Foreign Material Contamination in Frozen Foods

Featuring a Conversation with Dr. Donna Garren

Given the number of different ingredients incorporated into finished product, as well as a multi-step packaging process, the frozen food industry must remain vigilant in managing the risk of foreign material contamination. For years, the only options for producers in the industry who suspected an issue were to attempt to rework the product internally or send it to a landfill. With new technology, there are other options that can be implemented—similar to third-party labs that test product for microbiological issues, third-party X-ray inspection service providers are on the rise. 

Recently, we spoke with Dr. Donna Garren, Executive Vice President of Science and Policy at the American Frozen Food Institute. According to Dr. Garren, third-party inspection can help reduce risk—and with the high number of recalls within the food industry recently due to possible foreign material contamination, reducing risk is paramount to sending a successful product to market. “Not to mention, you have the opportunity to build customer confidence in the process,” Garren noted.

When asked why more manufacturers don’t incorporate third-party inspection as part of their process, Dr. Garren stated that manufacturers are concerned about chain of custody. Some lack knowledge of how third-party foreign material inspections work and in turn, worry about a loss of control for quality assurance managers. After all, the quality assurance team is responsible for protecting the product. If you do choose third-party inspection, it’s imperative that you look for: 

  • A vendor that follows good manufacturing practices and is audited by a GFSI auditor
  • Climate-controlled facilities that protect frozen product integrity
  • Multiple inspection lines that enable efficiency without sacrificing accuracy
  • Temperature monitoring at every step of the process, from receipt to departure

Specifically mentioned by Dr. Garren, for frozen food manufacturers, supplier validation is the true lynchpin when it comes to combating foreign material contamination. Garren said, “Third-party inspection goes one step beyond, because you have an outside, independent source to verify product quality.” 

You can (and should) send completed product out for inspection or testing on an ongoing basis, a sentiment repeatedly noted by Dr. Garren. Even more valuable, she pointed out, is ensuring your product is set up for success from the beginning. In the same way that you have a responsibility to your customers, your suppliers have a responsibility to you. Make sure that the product they’re sending you doesn’t carry a few “surprises” with it. 

When it comes to foreign material contamination, you’ve got a lot to consider. As Dr. Garren outlined, from meeting quotas to controlling costs to managing customer expectations, there are weighty considerations resting on plant managers’ shoulders. During the interview, Dr. Garren called to mind a major source of that weight: regulatory oversight, namely USDA FSIS.

The most common concern Dr. Garren has heard from manufacturers in the frozen food space is that conducting an inspection once product is ready to send to market isn’t worth the cost. That begs the question: What about the costs of a recall if contaminated product is sent to market? The consequences cited by her include: 

  • Damage to your brand reputation
  • Disposal of a large quantity of your product
  • High costs and potential fines

Determining the best course of action for your product—and ultimately, your bottom line—is a balancing act. Once you understand your options, the next step is to weigh the costs (financial and otherwise) and then, choose the right approach for your company and product. 

If you are interested in learning more about how third-party inspection works and want to see if it is a good fit for your business, consider FlexXray. Our X-ray inspection services provide better accuracy, better cost savings and better results for your brand. If you have product on hold or would like to learn more about what we do, contact us today!

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