Three Foreign Material Detection Stories From the Meat Processing Plant

What’s a word that springs to mind when you think about the issue of foreign materials in meat processing? Unintentional and problematic top the list, but inevitable could easily fit in there too. That’s because the materials that lead to contamination on the processing line – including wood pallets, cardboard combos, plastic liners, disposable gloves and more – are, quite literally, all over the plant. 

Foreign material incidents can happen easily: an employee leaves their knife on the edge of a combo or an operator tears one of their rubber gloves. Whether or not these incidents are identified depends on your foreign material control program and the detection technology you choose. 

We know that automated inspection technologies are not created equal (and we’ve got the data to prove it). The technology that will be most effective for a plant depends on the types of foreign materials that are impacting their operation. 

Here’s where it gets tricky. The people in the plants don’t know what they don’t know about their foreign material issues. The items a hyperspectral imaging system finds in their product stream can lead to the realization that their foreign materials problem is bigger than they thought. 

I’ve seen this happen many times on the front lines in the plants I’ve visited. Keep reading to discover 4 of the most eye-opening foreign material findings. 

Foreign Material Finding #1: The Rubber Glove Flub

At a fresh pork processing plant, a line operator came into the office complaining about a hole in one of the green rubber gloves she had put on that morning. She replaced the glove and went back to the line.

A few minutes later she came back to the office excited that PPO’s hyperspectral imaging system had found the missing piece of her glove. We compared the glove to the foreign material finding and discovered they were an exact match. 

A piece of raw pork with a tiny fragment of green rubber resting on top sits beside a glove with the matching hole.

The timing of this foreign material finding was incredible. The models in PPO’s system had just been turned on that morning. Since the system found the tiny piece of glove so quickly, it created immediate operator buy-in for the new inspection technology that the plant had just adopted. 

Employees are one of a plant’s most important assets, so it’s key for them to be engaged with the technology. In this case, the system created a lifelong believer who quickly spread the word. 

I’ve seen our hyperspectral imaging find even smaller fragments. At another plant we were testing the system to failure by placing different sizes of green nitrile glove fragments on product. The smallest fragment was 1 millimeter – or 1/64 of an inch. 

A batch of raw meat with a tiny, 1 millimeter-sized piece of green rubber glove on top.

Once the line started you couldn’t see the foreign material with the naked eye, but the hyperspectral imaging system caught it every time. 

Foreign Material Finding #2: The Tattoo Snafu

Some of the most interesting foreign material findings are those that aren’t tested into the model loaded into the hyperspectral imaging system. This was the case in a pork processing plant where the system spontaneously started rejecting product with visible tattoo ink.

Close up of pork with visible green/blue tattoo ink.

The plant was very pleased with this result and wanted to ensure the system would continue kicking out product with tattoo ink. Access to real-time information and reporting also gives them the insights to take action. They can go back to their suppliers with pictures of the affected product and associated combo numbers to demonstrate the frequency of the issue. 

In this case, a picture was worth a thousand words. 

Foreign Material Finding #3: Clear Plastic Puzzle

When product is zipping by on a line at 50 or 80 feet per minute, it’s challenging to see even high-contrast foreign materials with the naked eye. When that foreign material is clear plastic, it becomes impossible – unless you have the right technology in place.

Clear plastic liner visible on the surface of meat on a processing line.
Spec image of clear plastic liner visible on the surface of meat on a processing line.

In this plant, PPO’s hyperspectral imaging system immediately rejected the affected product, which the team then learned was contaminated with clear plastic liner. A second rejection happened less than three minutes later. Since both rejected batches came from the same combo the team knew exactly what they were looking for. 

It’s Not Just Foreign Material Detection. It’s Peace of Mind.

Most business leaders in meat processing will admit they’ve lost sleep worrying about when the next food recall is coming and whether it’s going to hit their operation. 

Even if a recall doesn’t hit your company directly, it hurts the entire industry. Removing foreign materials before they get into the food supply is a big win for everyone – consumers and processors alike. It keeps people’s confidence in the food supply high. 

Many plants have invested in PPO’s Smart Imaging System to find the most challenging foreign materials on their processing lines. If you want to take a closer look at how hyperspectral imaging in meat processing can help you find a broader range of low-density foreign materials, reach out to speak with one of our experts.\

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