Have you ever found something in your food that shouldn’t have been there? The answer is probably yes, and you rightly asked yourself, but how is it possible that current technologies cannot avoid these rather unpleasant situations?
Over the past decades, changes in food production, consumption and transportation have drastically impacted the entire food chain. Nowadays, farmers and food manufacturers may well have their main customers on another continent. Besides, global population growth means that food production needs to increase. Food manufacturers find themselves under pressure to meet both quantity and safety requirements. Unfortunately, efficient production lines do not necessarily go hand in hand with food safety, as faster processes pose higher risks of contamination.
Despite advances in food processing and high safety standards, food safety continues to constitute a worldwide public health concern. Foreign bodies such as plastics, insects and other materials are frequently found. Faced with this phenomenon, enforcement authorities are losing credibility, companies face financial and reputational damage and consumers increasingly distrust food products.
The intake of plastics or glass, for example, can generate complications, such as perforation of tissues of the mouth, tongue, throat, stomach and intestine.
Product recalls or withdrawals from the production lines generate huge net losses for the companies (direct operational costs associated with managing the incident, such as notification of regulatory bodies and consumers, product retrieval, storage and destruction of the unsalable product)
A single case of food contamination calls into question the reliability of the company involved. It can take decades for a company to rebuild its brand reputation.
The withdrawal of a single jar of tomato of 125g generates a waste of 225L of water and 1.5 kg of CO2. There are many reasons for food waste: the lack of technologies capable of rightly evaluating food safety and quality is surely one of them.
For more information about the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF)*, click here
* The EU tool to ensure the flow of information to enabling swift reaction when risks to public health are detected in the food chain.
Food inspection technologies include a wide range of techniques: X-ray machines, metal detectors, thermal imaging and ultrasonic-based techniques. Among the available technologies, the X-ray systems are by far the best solution, because they identify a much wider range of contaminants and can be applied at different stages of the production process.
This being said, the problem of food contamination is far from being solved. Even though the current dual-energy X-ray detection systems have resulted in significant improvements in food safety, they still do not address crucial challenges: they do not identify low-density foreign bodies and are not capable of characterising the material composition.
Each year around 20% of food produced in the EU is lost or wasted, causing unacceptable social, environmental and economic harm. The business case for food waste prevention is convincing. Research shows a 14:1 return on investment for companies which integrated reduction of food loss and waste in their operations.
There are many reasons for food waste: the lack of technologies capable of rightly evaluating food safety and quality is surely one of them!