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Company news

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02 Feb 2023

BESPOKE FOOD INSPECTION TRENDS TO WATCH

Food processing machinery is a dynamic market – full of change and plenty of digital innovation. While out-of-the-box turnkey inspection applications are great, connecting legacy production lines to modern technology can be fraught with upgrades and customised development work.

 

Given that legacy equipment is deeply rooted in the manufacturing world and considering the capital expenditure is already likely to be in the millions, food safety and inspection specialist Fortress Technology examines the lower cost customisation steps that food manufacturers can take to integrate, retrofit, and connect new machinery and architectures with the old. Optimising investments within the same, if not smaller, footprints.  

 

Purchasing a customised inspection machine with an integrated conveyor system, fully assembled and quality checked by a reputable inspection machinery manufacturer, is a failsafe way of ensuring that the equipment will function at the required performance levels, fit within the production line and meet retailer and HACCP in-line inspection standards. By rationalising its product range and by sticking to the company’s longstanding ethos - “simple on the surface but sophisticated under the hood,” customisations - purpose built to customer specifications - are second nature to Fortress Technology’s engineering team.

 

Often tasked with installing a metal detector, x-ray or checkweigher into an existing production line and configuring with legacy upstream or downstream equipment, the team always starts with a thorough application survey. Photos and videos enables the design team to factor in the unique product handling requirements, plus any dimensional restrictions around the planned installation location.

 

Creating a concept design is next. A wide range of belt sizes are available in heavy duty, hygienic or modular plastic chain belting. There is also a wide selection of reject mechanisms. The engineering team can scope out all the requirements and will consider every potential complication. This is reviewed with the customer to ensure they are happy with the proposal, or determine what changes are required, before creating a final approved design to go into production.

 

Conveyor customisations

Although extremely effective, the conveyor has certain design limitations. It’s why demand for customised solutions accounts for around 20% of Fortress machinery and conveyor orders. Even the conveyors are somewhat customised to specifications to meet existing factory configurations and ensure metal detector performance is optimised.

 

Strict dimensions, the choice of reject mechanisms and high care sanitation requirements are other common reasons for conveyor customisations. Fortress European Commercial Manager Jodie Curry explains: “Due to line speed, belt requirement or product profile, a particular reject mechanism may be needed that is incompatible with the conveyor, for instance sweep arms or retractable band rejects. Also, in some instances, for example when the footprint is tight, a customised conveyor is the only way to ensure that the ‘metal-free’ zone is not invaded, which could cause false readings.”

 

If clients require simple additions, such as buzzers and alarms, or want to equip their systems with the latest smart digital technology, almost anything is possible.

 

Testament to the possibilities, Fortress created a customised twin-lane inspection/conveyor system for a pizza crust manufacturer. Although the line speed wasn’t particularly fast, and the product wasn’t especially difficult

to handle, the detection system needed to precisely align with existing upstream and downstream legacy equipment.

 

The most viable option was a customised S-curve conveyor. The reject mechanism also proved challenging. Air blast wasn’t suitable because of the belt width. A kicker proved incompatible because of the pizzas’ low profile. And there was insufficient space to accommodate a flap style reject. The solution was an innovative retracting reject mechanism.

 

Only marginally more expensive that a standard conveyor design, lead times are generally only a few weeks longer for a fully customised system. Most of this is due to the extra design work required to ensure that any customised system meets the exact application requirements.

 

Legacy gateways

Even when there are design limitations, a modular design process, spanning every system in a range, can be indicative of a high-quality machine build. Interchangeable electronic boards are another example of when Fortress pushes the customised frontier.

 

Down to a metal detector search head, Fortress components can be replaced with the latest revision of a part, or a metal detector could even be upgraded to a newer model.

 

Access to expandable I/O hardware is also beneficial. An optional piece of hardware, it connects via the Ethernet to the Fortress metal detector hardware. If the number of I/O’s on the DSP board has reached its limit, the expandable I/O can add additional inputs and outputs to a machine’s current capability. For example, a customer may require extra communication between upstream and downstream equipment, or just to the PLC, reject devices, monitoring devices, etc.

 

Technology like this can be utilised as a way to bridge the gap between legacy systems and today’s digitally ‘smart’ turnkey production lines, emphasises Jodie.

 

“Very rarely do food factories ‘rip out and replace.’  In many instances, the machinery on the line represents millions in capital expenditure and has potentially decades of useful life in it. The benefit of bespoke means that production lines can be retrofitted to incorporate smarter food safety solutions - adding future proofing value.”

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02 Feb 2023

OPTIMISING HYGIENE CONTROLS IN FOOD PROCESSING ENVIRONMENTS

Recent events, particularly the Coronavirus pandemic, has heightened awareness on hygiene compliance and the need for people throughout the food supply chain to accept personal responsibility for maintaining equipment cleaning routines and sanitation protocols. Metal and X-Ray contaminant detection and checkweighing specialist Fortress Technology outlines some simple ways to build compliance custodians that will embrace food safety from start-to-end on food processing lines, and the role that hygiene habits, equipment innovation and leadership support play. Without effective cleaning and hygiene systems in place, inspection equipment could actually become a source of contamination. Chemicals used for cleaning can also contaminate food if not effectively flushed through.

Adhering to best hygiene practices is the single thing that food manufacturers cannot cut corners on. Across Europe, standards are already very high. However, the pressure since the global pandemic has changed the landscape for a number of food processors, with localised labour challenges and supply chain
disruptions further complicating mandatory audits. The pandemic reinforced the importance of food processors conveying confidence and having robust and proactive HACCP, GFSI/SQF, BRC and hygiene protocols in place. The challenge now is making sure that these remain aligned to evolving colleague and consumer health, safety and wellbeing expectations.
Although price remains king when it comes to food purchasing drivers, safety has now emerged as an equally critical consideration. A report by Deloitte – The Future of Fresh – summarises this well, citing food safety as having multiple dimensions. Among the factors listed in this report is safety for self, others, and the workers who produce food, as well as safety in terms of packaging, to prevent contamination.
Calming allergen fears Today, more than 150 million Europeans suffer from chronic allergic diseases, with predictions that by 2025, half of the entire EU population will be affected. Many more also report hypersensitivity to specific ingredients. For example; one in 100 Europeans are affected by coeliac disease, although only a third have an official clinical diagnosis for the condition.
For food safety reasons, all food and beverage manufacturers have a responsibility to identify allergens that are contained in their products. This responsibility extends to isolating them from other non-allergen products processed in the same facility. However, problems may still occur on the supplier side, especially
when sourcing from multiple or multi-function sites.  As one example, dairy-free products are still often produced at sites that make dairy products. Some might
not have dedicated dairy-free machinery and zones. Although thorough clean downs are used to flush away residual dairy products, this method cannot be relied upon as being totally fool-proof.
Planning production schedules to isolate products containing allergens is a common tactic in manufacturing facilities where a dedicated line cannot be allocated. The storage of ingredients should also be separated. Gluten in particular has become a major source of concern, with many sites introducing segregated gluten-
free stations and changes of work clothes for operatives.

Following a number of high profile incidents, allergen labelling has inevitably got stricter. New UK legislation came into force on 1 October 2021. Known as ‘Natasha’s Law’, businesses are now required to label all food that is pre-packed for direct sale (known as PPDS) with a full list of ingredients and the 14
allergens emphasised in bold. Customers that invest in a Fortress or Sparc Systems x-ray and metal detector conveyor, checkweighing or combination inspection machine may benefit from integrating an advanced label verification system. As well as actively inspecting for allergen ID codes, these label systems also check product descriptions, bar codes, lot numbers and date codes. Checking for errors on the top, bottom, lid or pot of packaging, mis-
labelled products are automatically pushed into a rejection bin, safeguarding against potentially business critical events and product recalls.
Making processes habit forming It’s human nature. People like things to be streamlined, efficient, faster and better. Yet, taking hasty shortcuts, particularly with hygiene and consumer food safety is a risky strategy. Being careless with compliance can become a catalyst for more shortcuts. It’s not a cycle any food business would or should encourage. Especially given that many a shortcut results in a bigger problem that takes longer to correct.

Despite high levels of automation, food processing plants continue to have numerous manual touchpoints. Cleaning manufacturing and inspection processing machinery being one. For this reason, Fortress has concentrated its efforts on developing smarter designs to enhance hygiene and safety measures. This includes eliminating the use of tools on the company’s newest range of food inspection systems. The conveyor quickly and easily lifts off the frame and can be disassembled just as quickly to facilitate deeper and faster cleaning by trained operatives. Improving line efficiencies, the belt tension and alignment are
instantly restored when reassembled after maintenance and cleaning.
Routine risk assessments and audits help to control the introduction of foreign material into products. External eyes provide a different perspective. Many internationally recognised audits follow set standards and provide a complete 360-degree review. A number of these information gathering audits remain hybrid,
blending in-person and virtual observations. Digital evidence of all actions, from maintenance and testing of machinery to documenting hygiene checks is integral to the success of these hybrid certification models. It requires a shift in culture, where everyone up and down the hierarchy is encouraged to be hygiene-
conscious food safety champions. Optimising cleaning efficacy To ensure this happens, sanitation protocols should be formalised and included in staff training. Every
cleaning process needs to be verified and documented. As part of a validation process, regular tests, including swabs of Critical Control Points, should be scheduled to ensure these CCP areas are hygienic and allergen-free.
For in-process contaminant inspection equipment, look for smooth, crevice-free contact surfaces on conveyor, pipeline and gravity systems. This is partly to ensure that no traces of product, allergens or bacteria are left, but also to reduce the risk of cleaning agents not being fully rinsed away. When selecting an inspection system, care should be taken to identify equipment with an ingress protection (IP) rating appropriate to the washdown regime and water pressure being applied.

Product residues, including allergens, can be especially troublesome in metal detection and x-ray pipeline systems processing liquids, semi-liquids and slurries. Special attention should be paid to the speed that reject units can be removed, cleaned and reassembled. Ideally, this will be easy to roll out, dismantle and
clean working parts before securely reattaching to pumps. It’s why the Fortress Pump Pipeline Metal Detector now features ultra-hygienic, food-safe Delrin
removable plastic tubes. Intentionally constructed with no metal ends helps to ensure a pipe is completely clear of bacteria-harbouring crevices. Another thing to look out for are Clean in Place modes on equipment. Rather than using unhygienic stickers and labels, all safety symbols, industry-approved markings and the
machine nameplate are laser-etched directly onto every Fortress X-Ray, metal detector and checkweigher steel cabinet.
Food processors might also consider the advantage of being able to manoeuvre machines around the plant. If a machine isn’t fixed to ceilings or frame it is inherently easier and quicker to deep clean. From a flexibility perspective, it also enables easy reconfiguration on upstream processing lines. With all moveable
machinery, do check to see if they are balanced systems, as this mitigates the risk of the machine tipping over when being relocated. For facilities with sloped floors, adjustable casters enable easy correction of pipe angles, for example.
Ergonomic features can also enhance workforce safety. For example, an extension pipe on the reject output helps to prevent injury during sanitation and maintenance, and electric-powered height adjustment controls can mitigate back injuries. Changing the food safety narrative Listening to different perspectives and mapping out hygiene protocols collaboratively rather than reverting to hierarchies is the best way forward to create the safest food processing ecosystem.
Ultimately, good housekeeping is common sense. Most food processors are strong custodians of hygiene and safety practices. However, given the numerous critical control points in a manufacturing facility, Fortress would always advise routinely and systematically revisiting potential hygiene hazards as part of a regular risk assessment and food safety program.

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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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