated/covered with plastic to contain breakage. this information will allow the processor to determine whether the glass came from its plant or whether it is a false claim. Watches must be removed before entering the plant. but there are companies that will have the glass analyzed to the molecular level. cutters.

have broken boards or loose nails should be set aside for repair or recycling. many older facilities have wooden ceilings. there is a chance that there is a metal issue. use within and outside of the plant. one should examine the housing and blades for breakage. documenting that the work was not only done but also done properly (verified). sanitized and maintained. an integral part of a maintenance program (and sanitation) is the examination of the equipment to verify that it is and has been working properly. It is also essential for protecting products from potential contamination. and should receive the same attention as preventive maintenance on equipment. shipping requirements and cleaning. With wooden pallets. no matter the age of the plant. bolts. Also. Wooden handles are taboo and equipment should be sealed so as not to entrap water or food. Preventive Maintenance Programs – Preventive maintenance may be the least appreciated of the prerequisite programs. Processors also utilize a wide range of utensils that should be constructed from impervious materials that are easily cleanable. As an example. inspection. This can be a challenge with an older facility. Nuts. Pallet Management – A program for pallet management should consist of the following elements: specifications. metal-tometal wear and/or scoring. This is especially important when they are stored outside. they should be inspected prior to use. However. High-pressure air will remove pests and dirt. storage. When a cutter is opened to be maintained (or cleaned). those that are splintered. processors should conduct a detailed evaluation of and risk assessment on the facilities to establish problem areas and risks that should be addressed. maintenance. Whenever pallets are to be used for production. Equipment must be properly cleaned. Equipment and Utensils Programs – The subject of preventive maintenance was addressed earlier. The inspection step must also be used to ensure that the pallets are in good condition. Damaged or splintered plastic pallets should also be set aside. which must be painted or sealed. Pallets must be individually inspected before being brought into the warehouse or production area. blades in cutters and any other piece from equipment that may break or come loose must be secured and/or properly adjusted to ensure that it performs properly. If that is observed. Will leaks be a problem? Peeling paint that may get into the product? Building maintenance issues must be identified and maintained regularly.Building Management – Making sure the physical plant is in good condition is another prerequisite program for reducing the potential for product contamination. and appropriate records maintained. Many processors use brightly colored plastic scoops or . Proper maintenance keeps equipment operating properly and protects an operation’s investment.

All employees shall wear clean clothing when reporting to work. Uniforms should be manufactured from breathable materials that will not shed.spoons as part of their allergen control or organic programs: designating certain colors for specific ingredients. processors now provide their employees with metal-detectable earplugs. If a company uses plastics. be brightly colored and metal detectable. most operations provide their employees with uniforms. The only exception being a plain gold wedding band. necklaces and visible piercings. They should have no pockets above the waist. No jewelry. Buttons are forbidden as they can pop off and get into products. 4. Processors may instead use stainless steel utensils that can be marked using engraving tools or fitted with colored handles. zippers or Velcro. All bearded employees and guests must wear beard nets when working in or entering the production area. Hairnets must cover all of their hair and their ears. hair restraints and jewelry. 2. potentially contaminating foods. If they begin to become damaged or worn. plastic items can be formulated with components that can be removed by magnets. pins. watches. Procedures might include the following language: 1. In addition. Plastics tend to splinter. processors now routinely mandate that bandages. There is a concern with plastics however. earrings. they must be inspected regularly. Personnel and Personal Hygiene – A food processor’s workforce can inadvertently contaminate product. If a procesor is concerned about plastic and its lack of detectability. Shorts. brooches. 3. they should be taken out of service. Persons responsible for cleaning these items should be trained to and have the power to remove any item from service. Mustaches must be fully covered. Processors that go this route should also build in programs to verify that each lot of earplugs and bandages is indeed detectable by their metal detectors. Closures should be snaps. Of course. It is for this reason that processors establish policies regarding clothing. as they are called overseas. All employees and visitors must wear hairnets provided by THIS PLANT when working in or entering the production area. including rings. To further minimize the potential for a contaminant making its way into a finished product. shall be worn in the production area. or plasters. tank tops or torn clothing is not acceptable from both a product quality and worker safety prospective. .

Processors often establish a program to inspect these filters after each tanker is unloaded to evaluate overall cleanliness of the load and as an element of evaluating vendor performance. However. equipment is in good condition and that the proper steps have been taken to begin production. Workers must be trained in each area and the training documented. stones. These will now be addressed. Sorting. Detecting. Cleaning. Many think of these as a means of controlling potential biological hazards. One of the best tools for ensuring that process operations start up properly is to develop startup checklists. Processors have many different means to detect and remove foreign materials. it is up to processors to establish Standard Operating Procedures to ensure that the areas that have been discussed are properly implemented each and every day of production. operations receiving raw agricultural commodities often utilize a wide range of cleaning steps to remove undesirable materials such as leaves. twigs. Removal of potential foreign materials at the plant level literally starts at receiving. Insects and other organisms such as slugs. . but occasionally they manage to hang on through the whole process and end up in a bagged salad. mud and different kinds of creatures.Production Standard Operating Procedures – Lastly. but they will also help control physical hazards and minimize the potential for product adulteration from foreign materials or chemicals. Washing and fluming will usually remove these creatures. frogs and snails may be found on greens destined for fresh cut produce. Removing It is interesting to note that many of the steps that can be taken by processors to minimize foreign material contamination are basic prerequisite programs. There must also be documentation that procedures are carried out. As noted earlier. Operations receiving bulk liquid ingredients from tankers or rail cars may install in-line filters or screens to remove any materials that might have gotten into the ingredient at the manufacturer or from the bulk tanker. there are systems to eliminate or reduce foreign materials in the event the prerequisite programs let something through. Checklists can be designed to ensure that lines are cleaned. maintenance has been done. Processors utilizing raw agricultural commodities need to understand that these objects may come in with their products and need to design systems to clean the products as best they can.

specifically one or more of the contaminants listed in Table 1. The advantage of magnets is that they will remove very.Sorting is another tool that may be employed to remove foreign materials. Electronic sorting systems are finding more and more acceptance in the industry. This is due in part to advances in sorting technology. along with sieves or screens. Workers assigned to sorting lines get tired. This is especially important since bulk containers are often used for moving different products. they can miss things and there is a higher potential for suffering repetitive motion injuries. Many processors also conduct visual sorting online using their people. To minimize the latter point. Knight[6] describes how systems now incorporate hyperspectral technology utilizing ultraviolet light. In fact. preventing it from potentially damaging a filler and causing costly repairs and downtime. Laser sorting systems can also be used for cleaning up bulk grains. Magnets – Magnets will remove ferrous and nonferrous metals. processors have been known to stop the lines for a few minutes each hour to allow their workers to rotate positions and go through a series of exercises to minimize the potential for injury. seeds and nuts. realizing that the efficiency of people performing tasks can waver easily. But let’s take a closer look at these three kinds of instruments and their use by food processors. I believe that the disadvantages outweigh the advantages. metal detectors and X-ray machines. Mechanical harvesters used for tomatoes have a crew on the back that sorts out foreign materials and bad fruit. whereas metal detectors and X-ray machines have a finite detectability. Personally. These tools are magnets. I once watched a processor pass a load of red lentils through a laser sorter. There are two kinds of magnets used in . Some plants rotate people at intervals of every hour or less. near infrared and infrared wavelengths that looks not at colors but at how these wavelengths react with the product being scanned. soy and wheat. This is why they are often used in beverage processing operations. these instruments are often determined to be CCPs in food processing operations. The magnets will attract the piece of metal. including corn. They can also be used to protect processing equipment downstream of where the magnets are located. These systems will remove foreign materials but are really utilized more for quality purposes. What most people think of when they hear “foreign material control” are the tools used to remove foreign material. Two passes through the system removed a significant amount of foreign material. It is also a good idea to rotate people on and off the sorting line to keep them fresh and sharp. very small pieces of metal. This has advantages and disadvantages.

The size of metal that is detectable depends upon the product and its packaging. they often have the persons performing these activities collect what is on the magnet and save it for future evaluation by the quality staff. pipe and drum magnets. They also come in a range of formats that allows magnets to be used in different processing systems. although there are occasional units in which the product conveyor simply stops. Processors who do dry blending often install grate magnets where bags are dumped to remove metals at the start of the process. which is why conveyor type systems are so popular. Magnets must be inspected and tested regularly. magnets should be validated to ensure that they remove the metals being targeted. tube. If metal is detected. They would then look at the magnet to verify that the metal was on the magnet. in-line systems for liquids and vertical inspection systems. processing: ferrous magnets and rare earth magnets. chute. Rare earth magnets are the strongest and most effective of the magnets. the package will be rejected. These include grate. I have seen processors do this by passing product spiked with a known number of metal pieces. Different types of metal detectors are available to the food industry. the best location for a metal detector is after packaging. Processors of dried fruit install plate magnets immediately before filling to remove metal dust. This may be done by the equipment manufacturer or in-house. They can remove fine metal dust and workhardened or abraded stainless steel. Finally. Metal detectors are almost always designed to reject product found to contain metal. they should also be validated. Each of these different magnets has different applications and different product uses. How often this is done depends upon individual companies. “Pull testing” is repeatedly measuring the holding strength in ounces of force or pounds at a predetermined distance from the surface or on the surface of the magnet itself. Of course. Magnets should also be tested to ensure that they are performing properly. pneumatic. Most processors will mandate that in-line magnets be inspected and cleaned at least once a day. adopt another type of metal detection system or utilize X-ray detection. if your package contains metal. liquid line. processors would have to relocate the metal detector prior to packaging. specifically rust. . As part of this process. Ideally. It is not a hard test to learn how to do. Metal Detectors – Metal detectors are designed to detect all metal in food products above a certain size. If they are used as a CCP. These include systems that pass the products through on a conveyor.

0 mm stainless steel. Many operators write their procedures so that testing is at the minimum level noted above. However. If the processor is manufacturing hot dogs in a vacuum package. Based on this letter. that is. There is an ongoing debate as to how a company’s metal detector should be incorporated into the organization’s food quality and safety programs. The guidance for seafood indicates that metal detection be treated as a CCP. if a processor is producing purees or juices. and that is how FDA will look at metal detection in any guidance documents developed to support enforcement of the Food Safety Modernization Act. 1. based on risk. whereas others deem it part of quality management (prerequisite program). that detection limit will probably be impossible. each standard should be tested at the start and end of a product run. . Processors should obtain a letter from their equipment manufacturer defining the minimum detectable limits for the unit.[7] There is one last factor. but also to protect equipment that is located downstream of the unit. the customer demands can probably be met. nonferrous and stainless steel standards. However. Why? No auditor will downgrade an operation for exceeding testing levels.5 mm nonferrous and 2. Make sure that the type of stainless in the standard reflects the primary type of stainless in your plant and equipment. if the goal is to pass 20-pound boxes of frozen entrees through the unit. however.Processors should work with the equipment manufacturer to establish minimum detectable limits for the standards used with the unit. In reality. the processor should obtain the necessary standards from the equipment manufacturer. but on customer demands. Processors must also decide. it might install an in-line metal detection unit not only to look for metal. A processor might demand that its suppliers pass all products through a metal detector that has the ability to detect the following standards: 1. there are processors that base this decision not on risk. Some companies have determined that metal detection should be a CCP in their Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points plan.0 mm ferrous. If the end products that are manufactured are chopped or ground and the company’s Hazard Analysis determines that there is a significant potential for metal contamination. the company will probably adopt the former. how often they should test their metal detectors using the standards. ferrous. with one test midrun. If a processor’s primary customer demands that metal detection be a CCP. but actual operations will test every 1 to 2 hours. Of course. most operations will conduct these tests more frequently. it will usually acquiesce. At a minimum.

The same 50-pound bag can be used for a single validation of a conveyor-type metal detector. Depending upon the product and the material. becoming faster.[8] Processors appear to be loath to conduct such work on in-line systems because such studies would waste a great deal of product. and examine what is rejected from the machine. should be done at each location. calcified bone and some plastics. The persons doing the testing must also confirm that the settings remain the same throughout the test. tests.Validation of Metal Detection Most metal detectors can be described as If a company determines that metal detection is a CCP. The bag should be sent through the center of the tunnel as that is the least-sensitive area in conveyor systems. especially among major purchasers of foods and ingredients. For example. metal X-ray technology has improved immeasurably in the last few years. it is imperative that the company validate its metal systems (see “Validation of Metal Detection” ). The standards might even be tested by inserting a detector into the bag at different locations. a minimum of 10. if a 50-pound sack of flour is to be tested. the tailing edge. The same principles that were mentioned for metal detectors apply for X-ray systems. Settings should be recorded throughout the test. glass. work with the supplier to set up the machine for each product that will be run on the line. The test standard for future verification must placed in the location where the magnetometer receives the weakest signal. Multiple X-Ray Machines – As noted earlier. conduct tests to validate the system. there is a push within the industry. The result should be the determination of the location to place the test wands during calibration checks during normal production. a tunnel with a conveyor. Finally. X-ray machines can detect metal. Rigorous test protocols like this will provide confidence that the system was set up properly and is doing its job. especially if the X-ray system will be deemed a CCP. on top of and under the bag. they . This needs to be done for each product type. more versatile and detecting more than just metal. the suspect product is diverted to a waste bin that is often fitted with a screen or sieve to collect the metal. Validation data should ensure that the equipment can detect metal of the appropriate size at different locations on the belt and at different locations in or around the package. stones. Work with the equipment manufacturer to determine optimum detectability and selection of standards. to have their detectors suppliers to X-ray move from machines. the system could be validated by testing the standards at the leading edge. With in-line systems.

They also need to train their workers on the procedures and importance of protecting their products. Whenever there is a foreign material complaint. Companies will even post these materials on a bulletin board for all to see. Many operations use foreign materials that come back from consumer complaints as teaching aids for their staff. how products are received and handled. assuming it came from your facility. Finding metal shavings on a rare earth magnet downstream from a chopper might indicate that the chopper is out of alignment. Note that one of the materials that X-ray machines can detect is calcified bone.may be able to detect other materials. it should be company policy to get that material back so it can be examined. the complaint may be fraudulent. . This is both product and process dependent. Summary Foreign material control must utilize a systems approach. Food safety and quality are everyone’s responsibility. Thus. Processors need to look at their raw material suppliers. What is recovered can help identify other issues within the plant. their workforce. their facility and employees. their brands and the company. If a glass complaint comes in and the glass type is not found in the processing facility. I mentioned above that some companies characterize the different types of glass used in their plants. It is a combination of prerequisite programs and detection and removal operations. One of the roles of quality assurance will be to determine where it came from. the costs incurred from characterizing the glass could be repaid several fold. They will talk to the staff about how and why the material got into the food and what can be done to prevent such an occurrence in the future. Foreign materials that are not detected in the processes and programs that have been described may come back to the company in the form of consumer complaints. preventive maintenance programs and a host of other protocols. Utilizing an X-ray system on chicken may not be as effective as one would think because many birds are slaughtered before their bones have fully calcified as mentioned above What If You Find Something? Food processors must establish programs to examine what is rejected by metal detectors and X-ray machines and what is trapped on magnets or sieves/strainers. These systems must also be verified to ensure that they remain effective.