New magnetic separation technology is set to save food and dairy manufacturers from detrimental product recalls.
Braden Goddin (pictured below), Product Manager for Aurora Process Solutions, has the unpleasant task of sitting down with food producers and talking about product recalls.
“It’s a difficult topic to bring up,” he said. “A recall is one of the worst things that can happen to a food producer. There is the tangible cost of actually pulling the food off the shelves and disposing of it, and the intangible cost to a brand and its reputation in the marketplace.”
Sadly, product recalls are becoming if not common, at least regularly covered in the media, as companies find themselves in terrible situations. At best, a food recall costs a firm thousands of dollars– at worst, the recall can affect the health of consumers, leading to a public outcry against a brand.
Goddin is having these conversations, however, because he’s part of a team dedicated to helping companies avoid food recalls. His company is working to popularise magnetic separation in the Australasian food processing industry, specifically among powdered milk products. It’s what he called a “very cost effective insurance” for companies that risk contamination from metallic foreign objects.
“Keeping foreign matter out of your product it massive, it’s something you want to avoid at all costs. Just think about a food processing factory; say you’re making an infant formula. It’s a complex process. You might be pushing out tonnes of product an hour, moving through thousands of metal parts,” said Goddin. “Then you have the end consumer, the parent, literally sifting through the formula one tablespoon at a time. Then they find a black particle in the formula and their outraged reaction is understandable.”
In addition to risks to a producer’s reputation, and consumers’ health, Goddin said food producers must consider the risks to their processing equipment.
“Some products need to be ground, milled, minced, and mixed. This machinery operates at high speeds and tolerances and can become extremely dangerous if metal contamination is processed. This can escalate the impact of foreign matter,” explained Goddin. “In some situations there is the risk of explosion from sparks ignited from pieces of metal that are not supposed to be there. It’s not just about protecting the brand, but also about protecting your people, plant and equipment.”
He adds that by ensuring cleaner product is passing through a machine, manufacturers should be able to reduce the maintenance that’s needed on the equipment.
The use of magnets in food processing on its own is nothing new. Goddin explained, however the performance expectation of magnetic separators is changing considerably. Micro particles of foreign matter that used to be seen as acceptable are now targeted with consumers and regulators lifting the bar in terms of quality expectation.
Aurora stands out from its competitors as having developed its magnets hand in hand with actual food processors, working with major food & dairy manufacturers. The magnets themselves are rare earth magnets, meaning they require no power or consumable to operate. Traditionally, companies have just worked to make these magnets as strong as possible. What Aurora has done is work closely with its clients to develop a magnet that fits manufacturers’ needs, in terms of hygiene, design, product flow, and capacity requirements.
“We realised pretty early on that we had to design a range of magnets ourselves, utilising our global connections,” said Goddin. “We worked directly with the people on the floor, the people who were working day in, day out in these factories right through to laboratory technicians to come up with something that would revolutionise magnets from both a technical and operational perspective.”
The result of that work is the Force10 range of magnets (pictured top), one of the industries only HACCP-endorsed magnetic separation systems. Although it works across most processing operations, Aurora has focused on the needs of the food and dairy industries.
Braden notes that processors that are already looking at their foreign matter, through the use of metal detection and X-ray technology, will still need to consider integrating the use of magnets, as they pick up critical brackets of foreign matter that are not captured by other means and also provide protection right through the process from intakes to packing.
“The magnets work hand in hand with these systems. Metal detection, X-ray, filtration and sifting technology have limitations, depending on particle size, orientation, product and process characteristics, and so on,” he said.
By implementing these systems, Godin said processors can rest easier at night, knowing that the products that travel out of the factory, onto retail shelves, then into a consumer’s pantry are clean.
“Foreign matter is a critical and escalating issue right now, it’s at the front of the market’s mind,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity to add value to your brand.”