Does your production line make the grade?

It is vital that food manufacturers have production lines capable of responding to future developments in food safety standards.

Comply and produce. It is that tricky balance at the foundation of food manufacturing.

Comply with quality and safety regulations without sacrificing productivity. In the technologically-driven modern commerce landscape, product inspection equipment, such as metal detectors and x-ray inspection systems, can play a crucial role in helping food producers achieve that balance between compliance with stringent safety standards while actually maintaining or enhancing output.

But what happens when the regulations change? It is vital that food manufacturers have production lines capable of responding to future developments in food safety standards. Updated International Featured Standards (IFS) Version 6 quality regulations, recognised in major global markets, came into effect in July 2012 and require manufacturers to maintain tighter control over processing lines. 

Food manufacturers must adhere to these new regulations as well as other guidelines approved by the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) to continue to supply their products to lucrative markets. Launched in 2000, following a number of food safety crises when consumer confidence was at an all-time low, GFSI is an initiative for the improvement of food safety management systems to ensure confidence in the delivery of safe food to consumers worldwide.

Guidelines approved by GFSI, including IFS Version 6, are based on the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) program, which requires manufacturers to audit their lines to identify potential risks to product quality and integrity. The introduction of foreign body contamination during processing could be one such risk. Once identified, the manufacturer must establish a Critical Control Point (CCP) to check product quality and remove any substandard packs to uphold quality and protect consumers. As well as demanding the adoption of the HACCP program, IFS Version 6 includes a number of other amendments to enhance consumer safety.

Key regulatory changes

The key changes in the latest IFS regulations affect global food manufacturers, most critically in the areas of senior management responsibility, production process, and measures, analysis and improvements.

The updated requirements for Senior Management Responsibility relate to ensuring that personnel are sufficiently trained, understand their individual responsibilities in food safety and know that their performance is monitored.

IFS Version 6 puts the onus for ensuring optimum food safety on every person involved in the production process, not just on the machine operatives. Product inspection systems that offer comprehensive monitoring and data collection software as well as options for remote access to contaminant detection records can enable manufacturers to demonstrate they have exercised due diligence in their processes and have adhered to food safety guidelines in the event of a contamination event. Inspection technology with enhanced security features, such as password-protected reject bin locks and touchscreen displays and recording of login attempts optimise manufacturers’ control over their production lines.

There are also new requirements designed to mitigate the risk of contamination of food products from foreign bodies, such as metal and broken glass. These include comprehensive training on any product inspection equipment, such as metal detectors and x-ray inspection systems, used on the processing line for all employees as well as regular changeover of machine operatives to prevent fatigue from affecting food quality. It is important, therefore, that product inspection systems are easy to use to simplify the training process and build operative confidence when using the machine. Product inspection technology with features such as touchscreen Human Machine Interfaces (HMIs), intuitive software and pre-set functions for product changeovers can reduce the amount of training necessary to ensure optimum detection sensitivity and minimise the risk of reputation-damaging product recalls.

IFS Version 6 stipulates that food manufacturers introduce and document procedures describing the steps to be taken in the event of breakage of glass and other brittle material near the production line . These measures should include isolation of affected product batches, which can be achieved with the use of an x-ray machine or metal detector featuring an automatic rejecter and lockable reject bin to quarantine non-conforming food packs. This technology allows manufacturers to re-inspect isolated products, enabling them to be reworked to reduce product waste.

Product labelling is another key focus of the new IFS Version 6. All information must be legible, indelible and meet customer-applicable product specifications . Importantly for food manufacturers, the updated standards stipulate that there should be a process in place to ensure that all product labelling complies with the current legislation of the destination country . This includes the display of ingredients, product weight and expiration date. All information should correspond to the product inside the packaging as well . Food manufacturers can fully automate this process using advanced vision inspection technology, minimising the risk of non-conforming packs reaching end consumers. These systems are capable of examining labelling information at high speeds and removing sub-standard packs from the line. It is important that any vision inspection equipment has easy-to-use HMIs to facilitate the setup of the machine with new information both for product changeovers and for the guarantee of compliance with new legislation in the future without the need to invest in new technology.

IFS Version 6 for the first time contains guidelines regarding traceability of food products to identify the relationship between product batches and their labels . Manufacturers must now store samples of each product batch appropriately until its expiration date and, if required by retailers, for a determined period beyond.

Advanced vision inspection and serialisation technology installed at key points on the production line can help manufacturers comply with these standards by enabling products to be tracked from the raw ingredient stage, through processing to packaging and palletisation until they are ready to be transported to the retailer, storing the information for later use. This ensures manufacturers can easily identify which sample belongs to which batch in the event of a product recall or request by the retailer. Such equipment is already in use in the pharmaceutical industry and optimises food manufacturers’ oversight of the entire production line, helping them demonstrate due diligence in the event of a product recall.

Additionally, the guidelines in IFS Version 6 relating to maintenance and repair of product inspection equipment have been amended, as have those regarding the use of third party service providers. Food manufacturers are now obliged to ensure that all product equipment processes are in good condition without any negative influence on food safety. Where manufacturers require maintenance from a third party, all the manufacturers’ specified material and equipment requirements should be respected by service providers. Food manufacturers can maintain the integrity of their food safety procedures by sourcing maintenance and other services from trusted suppliers. To ensure optimum performance of product inspection systems, they can take advantage of the dedicated service offering of their equipment providers. Service engineers can make necessary repairs, conduct audits or carry out product verification while the machine is in operation, enabling compliance with standards and boosting productivity as well.

Finally, and most importantly for food manufacturers, IFS Version 6 stipulates that all measuring devices be tested regularly for accuracy, adjusted, and calibrated as necessary under a comprehensive monitoring system. Furthermore, the results of these checks, adjustments and calibrations must be documented and any necessary corrective action on weighing technology or production processes carried out. To comply with these standards, it is important that the product inspection system used be easily recalibrated or re-set in the event of a failed test. Systems with easy-to-use displays and dedicated test procedures built into the software can facilitate this process for properly adjusted equipment. Remote monitoring services can test many product inspection system performance parameters and undertake corrective action in real time without the need to disrupt production. In this way, manufacturers can ensure optimum production line security without compromising downtime.

Being aware of the Standards
Food manufacturers must adhere to the changes to regulations to ensure growth and to retain access to important global markets. Complying with strict quality and safety standards, such as those featured in IFS Version 6, does not automatically mean manufacturers must sacrifice productivity. By selecting the right product inspection technology for your needs, such as metal detectors and x-ray inspection systems, manufacturers can meet regulations while maintaining or enhancing efficiency. To do this, it is vital that manufacturers develop a rapport with an equipment supplier that understands global food safety regulations who will be able to advise them on the most suitable solution for their production lines and to ensure their processes comply with standards well into the future.

Neil Giles is Marketing Communications Manager at the Mettler-Toledo Product Inspection Division of Mettler-Toledo, based in the UK. He currently specialises across all four main product inspection technologies, which are x-ray, metal detection, vision inspection and checkweighing.

About Mettler-Toledo Product Inspection
Mettler-Toledo Safeline is the world’s leading supplier of metal detection and x-ray inspection solutions for the food and pharmaceutical industries. Together with Garvens Checkweighing, CI-Vision and Pharmacontrol Electronic GmbH (PCE), Mettler-Toledo Safeline forms the Product Inspection division of Mettler-Toledo.

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