Physical hazards in food
We’ve all seen pictures of items found in food which really shouldn’t be there. Fried chicken heads. Lizard heads lurking in salad leaves. Mice baked into loaves of bread… Please be assured that these only make it into the newspapers and Twittersphere because they are so very rare.
So long as food manufacturers and processors have an effective pest control management system in place, small creatures and creepy crawlies shouldn’t be able to enter the manufacturing process at any point. However, pest control alone isn’t sufficient to prevent other types of physical contamination from occurring. Here are five of the most common physical hazards to watch out for:
Metal blades, screws, broken veterinary needles, splinters from equipment shavings, clippings and staples are all examples of metal pieces that have the potential to make their way into an end product, if precautions are not taken.
Even if the metal is not a product of your own company’s processes, it could already be residing in your delivery of raw ingredients. Earrings and other jewellery items could also come loose and end up baked or cooked in the end product. This is why many companies don’t allow jewellery other than plain wedding bands in production areas.
Any soft or hard plastic physical hazards found in food can generally be traced back to packaging materials. Other items that have the potential to drop into mixtures etc. are false nails, buttons, pen tops and similar items. It’s company policy in the majority of food preparation businesses that clothing does not feature buttons. Workers are not permitted to wear false nails, false eyelashes, beads, watches, pin badges etc. In addition, several workplaces only use single-piece pens attached to clipboards.
I remember a news article from many, many years ago where shards of glass had been found in jars of baby food. In this case the baby food had been tampered with and the glass had been deposited deliberately. However, there are incidences where glass can enter food products accidentally. For example, the breakage of a glass container during a filling process, or the shattering of a light bulb.
Stones can be brought into food processing or production areas together with ingredients such as beans and peas directly from the farm. Whole or part stones from fruit such as olives, prunes and apricots can also sometimes remain in the final product as physical hazards as they have been missed during the pitting process.
The most common culprit for wood splinters in food is as a direct result of handling wooden pallets. Alternatively, small pieces of wood or twigs can be found in fresh produce directly from the farm.
How can we prevent physical hazards from contaminating our food?
We have already touched on dress codes and pest control, so the first step is to perform a risk analysis. This should form the initial part of a HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points) plan. Every aspect of the supply chain from the receipt of raw materials to the delivery of finished product should be examined for the potential for physical contamination.
For example, you can begin with vendor certification for raw material supply and letters of guarantee. You can insist on receiving ingredients in weld sealed packaging to avoid the chance of plastic twist ties or staples getting into food. You can also inspect packaging to ensure that it is not damaged.
X-rays are not just for hospitals
To guard against the inclusion of metal objects, you can use metal detectors or magnets. You can also ensure that you implement regular programmes of planned equipment maintenance so that screws, nuts, bolts, blades and so forth do not become loose, and that equipment is calibrated correctly to guard against shavings.
Modern x-ray technology is also a sound investment. It can identify metal, stone, bone and hard plastics before they make it into the production process. But you can also use other equipment such as sieves, screens and filters, gravity tables, air separators as well as, of course, visual inspection – especially of wooden pallets.
Whether intrinsic (such as bones, pits or stalks) or extrinsic (such as metal, plastic, glass, wood, insects etc.) we need to eliminate physical hazards from our food production processes. To find out more about physical hazards as well as microbial and chemical hazards in food production, why not take a look at our HACCP and Food Safety courses?