“Standards are evolving all the time and retailers are becoming more demanding,” Neil Giles, communications manager for Mettler-Toledo’s Product Inspection Division told ConfectioneryNews.
“Retailers just like everybody else are concerned with the wellbeing of the consumer. Some retailers are even creating their own standards.”
UK retailers such as Marks & Spencer and Tesco have introduced standards that go beyond auditing body frameworks set by the British Retail Consortium, International Food Standard, Safe Quality Food Institute and International Organization for Standardization.
Retailers and auditing bodies are demanding manufacturers create fail safe systems to ensure any physical contaminants such as metal pieces have definitely been removed.
Giles said that confectioners needed to ensure they had reject confirmation systems to verify that a detected contaminated product had been effectively removed from the production line and that the correct product had entered a reject bin.
He said that smaller confectioners needed reject confirmation systems to enter the big retailers.
“It could be the case that some manufacturers don’t have reject confirmation systems. Most of them have them in place already, but there are always new demands coming along.”
Locked reject bins
Giles added that he had seen confectionery plants where reject bins were unlocked. “There’s nothing to stop an inexperienced operator from putting the contaminated product back on to the production line.”
Confectioners must ensure these bins are locked, he said. The Mettler-Toledo man continued that manufacturers should choose detection systems that stop the conveyer and halt production when there is a low pneumatic air supply, otherwise there would not be enough air to remove a contaminated product.
Giles said that demonstrating due diligence would be crucial in the event of a product recall. “They need to prove they have done all they possibly can to prevent contamination.”
Scale of the problem
Physical contamination from plastic or metal pieces in the confectionery industry is quite rare.
In the UK, there were 1,600 food recalls in 2013 compared to 1,500 the prior year, according to data from the Food Standards Agency (FSA). 51 of the recalls in 2013 related to confectionery products
Most of the recalls were due to microbiological incidents such as salmonella risk. There were only around 100 overall cases of physical contamination from sources such as plastic or metal pieces.
However, any contamination can be costly. Last year, Nestlé was forced to recall four varieties of Kit Kat Chunky bars across nine countries after plastic pieces were found in products. Only last week, Mondelez Australia recalled batches of its Marvellous Creations Jelly Popping Candy Beanies chocolate bar due to plastic contamination.
How does contamination occur?
In the confectionery industry there two main phases where physical contamination can occur: from raw materials and through the manufacturing process.
Raw materials such as cocoa and sugar may contain contaminants and need to be screened before entering the production space.
During production, pieces of metal from machines are liable to break off and enter the product cycle - for example shards of wire from an enrobing machine or a detached mixing blade.
“The more a product is made up of processed ingredients, the greater the risk of contamination taking place,” said Giles. He gave the example of a box of chocolate each with a different filling.
He urged manufacturers to identify control points to detect contaminants through a Hazards Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP) system, a framework used to pinpoint where hazards may occur.
“If you don’t identify that metal piece, it could get broken into smaller pieces or damage other processing equipment,” said Giles.