What Australian food processors can learn from the strawberry crisis

food metal detectors

Food contamination is a real risk. If there’s one lesson all food processors should take away from the past 12 months, it’s that you need to do whatever you can to safeguard product safety and quality.

Strawberry farmers don’t have a choice. Following the infamous strawberry scandal, where sewing needles were found in strawberries in all six Australian states, new rules mean growers must install food metal detectors in their production lines or on the farm to prevent needle contamination. The Department of Agriculture and Water Resources has announced a “nil tolerance of metal contaminants”, which requires exporters to provide assurance to the department that their consignment is free from metal contaminants. This is serious stuff.

If you’re a strawberry grower and need help selecting the right X-ray or metal detector – read our guide and get in touch!

But it’s not only strawberry farmers who should be investing in QA processes; this should be a wake-up call for all food processors to take steps to eliminate food contamination risks and protect their brand.

Here’s how Australia’s dairy industry protects brands against the constant threat of counterfeiting – which can have dire health effects for consumers. Download Now

 

Why food processors need to act now…

Protect against recalls

The true cost of a recall can be devastating and extends far beyond your manufacturing plant to impact your brand reputation, your relationships with trading partners – and your bottom line.

Metal is regarded as one of the biggest and most likely contaminant risks within food processing and packing plants. Why? Because food is exposed to many different processes from the raw ingredient phase right through to final packaging. Each phase introduces the risk of a possible metal contaminant.

Installing a food metal detector as part of robust, reliable and objective quality assurance (QA) processes is the first line of defence against costly product recalls. (Find out how to prevent and avoid food recalls in this guide).

Show retailers you’re serious about quality and safety

Coles and Aldi pulled all strawberries from their shelves in the height of the strawberry sabotage scare, and New Zealand supermarkets Foodstuffs and Countdown (which are owned by Woolworths) also removed Australian-grown strawberries from their shelves. For many strawberry growers, the only way to reassure their markets that their fruit does not contain needles and get their fruit back on shelves was to invest in a food metal detector.

Australian supermarkets have been imposing increasingly stringent protocols and standards on all suppliers for some time. For example, Woolworths requires its food suppliers to undergo a risk assessment to determine whether metal detection or X-ray systems are needed. If so, Woolworths then has a specific Code of Practice for suppliers to adhere to when implementing and using the inspection system. So, if you want to build lasting and profitable relationships with your trading partners, you need to follow their rules. (Find out here how you can learn from Woolworths’ QA for manufactured foods.)

Rebuild consumer confidence in Australian food quality

The strawberry scandal shook consumers’ confidence in Australian food quality as headlines about “food terrorists” ran in Australia and around the world. As a result, Australia’s $500 million strawberry sector experienced an overnight collapse in its market. The strawberry industry rallied and called on consumers to continue buying strawberries and support the growers. But the damage was already done; the strawberry incident revealed that it’s not only the big brands at risk of food contamination – it can happen to local growers too.

There’s good news, though. A recent study by the Centre for Global Food and Resources (based at the University of Adelaide) shows food scares don’t remain in the public consciousness for long. The centre’s director, Professor Wendy Umberger, told 9news.com.au that Australians are relatively confident in the safety and integrity of Australian food products.

But food contamination events still bruise Australia’s reputation in the international market, and Professor Umberger said she was more worried about how global media attention to the “needles in strawberries” incident will impact demand for Australian food products in general in key export markets.

Food processors need to be ready to provide assurances to export markets that their food products are safe from foreign objects. Investing in X-ray or food metal detectors can help do this.

What next?

If you haven’t already, start doing your research into X-ray or metal detector systems. Our team at Matthews is on hand to talk through your specific requirements. Using our experience across the food sector, we’ll drill down into the true needs and objectives of your business to recommend the right solution for you. Then, we’ll ensure it is set up exactly how you want it. For example, we can integrate your coding and labelling systems with a metal detection system, all managed by our iDSnet software. So, if the metal detection system identifies that a product is contaminated, iDSnet will trigger a process for the product to be directed onto a different path or straight to the reject bin.

Read our guide to the three essential inspection technologies for FMCGs, while this article will help you choose between X-ray versus metal detection technology. You can also find out more about X-ray technology and metal detection systems.

Know the difference between inkjet and laser coding? This free whitepaper explains how to compare these popular technology types so you know which is best suited for your application. Download Now

 

Looking for more information? Matthews’ resource library has lots of free-to-download information for Australian manufacturers.

Image credit: iStock/ 13-Smile

 

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Mark Dingley
Mark Dingley is Chairman of the Australian Packaging and Processing Machinery Association (APPMA) and is the CEO at Matthews Australasia. With 20+ years of experience in the product identification industry and the wealth of knowledge gained from working closely with industry associations in developing and implementing standards & best practice, Mark is able to assist manufacturers with a range of issues from getting real-time visibility of their production line, improving automation, establishing quality assurance using machine vision to selecting the best fit technology for coding and labelling applications. Mark Dingley's LinkedIn Profile
Mark Dingley

by Mark Dingley

Mark Dingley is Chairman of the Australian Packaging and Processing Machinery Association (APPMA) and is the CEO at Matthews Australasia. With 20+ years of experience in the product identification industry and the wealth of knowledge gained from working closely with industry associations in developing and implementing standards & best practice, Mark is able to assist manufacturers with a range of issues from getting real-time visibility of their production line, improving automation, establishing quality assurance using machine vision to selecting the best fit technology for coding and labelling applications. Mark Dingley's LinkedIn Profile

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