Food Engineering

Field Reports: No need to roll the dice when inspecting spice

March 26, 2003
A small footprint coupled with side-view inspection provides an economical solution.

WITH OVER 100 LINES RANGING from dense salts and ground seeds to light, dry leaves like parsley in its portfolio, McCormick & Co. Inc. can’t afford to gamble with quality. As part of its risk management strategy, the spice maker recently installed a Peco™ ScanTrac™ X-ray inspection system at its Salinas, Calif. herb and spice processing plant.

The Peco ScanTrac can find shards or slivers of glass as small as 3-4mm that might have been generated in container production, shipping, washing, or the packaging process. Stones that are missed in initial sizing and screening, and metal shavings or foil scraps that are too small to be detected by metal detectors installed on each line, are discovered by the X-ray inspection system as well. Containers with foreign objects are rejected along with other containers that fail the inspection process for improper closure or fill level, and missing labels or tamper-evident bands.

McCormick determined a need for this kind of inspection several years ago, but until Peco introduced the small footprint ScanTrac with side-view inspection instead of the more common top-down configuration, it was neither economical nor practical for our application, said Ron Long, quality assurance manager at the Salinas plant.

“Part of our product line includes knurled containers where the glass is of differing densities, and irregularly shaped contours might allow contaminants to lodge against the chines of the container and be difficult to find,” Long said. “In actual operation, the ScanTrac has performed well beyond our original performance specifications where it has found stones as small as 1mm in oregano, and peppercorn sized stones in unground pepper.”

According to Long, the ScanTrac delivered additional process monitoring. “The unit identified jars of cream of tartar that had been packed too densely through a misadjustment of our auger filling operation,” he explained.

The Salinas plant has experienced no drift in settings and no radiation leaks since the unit has been installed. “The level of X-ray emissions from the ScanTrac is so low that lead shielding is not required for our application,” said Long.

In addition, a step-by-step, ‘self-teaching’ set of auto-screens make the set-up procedure simple. Once a product has been uploaded into the ScanTrac’s memory, an operator has only to select the product and press run.

While an X-ray inspection system is more expensive than a metal detector or a check-weigher, it can find glass in glass, metal in metal, or stones and other contaminants in any container.