One of the biggest fears of any food manufacturer is the risk of foreign object contamination of their products. Yet, it seems that there is not a week that goes by without news of another recall related to some type of contamination or issue related to a foreign object making its way to the consumer.
Product recalls can be very costly for food manufacturers. The direct costs of the product in addition to the transportation and notification costs are the most obvious. However, the indirect costs of potential fines, lost sales due to negative public perception, and the overall consumer appeal of your product, or brand, can add up as well.
Recalls can happen in just about any type of industry as processes have become much more automated and use modern, complex equipment that infiltrates the product on a more frequent basis. Add in the human element of risk and chances of contamination increase exponentially.
Common Causes of Contamination
Product contamination can arise from many different sources as mixers, grinders, and slicers are introduced along the production lines. Plastics can also pose similar issues as these components can wear down over time, become brittle, break, and pose a threat to the end consumer. Employees represent a potential risk as well, as gloves, utensils, and other protective material can be lost – and can ultimately find their way into the product. Inadequate training, lack of quality and safety controls, and simply allowing employees to take shortcuts can also play a larger role in creating contaminants and issues related to foreign object contamination.
Preventative Measures to Reduce Contamination Risks
There really isn’t a “one size fits all” solution as manufacturers can vary in terms of size and products produced. Rather, our experience tells us that a solid mix of the following preventive measures, strong enforcement, and accountability can prove to be a strong combination to combat the risk of foreign object contamination:
- Continuous Training
Training and education should be a continuous process. Especially as new products, machinery, and processes are introduced into the manufacturing process. Education helps workers understand the importance of food safety along with identifying where issues can occur in the manufacturing process and potentially, know how to prevent them from occurring.
- Pre-Operation Inspections
Prior to starting the manufacturing process, standard operating procedures should be in place to ensure that the workstations are clean and free of clutter. Pre-inspections for loose bolts, screws, and the conditions of components such as blades, saws, and mixers are in good working condition can help mitigate contamination.
- Labor Planning
Food manufacturing has typically been a fast-paced and busy environment. The pandemic has exasperated the impact of this as labor constraints and potentially overworked employees tend to take shortcuts to meet production demands. As volume increases, run rates climb and batch sizes grow larger, the chances of contamination increase. Take close look at your capacity and labor requirements and continue to get creative with recruiting the requisite number of employees with incentives, benefits, and other measures designed to attract and maintain high-quality staff members.
- Routine Equipment Maintenance
One of the most controllable and preventative measures that a food manufacturer can take is embracing what Lean Manufacturing Concepts tell us related to Total Preventative Maintenance (TPM). TPM tells us that we should continuously monitor the wear points machines, ensure proper alignment of devices, and use data and statistical analysis of run times to predict when parts and components will fail. As such, food manufacturers should consider a TPM program and while the upfront cost of these programs can be expensive, the cost of a full recall of a particular product can pale in comparison.
- Proactive Internal Audits
While there are a host of federal guidelines and regulatory agencies that assist and monitor the food production industry, we recommend manufacturers get ahead of the curve and consider “self-audits” and a “hazard analysis” of their operations to examine known, or potential areas where foreign objects could enter the manufacturing process and pose an issue. This added level of protection can help manufacturers take a proactive approach to ensure inspections and visits by regulatory agencies go smoothly.
- Investments into Technology
As labor constraints continue to plague the food manufacturing industry, many manufacturers have invested in technology and automation to bridge the gap and keep operations moving forward. Metal detectors, magnets, and X-ray machines can be used to identify contamination issues. Again, while the upfront cost of this technology can be expensive, it can more than pay for itself if it prevents a catastrophic product recall.
- Prepare a Crisis Plan
Food manufacturers should always have a plan to address the “what if?” if there is ever an issue with foreign-object contamination. Having a proactive plan to address not only the cost of the product but, the impact from legal, insurance, and public perception should all be addressed with a “table top” exercise to assess the effectiveness of your plan and identify potential gaps.
While the aforementioned measures can assist with preventing foreign-object contamination, the chances of eliminating them is very small. Still, we highly recommend food manufacturers continue to invest and focus on measures and preventative programs designed to identify, detect, and prevent product contamination in the production process.
For more information or to learn how the above concepts can help your food manufacturing processes mitigate foreign object contamination, please contact Tim Reynolds at firstname.lastname@example.org or 828.322.2070.