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X-Ray technology with laser vision for the future of food packaging

Heat and Control’s IX-GA X-ray series has been designed to meet food industry safety standards on a range of levels, quite literally. Shanna Wong explains.

Food hygiene and safety have always been important factors within the food and beverage manufacturing sector. However, as packaging and processing lines become increasingly complicated, new technology is needed to upkeep food safety on a global scale.

“X-Ray technology is needed for the safety and security of food supply. Sales of this technology have been increasing since the contaminated strawberries incident,” said Robert Marguccio, Packaging and Inspection Systems Manager of Heat and Control, a distributor of Ishida X-Ray technology.

The incident Marguccio is referring to is the 2018 intentional contamination case in which a disgruntled picker hid needles in punnets of strawberries destined for retail supermarket shelves. The nationwide recalls that followed were damaging to a number of Australian Strawberry brands and shocked the food industry, prompting a new approach.

“Over the years we’ve seen all kinds of sabotage from disgruntled employees. We’ve seen bakery lines where razor blades have been put into cakes,” said Marguccio.

Incidents like this are prime examples of the crucial role that X-Ray technology plays in ensuring food packaging safety. But, it isn’t just about food safety. Changes to packaging materials in ready-to-eat meals are another factor in the growing demand for this technology.

“Traditionally people used metal detectors at the end of their production lines. But as soon as you start working with metalised film, or foil trays for pre-packaged meals, you have no choice but to use X-Ray inspection technology,” said Marguccio.

Coupled with the COVID-19 pandemic, which saw the closing of restaurants and increased demand for pre-packaged and takeaway foods, the demand for X-ray technology has been further exacerbated.

According to Marguccio, Heat and Control clients saw increased demand for products which in turn led to the need for additional production lines and X-Ray machines.

“In some instances, X-Rays are a requirement for export,” said Marguccio. For example, in Japan they will not buy a product, unless it has been through an X-ray machine. Heat and Control takes many orders from Australian based Japanese companies, who buy Ishida X-Ray machines.”

As a global industrial technology developer, Ishida produces a range of X-Ray machines that are at the forefront of food safety technology. The IX-GA Series X-Ray Inspection Systems feature a genetic algorithm software with a five-level image processing software that is just as advanced as it sounds.

The technology

X-Rays fundamentally work by analysing the absorption of energy. When passing a food product through an X-Ray, a detector at the bottom of the system detects what energy hasn’t been absorbed by the food product.

“It works by looking at a grey scale,” said Marguccio. “If there is a contaminant, it will have different density to the product, and it will absorb more energy, hence coming up as a black spot on the detector. Then the algorithm will compare all the pixels around the dark spot and determine if it really is a contaminant or product variation.”

Traditionally, in X-Ray technologies, only one algorithm is used. With Ishida’s IX-GA series, there are five.

“When we use multiple algorithms, we can look at different aspects of the food product, all within in the one system,” said Marguccio. “One level might be looking at the greyscale, the next level might be looking at shape recognition, and the next level might be looking at product breakages or missing items and so on.”

These algorithms also help with system accuracy.

Having different levels helps determine between small and large black areas of pixels and this can also include different intensities of each area.

“Rather than solely looking at it in terms of how much energy the product has absorbed, the GA series is looking at the product in many different ways.”

In Ishida’s newest range, the GN series, there are now seven levels that can be utilised. A large cereal client of ours has been using one of the levels to detect “open flap”. That is, the ability to determine if the flap on the carton has been glued shut properly.

“The “open flap” detection was one of the main reasons this company purchased nine of these units, one for each line. Because there are so many algorithms, and this technology can look at it logically from many different angles,” said Marguccio.

Levelling up

Through the different levels, Ishida inspection systems reduce manual labour and the associated costs and time efficiencies that come with digitalisation.

“In times gone by food operators have relied on visual inspection” said Marguccio. “With a human operator, fatigue and perceptions of the product can cause issues. But with machines you can be confident your inspection will be consistent, and be assured that your detection level will be greater than 98 per cent.”

Ishida prides itself in the reliability of its products. Looking beyond technological aspects, features such as equipment enclosure casing are built to handle high-pressure washdowns with stainless-steel finishing. Different enclosure housing is available and can be purchased for both dry and wet environments.

Installation

Heat and Control offers testing and trials on a range of equipment and can innovatively add value to operations. Visit one of their test facilities for a free demonstration with your own product. As process and product technologists, Heat and Control engineers innovative equipment solutions and refines processes so that manufacturers can bring their best products to market.

From a single piece of equipment through to a complete fully integrated system with full engineering, design and food technologist input, customers enjoy the benefit of local manufacture, total project management and aftersales service located here in Australia.

Challenges

The biggest challenge posed with X-Ray installation is the regulation of radiation technology within Australia. There is a national ‘red book’ of X-Ray standards which is open to interpretation and means each state has a different X-Ray standard and regulation.

In order to comply with state regulation, technicians must be licensed in the state they are working in and so different management and licenses are required in every state.

Choosing an X-ray

Working across the spectrum of the food industry, Heat and Control has completed countless installations and understands the numerous challenges faced by customers. Designed to help food manufacturers and processors comply with global safety standards X-Ray inspection systems allow you to protect both your brand and the consumer.

“The most important thing is for food manufacturers to work with their supplier to understand the capabilities and what results are achievable, relative to their product because every product and application is different” said Marguccio.

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