Foreign Material Contamination

The Biggest Problem in the Food Industry

There is a big problem in the food industry that no one wants to talk about: foreign material contamination. If you’re in the food industry, foreign material contamination is inescapable. It happens to every manufacturer at one time or another, even large manufacturers with the most robust regulations in place. Food foreign contamination is a nightmare for QA professionals and food manufacturers, damaging products, profits and brand reputations with the power to lead to PR crises and lawsuits. What is it and why is it so deadly to business?

What is Foreign Material Contamination? 

Foreign material contamination has always been a problem, even before it had a name. The term indicates extraneous material that gets into product and includes any situation where an object unintentionally enters a product before or during the production process.

There are three types to look out for:
  1. Contamination could occur in a product where ingredients are sourced, from inadvertent material from the field including stones, metal, insects and wood.
  2. Contamination could occur in a manufacturing facility from processing and handling materials including metal, glass, bone, plastic, rust and beyond.
  3. Contamination could occur from a material indegenous to the product such as bone fragments in a protein product.

Foreign material contamination has a significant negative impact on food safety and on business, and has increasingly plagued food manufacturers since the manufacturing industry’s inception. Why is this such an issue now? Read more about the history of food manufacturing on our blog.  

92,250,000 pounds of product salvaged in 2020.

The Role of Technology in Foreign Material Contamination

Advanced technology and automated processes that began in the Industrial Revolution have bolstered the output, speed and capabilities of the food industry. Not only has technology made manufacturing more seamless and convenient, but it has also given food manufacturers the ability to meet the growing demands of providing for our world population of 7.5 billion people.

“Technology over the years has changed how we produce and find our food through applications, robotics, data and processing techniques.”
– Expert on AI and Big Data and Forbes contributor, Nicole Martin

As the food industry has become more technologically advanced, there are greater opportunities for food foreign contamination to occur from automated machinery. When machines replace humans, there are risks involved. Machines are liable to break, rub, chip or otherwise err, allowing for metal, plastic, machine parts and beyond to get into the food supply chain during production.

The State of Food Manufacturing Today:

Today, foreign material contamination is a nightmare for manufacturers and production facilities. If food foreign contamination is found through internal inspection processes and protocols, manufacturers must put their product on hold. They face limited and costly choices to deal with their on-hold product including rework and disposal. Today, more than 40% of the food supply in the U.S. ends up in landfills, and foreign material contamination plays a significant role in this environmental problem.  

If contamination is present in their product, manufacturers have the potential to jeopardize the safety of the food supply, hurt a consumer’s health, and risk recalls and lawsuits if they send the contaminated product into distribution. 

Over the last decade, there has been a significant increase in pounds of recalled food recorded by the United States Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). There have been several notable, dramatic increases in food recalled due to extraneous material including a 43% increase from 2018 to 2019.

How does Foreign Material Contamination enter product?

Even with the industry’s technological advances, the food manufacturing industry hasn’t been able to eliminate this problem. In fact, foreign material contamination can enter product at any time in production. This is due to the fact that there is more machinery and technology at every stage of the production process. 

Foreign material contamination is deadly to food safety, products, profit margins and brand reputations. Manufacturers can agree that it is a huge problem in the industry, and must be stopped. One of the surest ways to stop foreign material contamination in its tracks? Third-party x-ray product inspection.

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