Consumers of foods like canned tuna, processed chicken, and pitted olives are generally aware of the possibility that a bone or piece of pit may make it through processing. Warnings about this possibility are generally included on product packaging as well. However, the same isn’t true with regard to foreign object contamination. No one expects to encounter a splinter of wood when eating french fries.
Foreign material control procedures during food manufacturing are meant to prevent this from happening. However, objects that create debris, such as wood pallets, are still used in food manufacturing and transport. Removing or reducing the use of objects like these can further lower the likelihood of foreign material contamination within food manufacturing facilities.
FDA Requirements Regarding Foreign Object Contamination
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) divides hard objects in food into two categories. Hard materials that are naturally found in some foods, like bones, fruit pits, and the shells of nuts, are considered food defects. The FDA considers some of these materials slipping through processing to be unavoidable, but does set clear maximum thresholds in the form of percentages allowed in a handbook on Food Defect Action Levels. Pitted olives, for example, must have less than 1.3 percent by count of processed olives containing whole pits or pit fragments that are two millimeters or longer. If this number is met or exceeded, regulatory action applies. The same is not true for foreign object contamination.
Legal action is likely if the foreign material is large or if the food item is marketed toward a vulnerable population.
The FDA considers sharp or hard foreign object contamination a food adulterant. A food product is considered adulterated if it meets both the following criteria:
- It contains a hard foreign object of a certain size. The foreign object must be from 7 to 25 mm in size and hard or sharp.
- It is ready-to-eat. This means the food product is presented in a manner that suggests that it is ready-to-eat as-is without additional preparation that would remove hard or sharp foreign objects.
If both of these criteria are met, the food product and the manufacturer may be subject to a regulatory compliance review and will have to account for their food processing and handling procedures in depth. This review will determine if corrective action is required and whether the manufacturer or another party should be penalized or is liable for any damages caused by the foreign objects. Legal action is likely if the foreign material is large or if the food item is marketed toward a vulnerable population, such as the elderly or infants.
Foreign Material Control Procedures for Manufacturing Facilities
Avoiding foreign object contamination is largely a matter of preventative procedures. Usually, these involve simple practical procedures like ensuring that knives and cutting tools used in food processing are properly stored in the correct containers. Employees should also be trained not to casually set anything down on work surfaces or in work areas. Additional equipment to prevent foreign material contamination generally should include:
- Shatterproof Glass: Sharp glass in food poses a significant risk of injury to whomever eats it. Glass is also hard to detect with most automated detection processes and can be hard to filter out. As a result, it’s crucial to prevent glass from contaminating food in the first place. Lighting and gauges should be made out of shatterproof materials to reduce the risk of glass contamination.
- Metal Detectors/X-ray Scanners: Fasteners that hold together equipment used to process food can pull loose, and cutting or processing blades can chip when used. Metal detectors that react to steel or other ferrous materials can detect these materials if they are introduced to food. X-ray scanners can identify other solid materials that are not magnetically or electrically conductive.
- Screens/Sieves/Traps: Mechanical sifting can also be used to sort through food products to remove any foreign materials that have been introduced. Sifts and traps should be routinely checked before, during, and after a shift to identify whether foreign object contamination has occurred during food processing operations.
Efforts should be made to eliminate wood from food processing areas and areas adjacent to them.
It is easier to remediate some contamination situations than others. While it is possible to run a reworked batch of food product through a metal detector and be reasonably certain that no metal remains, the same can’t be said of nonreactive materials like wood. Preventative controls should be in place to ensure that these materials cannot make their way into food products, and efforts should be made to eliminate them from food processing areas and areas adjacent to them.
How Plastic Pallets Support Food Manufacturing Facility Hygiene
While food manufacturers are stringent about hygiene and loose materials in food processing areas, there is one area of a food manufacturing facility where debris is common. Loading docks and storage areas for packaged and processed food tend to accumulate wood fragments and nails from the wood pallets that are typically used to ship products. Wood shipping pallets wear out over time, the wood splinters and breaks, and nails often pull free of the boards. This debris can damage product packaging and even get left behind in packages of food. Pallet debris can also migrate into unexpected places such as food processing areas, carried by workers’ clothes or kicked by their footwear.
Plastic pallets help food manufacturers better meet FDA requirements for the sanitary transportation of food.
Plastic shipping pallets are safer, more hygienic alternatives to wood pallets. Plastic platforms are much more durable than their wood equivalents, with a unitized construction that is free of fasteners like nails. They don’t splinter like wood pallets in normal warehouse operations, and, as a result, they shed no debris. Plastic pallets help food manufacturers better meet FDA pallet requirements for the sanitary transportation of food while eliminating a potential source of foreign object contamination. Switching to plastic pallets is an important foreign material control procedure that can support the processes your facility already has in place.
The iGPS plastic pallet is a long-lasting, recyclable shipping pallet that removes potential sources of foreign object contamination from the supply chain. Support foreign material control procedures by giving our team a call at 1-800-884-0225, emailing a specialist at [email protected], or visiting our contact page.