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Consumed by Heavy Metal: Metal Contaminants in Food and How to Avoid It Rocking Your World

Food safety is a serious subject that has come under greater scrutiny in recent years following a series of high-profile product recalls and outbreaks of foodborne illnesses. As a result, many governments have begun to implement new, modernized food safety regulations. These policies put significant pressure on companies to be able to provide documented evidence of their efforts to protect consumers from hazardous food contaminants.

Common contaminants

There are many forms of foreign matter which can find their way into food products meant for both human and animal consumption. No matter what the contaminant, food manufacturers must do their best to prevent them such matter from finding their way into products marked for grocery shelves.

Bacteria, viruses and parasites

Most food product recalls occur due to the presence of contaminants such as bacteria, viruses and parasites. For instance, in America alone there are around 48 million annual instances of foodborne illnesses. While most consumers recover from such illnesses, some 3,000 Americans die after consuming food products contaminated with dangerous organisms such as E. coli, Salmonella and Listeria.

Pesticides, natural toxins and chemical contaminants

Pesticides, natural toxins and chemical contaminants can also prove to be dangerous if consumed by an unsuspecting human or domestic animal. As such, many governments regulations not only cover the manufacturing of food products, but the manufacturing of related cooking utensils as well. Common household items used for cooking such as glazed ceramicware can just as easily contain dangerous elements which can transfer to even untainted food products, potentially leading to illness or death.

Metal contaminants

Though metal contaminants are not necessarily responsible for the largest number of food product recalls, metal nevertheless does in fact happen to be the most commonly occurring contaminant in the food manufacturing industry. While this may sound contradictory, the reason for which metal contaminants don’t necessarily result in product recalls is most likely due to the fact that since the 1980s, most food manufacturers have invested heavily in food grade metal detectors.

Metal detectors for food industry use are often specifically designed for the dizzying variety of products available on modern grocery shelves. There are metal detectors suitable for anything from frozen products, fresh products, food packaged in foil, liquids, pastes and more. By incorporating the appropriate industrial metal detectors onto factory floors, food manufacturers can ensure the safety of their products, their consumers, their employees and avoid having metal contaminants rocking their world for the worst. The last thing any manufacturer wants is to find their name dragged through the mud because an unsuspecting consumer choked on a rusty nail.

Metal contaminants can either be of the ferrous kind, non-ferrous, or stainless steel. Ferrous metals are magnetic and contain iron, whereas non-ferrous metals are nonmagnetic and do not contain iron. The latter can include commonly found metals such as copper and aluminium. Ferrous metals include cast iron and mild steel. Given that many of these metals are used for industrial purposes (large-scale piping, hardware tools, knives and blades, etc.), it really isn’t all that surprising that metal contaminants should be so often found in food products.

Preventing metal-related recalls and contamination

Preventing food recalls comes down to reducing the number of contaminants that find their way into food products. As far as reducing the number of metal contaminants goes, food manufacturers must not simply rely on food grade metal detectors to magically make contaminations disappear. They must take a multi-pronged approach that includes a strong emphasis on employee training and education, as well as the implementation of a serious contamination-prevention and contamination-testing plan.

Because most metal detectors struggle with detecting tiny particles of metal contaminants, it is important to prevent such contaminations from occurring in the first place. Common sense must prevail when it comes to even the most seemingly unrelated things, such as maintenance scheduling. It is important in this case, for instance, to not schedule any equipment maintenance to occur when production is live. Otherwise, there is a strong chance that tiny contaminants such as metal shavings or particles will contaminate nearby raw ingredients.

Contamination happens when workers are not adequately trained in preventing contamination, and when policies are not properly implemented. Even things like poor floorplanning can lead to contamination – for example, it would be preferable to not have a maintenance workshop within the same space as the actual food processing. Furthermore, even the best industrial metal detectors will do a poor job if improperly installed, calibrated and maintained.

Conclusion

Though in countries like in the United States, food product recalls are voluntarily initiated by a product’s manufacturers, that is still no reason for companies to shirk their duties towards protecting their consumers, their employees and their own reputation. Indeed, while a recall may in theory be voluntary, overseeing regulatory bodies often have the right to simply seize and detain contaminated products if a company does not do right by voluntarily recalling an item that poses a risk to the public.

With stronger policy measures at play in recent years, in addition to the growing demands of consumers for increased organizational transparency, food product manufacturers must continue to invest in safety measures proving their interest in keeping the public from harm. Without due diligence, it is all too easy today for even an average consumer to quickly discover which companies are slacking and which are not when it comes to the question of product safety. By investing in proper training, high quality specialty equipment and good organizational policies, food manufacturers can report their dedication to their customers with all confidence.

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