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Company news

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27 Jan 2023

MAKE IT DON’T FAKE IT Steps that food processors can take to help prevent the circulation of unsafe food during the cost-of-living crisis and beyond.

Research released by Trading Standards in England and Wales has revealed a worrying and growing trend in the fraud underworld, including treble the volume of counterfeit goods being seized in 2021/22. Indicative of the impact being felt by the ongoing cost-of-living crisis, rising energy costs and escalating food prices, the report highlights a significant increase in detriment scams, counterfeit goods, unsafe products and food fraud.  

 

Drawing specific attention to the on-going cost-of-living challenges, the Impacts and Outcomes Report for 2021/22 by the Association of Chief Trading Standards Officers[1] suggests that the risks to consumers from scams, counterfeit and illicit goods, and false and misleading prices are being exacerbated. Leading to greater brand-damaging exploitation by unscrupulous traders and suppliers.

 

Last year Trading Standards did a sterling job, removing 4.2 million unsafe or non-compliant products from the market place. Over 7000 businesses were identified as supplying food that was mis-described, did not correctly declare allergens, contained toxic or illegal components or was involved in food fraud.

 

So what can food processors do to ramp up their own fraud detection efforts? Jodie Curry, Commercial Manager at food safety and contaminant detection firm, Fortress Technology, suggests that it starts with strengthening defences on production lines. Installing metal detectors, checkweighers and food x-ray machines can be a practical way for food manufacturers to mitigate the risk of fraudulent activities infiltrating product integrity.

 

Stepping up the fight

During periods of heightened inflationary volatility and consumer uncertainty, falling prey to fraudulent activities worsens. Auditors refer to this as the ‘fraud triangle’, whereby motivation, opportunity and rationalisation merge to create a perfect - and more prolific - fraud storm. Getting ahead of future exploitations is the trick. Data reporting and controls, inspection systems, traceability documentation and creating a strong fraud prevention internal culture can help to deter counterfeiters trying their luck.

 

There are numerous authenticity deterrents. Nowadays, few genuine food producers operate lines without at least one contaminant inspection check on a production line. For many suppliers, metal detection is mandated by various schemes, including BRC, SQF and GFSI.

 

An anti-fraud culture, however, does require a collaborative and joined-up approach. In addition to national cooperation and rules set by international food safety authorities and border controls, food manufacturers themselves are accountable for implementing systems that will prevent, minimise or eliminate what is classed by authorities as being economically motivated adulteration. Activities of this nature in the EU are monitored, reported and shared through the EU Food Fraud Network.  In England and Wales, they are documented by ACTSO in the annual Impacts and Outcomes Framework report.

While metal detection and x-ray inspection systems are great at identifying contaminants during the manufacturing process, rejecting products and providing a traceable farm to fork audit trail, fraud itself can be inherently harder to spot. For food manufacturers, responsible sourcing is the key to mitigating food fraud risks in the supply chain. There are tools that can help with this, including data analysis, sensor technology and DNA sequencing.

 

Food safety red flags

Food fraud can often be identified at the early stages with low-level non-compliance. Knowing that a supplier has invested in a respected food safety inspection system and has the data to back it up can be a deterrent for smaller-scale fraudsters. If a supplier is not willing to share details of their inspection system or participate in a risk assessment audit, that should provide food processors with an instant red flag alert.

 

Requesting access to traceable data system reports can be another deterrent. Manual records are more vulnerable as it’s easier for someone to alter and modify them. Automated record keeping, for instance the optional Contact 4.0 software from Fortress, helps processors keep track of and record logs for rejects, tests, settings etc. Other options include Communication Adapters such as Ethernet-IP and OPC/UA.

 

Label authentication

Consumer health and wellbeing in the last decade has pushed labelling higher up the agenda for regulatory bodies. Classed as fraud and a criminal offence, the mis-description of food deceives consumers. It can trick people into buying something they might not otherwise purchase. But of greatest concern, is it poses serious risks to people intolerant or allergic to certain foods.

 

EU mandatory obligations already require labels to specify the origin of specific food items, including honey, olive oil and most unprocessed meats. It’s also against the law to incorrectly or fail to describe a process, or wrongly state the volume of ingredients etc. Companies are increasingly being held to account for all of the label information that is published.

 

However, the authenticity of food labels are only effective if all the information can be verified against a reliable source, documented for traceability purposes and isn’t misleading. Also, regulations are frequently changed. Meaning it is the responsibility of the food industry to stay up-to-date with the legal requirements.

 

Although these label checks can be performed manually, it is extremely labour intensive, and prone to human errors. Installing smart cameras or an automated label verification system onto fast moving inspection lines may be advisable. 

 

Product tampering

Replacing high value food items with cheap substitutes or adulterating products is a key target for fraudsters. Organic produce, cereals and grains, premium herbs, meat, seafood, and sugar products, including maple syrup and honey, are listed by Europol as the most commonly tampered food products. 

 

If the quality of high value foods is being compromised, installing a metal detector designed for low profile products can help to determine if ultra thin metals are present. The Interceptor DF (Divergent Field) uses multiple fields to inspect products as they pass through the detector. This increases the probability of finding a small swarf, shaving, or flake of metal, regardless of the orientation.

 

Metal detectors can also address the issue of intentional sabotage. Farmers in Canada, for example, introduced customised Fortress bulk metal detectors following a spate of high profile potato sabotage cases.

Where there is additional risk of contamination from stone, glass, bone, rubber and plastic, then X-Ray is a vital addition to food processing operations. X-Ray is also crucial for inspecting products in metallised packaging, for example cans, tins or foil. In addition to food safety, an X-Ray machine can flag if there are any missing components in product i.e. specific ingredients in ready meals, missing chocolates in a box or meat absorbers in raw meat. It can also detect any broken or mispackaging that has occurred during the processing, helping to assure consumers of absolute quality of the end product.

 

Counteracting the counterfeiters

For food, it’s easy to be hoodwinked by something that resembles the real thing. Fraud is ultimately an opportunistic action. And when profit margins are being squeezed, it’s tempting to seek cheaper materials or ingredients.

 

Food manufacturers can counteract this by ensuring they and their suppliers implement robust inspection measures. Jodie concludes: “Products that have been tampered will inherently be of poorer quality. When corners are being cut, contaminants are more likely to be present, and underweight items might slip through the net.

 

“Although metal detection and inspection equipment might not spot fake foods, they can act as a very strong deterrent across the entire purchasing chain, especially during these challenging times when everyone is feeling the squeeze.”

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27 Jan 2023

Off-the-shelf: Delivering supermarket-spec food safety due diligence

Metal detection systems continue to be the mainstay of preventing contaminants entering the food production chain. As more and more advanced equipment enters the market, food safety specialist Fortress Technology has engineered a retailer-spec conveyor system that reassuringly ticks all the due diligence requirements for all product and application requirements. 

 

Fully compliant with British Retail Consortium, HACCP and GFSI food safety standards, the Fortress all-in-one Retail-Spec Conveyor comprises numerous future-proof features. Among them ARM microprocessing power and state-of-the-art infeed, outfeed and reject sensors.

 

As many Fortress customers testify, purchasing a conveyor system with fully integrated technology, including retailer Codes of Practice (COP), is a failsafe way of ensuring that the metal detector will function at peak performance levels and meet retailers current and future stringent inspection performance requirements.

 

Sticking to its Simple to Use; Smart under the hood engineering principles, the Fortress Retail Spec Conveyor is equivocally less about conveyor belt size or configuration, but more linked to the placement of smart sensors confirms sales manager Jaison Anand.

 

Brains over brawn

Describing the sensors as the brains of the retailer-ready metal detector, Jaison expands: “In our experience, food processors can feel overwhelmed by the breadth of inspection technology choices. Built to a higher retailer’s Food standards, the rationale for creating our Retailer Spec Conveyor was to address this minefield and provide customers with future-proof functionality.” Fortress intentionally uses this particular retailer’s food safety standards as the benchmark, as they are the most stringent, affirms Jaison.

 

Machine sensors feature at every step of the inspection process. As packs travel into a Fortress metal detector, the infeed sensor registers its presence. If there’s no contamination trigger, the outfeed sensor identifies the pack leaving the metal detector, while the reject sensor will track the placement of potentially contaminated product into the BRC-approved bins. “It’s a seamless and failsafe process that uses our Contact software to register every sensor activity, fault fix and signal in parallel,” confirms Jaison.

 

All these simultaneous activities are only possible with ARM Processing. “The true benefit of ARM Processing comes from being able to run multiple inspection processes within milli-seconds of each other, without missing a beat. This is done with the  highest precision, while also capturing and storing valuable processing data for traceability.”

 

For nut specialist Trigon Snacks, opting for a Fortress Stealth supermarket-spec conveyor metal detector fulfilled the company’s every inspection requirement. Retailer COPs specified that as ‘naked nuts’ the company’s honey-coated range must be inspected for metal contaminants prior to own-label packaging. Additionally, Trigon required a customised retailer specification metal detector that was sensitive enough to adapt to the fine oil and sugar tolerances.

 

Keeping to the code
Retailer COP revisions, although infrequent, can be a major headache for food processors and machinery manufacturers alike. To navigate these future unknowns, Fortress offers a simple and cost effective route to adhere to evolving compliance and fault warning risks.

 

In order to minimise business interruption, software upgrades can usually be performed as part of a validation or routine maintenance visit. From a continuity perspective, the menu and functional set up will typically look and feel exactly the same.

 

For smarter machine monitoring and to support supply-chain traceability, the company’s suite of Contact software offers simple yet effective data capture. Now including Contact 4.0 for remote monitoring of multiple metal detectors within the network, this software helps manufacturers to maintain HACCP compliance and traceable quality assurance recordkeeping. Features include event logging, data collection and on-demand reports. All this data is collated from information captured by the three machine sensors. Reports can be downloaded and exported via the USB located next to the HMI.

 

Comparing the costs of purchasing a new machine versus a Fortress upgrade, Jaison remarks that it’s a no brainer. “You are typically looking at several hundred rather than tens of thousands of pounds buying new inspection kit. Most importantly for fast-paced food processing environments, compliance can be instant.”

 

Jaison highlights that realistically changes to COPs focus on fail safes and addressing any machine misuse loopholes. There haven’t been any significant revisions assures Jaison for nearly seven years. “Nevertheless, we never take our eye off the ball. As soon as a new quality control or COP feature is added, Fortress R&D can be trusted to be on the upgrade case.”

 

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27 Oct 2022

Digital Testing wins national food safety accolade

Testament that digital is the future, Fortress Technology has triumphed at the PPMA Group Industry Awards 2022, winning the top prize for Halo Digital Testing in the most Innovative Processing System category. 


Topping of another successful PPMA show, judges commended the company’s Halo Digital Testing solution for “solving a problem applicable to all food manufacturers doing metal detection testing, making it simpler for staff with no production disruption.”

 

Celebrating the best in British manufacturing, earning such high acclaim in the Most Innovative Processing System category showcases the appetite for digital tools among industry leaders to improve efficiency and increase audit transparency. Highly regarded in processing, packaging, manufacturing and robotics circles, Fortress fought off strong competition from automation counterparts to win this revered trophy.


Commercial Manager Jodie Curry exclaims that it’s a sign of the times how much ‘digital’ tools are changing and improving the way tasks are performed. Particularly in fast paced food processing environments. She expands: “The adoption of automated technology features that deliver standardisation, less complexity and ease of access, all help food processors to be more efficient and productive. Our Halo Digital Testing is a brilliant example of how our company goes about creating technology tools that give corporations better control over compliance data, optimising  food safety and providing fully traceable and auditable reporting documentation.”


Unique to Fortress and developed in-house in collaboration with the largest snack factory in the United States, Halo Digital Testing was originally engineered to overcome the major limitations of performing manual checks on vertical snack inspection lines. 


With over 100+ Vertex metal detectors operating around the clock, 24/7, side-by-side, this global snack manufacturer, and subsequently several more, reported significant challenges resourcing manual checks to adhere to international food safety reporting standards. In particular the access challenges, high waste and health and safety risks incurred when testing metal detectors located below walkways on high freefalling product lines. 


Answering their calls for a productive automated testing solution, Halo Digital Testing – a separate kit of electronics from the metal detector search head – was engineered. Mimicking the signal disturbance without physically passing a test sample through the product, food operatives and QC staff can activate tests remotely or from ground level via the HMI. Not only is this safer for staff, it saves snack, ingredient, cereal, meat and dairy processors and packing plants significant time, money and other operational costs, with an ROI of less than 12 months.


“No other technology in the food inspection market can test all sizes and metal types so reliably, precisely and at such a fast speed,” commented one snack manufacturer. 


Honouring the cream of the manufacturing crop,  the annual PPMA Group 2022 awards recognised just five companies for their technological innovation, packaging prowess, vision and robotics machinery and customer service. “Winning this respected award was a great way to celebrate another highly successful PPMA show. Having our product, time and money saving engineering efforts endorsed by our industry

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