Food Safety
Tech Update: X-ray & Optical Inspection

New types of foreign material and product flaws detected

X-ray, camera and laser sorting technologies are coming of age in new configurations and applications that improve productivity and reduce false rejects while detecting harder-to-find flaws.

May 13, 2013
Trans

Robert Rogers, Senior Advisor Food Safety & Regulations, Mettler-Toledo Safeline

 
FE: What are the primary drivers behind demand for X-Ray systems? Is it to enhance a company’s Continuous Improvement Program or to better adhere to Good Manufacturing Principles; are retailers mandating its use; to meet compliance with existing or upcoming regulations? 
 
Rogers: Foreign material prevention programs are the key drivers for X-ray inspection systems. Most retailer standards, GFSI recognized programs and food safety laws and regulations require a foreign material prevention program. As most programs contain basic HACCP requirements, physical contamination is a potential hazard that must be considered.
 
FE: X-Ray can detect metal contaminants or identify missing product in a package. What more can it do, and what do these capabilities mean for food safety and food quality? 
 
Rogers: X-ray inspection systems are becoming more commonplace in the industry. Capabilities to detect not only metal contamination but also other dense foreign material such as glass, stone and bone have increased its use within food safety management programs. X-ray systems can inspect other aspects of the product such as size, count and even verify proper items have made it into the pack. Another use for X-ray inspection systems is product amount such as fill level detection and overall and zone mass capability as a way to verify proper product amount. 
 
FE: Is glass detection the sole application warranting the selection of a multiple beam system over a single beam system? 
 
Rogers: With a single beam system, you have only a single view of the product. There are potentially areas in the product that are hidden from view and could potentially mask contamination making it undetectable. This is often the case when inspecting glass jars, bottles, and canned products, the use of multiple beam systems provides an increased coverage of the product ensuring all areas of the product are visible to the system as well as allowing each area to have independent sensitivity settings increasing detection capability. 
 
FE: What market segments have you been able to penetrate with this technology? 
 
Rogers:  X-ray systems are utilized throughout several industries including the food, pharmaceutical, beverage, snack, pet food and packaging material industries.
 
FE: What is the smallest contaminant detectable with your X-Ray unit? 
 
Rogers: Typically, the limiting factor is the product being inspected. The question is not what is the smallest the X-ray system can detect, but rather what is the smallest contamination the product will allow the system to detect. The best way to set up any inspection device is to successfully inspect production limiting or better yet eliminating false rejects. Ensuring good product is able to pass through the system successfully allows better control of the overall process. Ideally, each rejected product is investigated leading to the source of the contamination allowing corrective action to help prevent reoccurrence.  With frequent false rejects the potential losses can add up fast such as product waste, production loss and reworking costs and the fact is it should never have reject in the first place.
 
FE: Is operating, adjusting and maintaining this equipment easier now than say five years ago? If so, how?
 
Rogers: Improvements in the user interface and data collection capabilities have certainly improved the ease of use. Older systems might have required a engineer to set up and adjust the system, today’s systems have features such as automatic product set up, automatic performance verification capabilities as well as image capture and other data reporting capabilities making the systems not only easier to use but also allowing easier integration into a robust food safety programs.
 
FE: Can X-Ray detection be used to track the source of a contaminant or missing product? 
 
Rogers: Detection of contamination is actually the easy part, the identification of the source and preventing reoccurrence is the challenge. True benefits are realized when an organization incorporates inspection systems as a part of a complete food safety and quality program. Locating the source of the contamination and implementing corrective action and revention measures is not only a good practice it is often a requirement in food safety management programs and regulatory requirements. 
 
 
FE: Are users of your X-Ray equipment including this technology in their HACCP standards? 
 
Rogers: HACCP and HARPC type programs are the leading reasons to incorporate a foreign material inspection device. Not only installing a device but developing a robust foreign material prevention program incorporating its use will help facilities and organizations reduce the risk of detrimental recalls and help to protect the brand image. 
 
FE: Are users of X-Ray technology replacing metal detectors or camera-based optical systems as the primary means of product or package inspection, or combining them? If in combination with other inspection equipment, tell me how they work together. 
 
Rogers: Unfortunately, there is no “Silver Bullet” for inspection devices. There are advantages and disadvantages with both metal detectors and X-ray systems. Metal detectors are unable to detect non-metallic type contamination and aluminum contamination is a challenge for X-rays. A complete and thorough hazard analysis may highlight the need for both technologies to be utilized. Both are also application dependant, some applications are best suited for metal detection and some are best suited for X-rays.
 
FE: Overall, would you characterize market use of X-Ray as still a nascent technology, one experiencing steady growth, or already at fully maturity?
 
Rogers: Experiencing steady growth and an increased acceptance for foreign material prevention programs.
 
FE: What would you say is the biggest impediment to X-Ray adoption today? 
 
Rogers: Cost has been a leading impediment in the past however there are several systems available at several different price points so this is becoming less of a factor.
 

Laura Studwell, North American Market Manager, Loma Systems

 
FE: What are the primary drivers behind demand for X-Ray systems? Is it to enhance a company’s Continuous Improvement Program or to better adhere to Good Manufacturing Principles; are retailers mandating its use; to meet compliance with existing or upcoming regulations?
 
Studwell: Many governing institutions worldwide are requiring food processing companies to implement a documented food safety management program based on HACCP standards and now, the Food Safety Modernization Act. Leading retailers are also becoming more stringent with their codes of practice, requiring food processing companies to add an extra measure of protection against contaminants as well as identify damaged or missing product.
 
Many retailers and food processors are concerned with protecting their brand identity, which is the major driver behind the demand for x-ray inspection systems. Retailers do not want to represent products that could potentially generate liability. Liability can mean harm to the consumer through contaminated or damaged products or it could mean lack of satisfaction due to missing product or under-filled product. Likewise, food processors vying to put their products on retailer shelves, at an often low negotiated cost of placement, want to ensure they are not giving away product by over-filling. Integrating an x-ray inspection system inline either at the beginning or at the end of the line can negate all of the above potential issues. 
 
FE: X-Ray can detect metal contaminants or identify missing product in a package. What more can it do, and what do these capabilities mean for food safety and food quality?
 
Studwell: X-ray inspection is the most comprehensive detection technology available on the market. Unlike traditional metal detection systems, the x-ray can detect metal contaminants even for products packaged in foil or metalized film. It can also detect non-metallic contaminants such as glass, stone, calcified bone, high-density plastics, flavor clumps and rubber. In addition, x-ray inspection systems can simultaneously perform a wide-range of quality checks such as measuring density, monitoring fill levels, identifying missing or broken products, counting components and checking for damaged or malformed packaging.
 
One of the features the X4 x-ray series brings to the market is Loma’s unique algorithm that detects, counts and measures the holes in cheese wheels without actually cutting the product. This feature is significant to the industry because the diameter of the holes determines the age of the cheese. The ability to keep the cheese wheel intact allows the processor to sell the wheel at a higher price on the market.
 
Food safety and food quality go hand in hand in the inspection industry. Many things can occur that affect the quality of raw material such as location of import and choice of transportation of raw material due to fuel prices. Many factors in the economy will cause changes to where and how raw material is obtained. This directly affects the beginning stages of processing, but with the x-ray being the most comprehensive inspection system on the market, it negates these concerns and allows processors to meet or exceed regulatory requirements and codes of practice.
 
The x-ray can measure the density of products, even determining if an onion is rotten under the peel.
 
FE: How many X-Ray units have you installed in the U.S.? How would you characterize U.S. market acceptance of your X-Ray technology?
 
Studwell: We have over 1,000 x-ray inspection systems installed in the U.S. but our reach extends globally.
 
Today, metal detection remains as the most familiar form of food inspection. It has roots that go back as far as World War II. Over the past decade, x-ray inspection technology has grown at a steady rate. In the past 3 years, however, the technology has become more recognized and accepted by the U.S. market. Many of the major retailers are specifically requiring x-ray inspection as a second line of defense in their codes of practice. This protects potential lawsuits from consumers regarding non-conforming products.
 
Product recalls cost the food industry over $7B annually according to the Washington Times. To avoid costly issues, many food processors are proactively integrating x-ray inspection systems in line at either at the beginning or at the end of the line. 
 
We recently performed a case study with long-time customer, St. Clair Foods, based in Tennessee. St. Clair Foods distributes their signature products to restaurants nationwide and also markets their products on QVC, national television. St. Clair Foods proactively implemented an X4 PipeLine system at the beginning of their line to improve the quality of raw materials before entering the processing stage. Since then, they have been able to share inspection results with their suppliers and help them improve their processes as well.
 
FE: Is glass detection the sole application warranting the selection of a multiple beam system over a single beam system?
 
Studwell: Detecting glass in an application, such as bulk flow products (cereal, grains, etc.) only requires a single beam system. 
 
However, if you are looking to detect a glass contaminant in a glass bottle, you would need a ‘dual beam’ system.
 
The X4 series has a unique feature that erodes the edges of packaging via image processing. Eliminating the edges of the packaging allows the user to view only the product and therefore achieve better sensitivity.
 
FE: What market segments have you been able to penetrate with this technology?
 
Studwell: From food and beverage to pharmaceutical and even academia and education, x-ray inspection is used across a broad spectrum of market segments. We have had success in the meat and poultry industry, where many processors use the x-ray technology to identify bone fragments. 
 
FE: What functions or features distinguish your X-Ray technology from competing models?
 
Studwell: Loma has made significant advances in x-ray technology over the past decade. The X4 series boasts the highest sensitivity rates at three times other industry systems. The X4 series utilizes proprietary 3D image processing and modeling software to display clear product images so the operator knows exactly where a contaminant is located within the product.
 
X-ray tubes are extremely costly and depending on usage rates, need to be replaced frequently. Loma has developed a unique technology that extends tube life at 7 to 10 years. This is more than triple the life of other tubes on the market.
 
Loma developed a unique algorithm that detects, counts and measures the holes in cheese wheels without actually cutting the product. The algorithm also provides for the package erosion feature, where package edges are eroded so the system only inspects the product on the inside.
 
Loma’s patented Explorer feature identifies and documents areas of different shades. A cathode ray creates a fan-shaped x-ray beam that scans the product. Grayscale data is collected at scan rates relative to the amount of x-ray energy received. The data is digitized by the software and identifies an area that has a different shade. It has the capability to then focus on that area for further inspection.
 
X-weigh combines x-ray functionality and check weighing functionality into one system. Check weight and contaminant detection simultaneously using an algorithm based on the density of the application versus the industry standard load cell technology for weighing. X-weigh is unaffected by pack rate, speed, vibration, air turbulence, pack orientation or stability and requires little maintenance unlike a traditional check weighing system. The X-weigh software complies with national weights and measures legislation and automatically calculates the correct reject set points for American Minimum or MAV weight control. A great example is yogurt, as X-weigh can check for contaminants through the foil seal as well as monitor fill level.
 
FE: What is the smallest contaminant detectable with your X-Ray unit?
 
Studwell: 0.6mm is the smallest contaminant detectable with the X4 x-ray series.
 
FE: How well does your system detect low density contaminants?
 
Studwell: Low density products are hard to detect for the x-ray technology. Many of the low density contaminants processors are looking to identify are plastics. Plastic can be detected depending on its density. The level of detection capability depends on the application itself and product testing is usually required to provide an accurate measurement of detection.
 
FE: Is operating, adjusting and maintaining this equipment easier now than say five years ago? If so, how?
 
Studwell: Operating the X4 x-ray system is easier than ever before. It is a Windows-based system with a color touch screen interface. It is a bi-directional, user-configurable system that can be networked to existing plant integration systems. With the capability to store up to 10,000 unique product profiles, the X4 will auto-calibrate and is ready to run in less than 30 seconds. This is great for processing lines or co-packers that have frequent product change-overs.
 
Secure access prevents unauthorized access with unique password protection. This feature prevents tampering with data and thus improves compliance for both internal and external audit reporting.
 
The X4 also hosts an icon-driven, context sensitive user manual for easy navigation and troubleshooting throughout the system. User manuals and operator controls come in over 20 languages, promoting operator flexibility.
 
The operator screen comes equipped with a performance validation countdown timer to assist with HACCP compliance.
 
The X4 series is flexible, designed on lockable caster wheels for easy maneuvering during cleaning. The entire system can be easily removed from the line for a thorough cleaning as well as individual components for an even more thorough cleaning as typically seen in harsh wash down environments.
 
The X4 series is built using 304 stainless steel, #4 polish finish and incorporates Allen Bradley controls.
 
FE: Can X-Ray detection be used to track the source of a contaminant or missing product?
 
Studwell: With a solid plant integration system such as SCADA and HMI as well as an accurate, detailed data management package, users can analyze batch data to determine the source of a contaminant or missing product. In order for this process to work correctly, the product must be run on a fully integrated line.
 
Recent enhancements with integrated optical systems can read barcodes to more accurately determine the source of a contaminant or missing product. 
 
FE: Are users of your X-Ray equipment including this technology in their HACCP standards? 
 
Studwell: All X4 x-ray inspection systems are designed and engineered to meet HACCP standards. From the high quality of materials used to the integration of controls and data management, the systems make is easy to conform to regulatory standards.
 
FE: Are users of X-Ray technology replacing metal detectors or camera-based optical systems as the primary means of product or package inspection, or combining them? If in combination with other inspection equipment, tell me how they work together.
 
Studwell: The type of inspection used in processing facilities often depends on the application. Metal detection is still the primary means of product inspection. However, we are seeing a trend toward the combination of x-ray inspection with traditional metal detection as a proactive measure of additional protection. 
 
How they work together again depends on the application. Metal detection could be used at the beginning of the line to detect contaminants on unpackaged products. This inspection measure identifies any metal contaminants prior to packaging that may have occurred during raw material transportation or product assembly. In situations where the end product goes through various stages of processing, you may see an x-ray system at a further point down the line, typically for inspection after packaging. You almost always see this when the product needs to be inspected after packaging and all or part of the packaging contains foil or metalized film.
 
A great example of this is beef jerky. The beef jerky is inspected for metal contaminants then once packaged and the oxygen absorber is added, the entire package is passed through an x-ray inspection system. The x-ray can verify through image processing software that the oxygen absorber is present as required.
 
FE: Overall, would you characterize market use of X-Ray as still a nascent technology, one experiencing steady growth, or already at fully maturity? 
 
Studwell: Over the past decade, x-ray inspection technology has grown at a steady rate. In the past 3 years, however, the technology has become more recognized and accepted by the U.S. market. It is gaining more and more momentum as officials in the food industry recognize the potential and importance of x-ray technology to food safety and food quality.
 
FE: What would you say is the biggest impediment to X-Ray adoption today? 
 
Studwell: Perhaps the biggest impediment to x-ray adoption today is the breadth of depth of technology advancements. There are a great many features and capabilities of x-ray technology that far extend past tradition inspection systems. With a variety of support mechanisms available including ongoing training, technical support and integrated user manuals, many food processors are embracing the technology more and more.
 
FE: What’s next for X-ray or vision systems?
 
Studwell: X-ray inspection systems have become more reliable over the past decade.
-compliance reporting, suppliers, not just metal contaminants, cost of ownership – scan UPC codes for easy product changeover

Did you enjoy this article? Click here to subscribe to Food Engineering Magazine.

Recent Articles by Mikell Knights

You must login or register in order to post a comment.

Multimedia

Videos

Image Galleries

Plant of the Year 2014

Blue Diamond Growers was chosen as Food Engineering's 2014 Plant of the Year. The Sacramento-based company is the world’s largest producer of almonds and almond ingredients.

Podcasts

Burns & McDonnell project manager RJ Hope and senior project engineer Justin Hamilton discuss the distinctions between Food Safety and Food Defense as well as the implications for food manufacturers of the Food Safety Modernization Act.
More Podcasts

FSMA Audit

What is the is most important step you have taken to become ready for a FSMA audit?
View Results Poll Archive

Food Engineering

FE August 2014

2014 August

The August 2014 issue of Food Engineering explores how your operation could be doing more to create a culture of employee engagement. Also, read more on how your business and insurance partners must know the basics of your business and its nuances as well.

Table Of Contents Subscribe

THE FOOD ENGINEERING STORE

Food-Authentication-Flyer-(.gif
Food Authentication Using Bioorganic Molecules

This text provides critical tools and data needed to augment routine food analysis and enhance food safety by aiding in the detection of counterfeit, and potentially deleterious, foods.

More Products

Clear Seas Research

Clear Seas ResearchWith access to over one million professionals and more than 60 industry-specific publications,Clear Seas Research offers relevant insights from those who know your industry best. Let us customize a market research solution that exceeds your marketing goals.

Food Master

Food Master Cover 2014Food Master 2014 is now available!

Where the buying process begins in the food and beverage manufacturing market. 

Visit www.foodmaster.com to learn more.

STAY CONNECTED

FE recent tweets

facebook_40.pngtwitter_40px.pngyoutube_40px.png linkedin_40px.pngGoogle +