Research reveals that toxic metabolites produced by certain fungi in or on foods are among the biggest causes of food product recalls. That’s why food sortation systems play a critical role in enhancing food safety.

Stericycle ExpertSOLUTIONS, Indianapolis, released a study that found that a group of toxic fungal metabolites, called aflatoxins, were behind 20% of all food product recalls in Europe alone in the first quarter of 2017. Other key contributors included bacterial contamination (24%) and unauthorized ingredients (13%).

The same research report highlighted that the total number of recalls and notifications in the first quarter of 2017 was almost identical to two years ago, with little to no improvement in the number of issues. Overall, there were 19 countries of origin that had 10 or more recalls in Q1, with Turkey responsible for the most, followed by China and India.

Nuts, nut products and seeds were responsible for most recalls in the food sector, followed by fruit and vegetables and fish/fish products.

Implementing sorting technology can significantly reduce the risk of contamination from aflatoxins and foreign material, driving up food safety on the production line and offering a smart investment for processors and manufacturers.

Delivering high-quality, safe food is good for business. The reputational and financial impact of a product recall can be devastating for a company. Effective food sorting and analysis equipment play a huge role in consumer and brand protection, so implementing these processes makes good business sense.

The data from Stericycle ExpertSOLUTIONS demonstrates the challenge faced by food processors operating within a global supply chain. The food industry is growing significantly and facing productivity, economic, efficiency and environmental pressures more than ever before. Increasing demand on the world’s food resources has made the food supply complex and multifaceted, with a global supply chain bringing many benefits but also presenting a major food safety headache. The longer and more complicated the chain is, the higher the risk of contamination and spoilage.

In addition, increasing imports and exports means food processors and manufacturers have to comply with numerous cross-border regulations. In some cases, imports are from countries where safety standards are lower than in areas such as the EU or United States, which makes it all the more necessary to ensure food sorting and analysis systems operate in line with emerging food safety issues.

Some countries have taken steps to ensure the quality and safety of food throughout the supply chain, and now the rest of the world is beginning to follow suit. Examples include the implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) in the United States, which makes food safety the responsibility of all links from field to fork and encourages a coordinated domestic and international strategy.

The overriding theme is that prevention is better than the cure, which can involve monetary and reputational consequences, and is designed to safeguard against breakdowns between farm and fork that can negatively affect the industry as a whole.

The industry must be mindful of the opportunities to improve as what is acceptable today may not be acceptable tomorrow. Food safety starts in the field, and specific technologies and systems have been developed for the various steps of the processing journey to improve food safety.

For instance, the sorting process for many different types of produce starts in the field by identifying larger and more obvious defects and foreign material that should not be entering the processing plants and facilities. This means that items such as stones, glass or metal can be picked up in the field, with typical pre-sort near infrared (NIR) technology used in machines.

The benefits of sorting technologies are far-reaching. Beyond food safety and brand protection, they enable processors to deliver consistently high-quality products, maximizing yield and profit whilst reducing food waste.

As safety regulations and the demand for food increase, optical and sensor-based sorting becomes a necessity rather than a luxury for many producers that have previously relied upon manual sorting and inspection.

Sensor technology is increasingly identifying defects in produce, ensuring higher resolution and better contrast, and the technology used will continue to improve in quality and food safety. In addition, the ability to employ data management when using machines means that more real-time monitoring and controlling of production lines is possible, creating further efficiencies.

Processors are also increasing the number and variety of sorting and analysis machines on their lines to ensure they are eliminating poor quality product and foreign material. With millions of individual product items passing through every hour, robust systems that can detect and remove the smallest of contaminants are vital in managing food safety on the production line.

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