> How to Avoid Wire Contamination - The Food Safety Company How to Avoid Wire Contamination - The Food Safety Company
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    Monday, 14 November 2016

    How to Avoid Wire Contamination

    In 2015, customers reported cases of wire contamination affecting Pedigree brand dog foods - Img source: snopes.com
    Wire contamination is a very real problem for food producers. Not only can errant pieces of wire which have made their way into food be highly dangerous if consumed by humans, but such contaminations can necessitate recalls of entire (and likely multiple) batches of the affected product. Recalls are inevitably very costly procedures. Not only do manufacturers lose sales and usually have to scrap any products brought back in, but they can also face fines from retailers over the loss of profit-making opportunities for want of products to sell, as well as the loss of time during a recall, the loss of public confidence, a tarnished brand image and so forth. It can be enough to force a retailer to seek alternative suppliers altogether. It is therefore in the best interests of a manufacturer to avoid if at all possible a situation wherein a recall is necessary: including the prevention of wire contamination in foods.

    HiPP Organic, a baby food manufacturer, provides an example of a supplier suffering due to wire contamination. The company was recently forced to recall four batches of its breakfast cereal Fruity O’s after three products in Germany were found to contain metal wire. In a statement, HiPP claimed that the risk to UK consumers of finding fragments of wire in the cereal is ‘minimal,’ but has nonetheless decided to remove its Fruity O’s from Tesco stores in the UK as well.

    There are many potential ways in which metal wire could have made its way into the products. The most likely explanation is damage or wear on the wire belt which is used to move the food stuffs between various points on the production line. It is also possible that wear and tear on fryers or equipment used in the cooking and cooling belting processes could be responsible. If this is the case, the first lesson is that well-maintained equipment is a necessity.

    Nevertheless, even with well-maintained equipment, pieces of wire can make their way into batches of a product. In order to counteract this, most manufacturers employ some form of metal detection equipment. However, some are more effective than others.

    Metal Detectors
    Standard metal detectors are generally reliable but are certainly not fool-proof. Their efficacy depends upon their size and orientation: factors which can sometimes be overlooked or incorrectly optimised.  

    The employment of X-Ray equipment to detect metal wire does tend to be a lot more thorough when it is used in the quality control of products which are uniform. However, when it comes to products which have an irregular size or shape, or which are liable to change their mass once inside their packaging, the reliability of X-Rays begins to decline, depending upon how dramatically the above conditions apply.

    Documented Integrity Checks
    A much better line of due diligence, however, are documented integrity checks: the documentation of rigorous checks to ensure consistency throughout a life cycle. This can involve checking the equipment for damage before and after use. Accurate documentation is especially important here, as it provides accountability and the capacity to amend faults quickly and to look back on prior work with an otherwise unmanageable degree of accuracy.

    Staff Training
    Finally, it should be remembered that there is no replacement for good quality staff training. More details on how staff can be trained to recognise and prevent food contamination in general can be found here.

    If effective controls are installed, wire contamination can be dealt with swiftly and can mean the avoidance of consumer illness, recalls, retailer fines and the denting of your own company’s profits and image. Preventing wire contamination in the first place is easier, quicker and more cost-effective than dealing with its effects through the necessary recall channels; two highly reliable lines of due diligence are the deployment of documented integrity checks and good quality staff training across manufacturing stations. 

    James Stannard

    James has a Bachelor’s degree in History and wrote his dissertation on beef and protest. His heroes list ranges from Adele to Noam Chomsky: inspirations he’ll be invoking next year when he begins a Master’s degree in London.
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