Fit for Consumption

More Consumers Seek Quality Assurance in Petfood Production

By Kimberly Durkot, Field Marketing Manager at Thermo Fisher Scientific

Product inspection systems can ensure the quality and safety of pet food. Image courtesy of Thermo Fisher Scientific.

More than half of households worldwide are home to at least one domesticated animal according to market research by GfK. So it will come as no surprise that the global pet food and treats market is positively booming, and it is only set to grow further as remote and hybrid working patterns allow more of the population to consider pet ownership.

Pet food is subject to many of the same regulations as products intended for human consumption, so manufacturers must guarantee that products are safe to eat, produced under sanitary conditions, and contain no harmful substances or foreign objects, as well as meeting consumer quality and consistency expectations. Failure to uphold these requirements not only poses a risk to the wellbeing of pets, but can also jeopardize a manufacturer’s reputation. Maintaining such high standards requires the implementation of specialized quality assurance (QA) equipment, and this article explores the tools that can help manufacturers create a product worthy of man’s best friend.

Physical contamination

Foreign bodies can enter the food processing stream from any number of sources. For example, it is relatively common for objects like stones and sticks to be scooped up during the harvesting of raw ingredients. Mixing and grinding operations can also cause debris from worn machinery components to break off into the process line, and it is not unheard of for workers’ jewelry or PPE to make its way onto the conveyor from time to time. On top of this, errors during the packaging process can lead to errant pieces of plastic, foil, cardboard or cellophane contaminating the product. In the unfortunate event of a foreign object being discovered by a consumer, the governing body responsible for regulatory oversight may insist on a full product recall, causing significant financial and reputational losses for the manufacturer. Fortunately, foreign contaminant detection technologies are available that can help prevent these costly incidents.

QA systems

Solutions to detect foreign objects in foodstuffs will usually take the form of metal detectors and X-ray inspection systems, both of which are ubiquitous in the pet food production industry. Metal detectors use electromagnetic induction to interact with highly conductive contaminants and, as the name would suggest, are well suited to the detection of metals. They are relatively inexpensive to buy and have fairly modest power requirements, making them ideal for many smaller operations, while their fast response times allow for the identification of metal contaminants on fast moving conveyors.

X-ray inspection systems, on the other hand, can detect a variety of contaminants – including metal, glass, plastic, stone, and bone – and rely on density differences between the product and contaminants to produce a cross-sectional image. These state-of-the-art scanners employ intelligent software packages to automatically scour images for the presence of foreign bodies, enabling the rejection of contaminated foodstuffs. They also are perfectly suited to the final inspection of packaged products, since they can see through foil containers and generate images of the contents within.

Since metal detection and X-ray inspection techniques have complementary strengths, companies may prefer to strategically employ both solutions at different stages of a process, rather than simply choosing one or the other. For example, combining a metal detector to scan incoming raw materials and an X-ray inspection system to check the final packaged product can provide an added layer of confidence that all foreign contaminants have been identified.

Of course, the elimination of contaminants alone does not guarantee a consistent or high quality product, and accurate weighing of final products is also an essential part of thorough QA. State-of-the-art checkweighers are capable of determining product weights with great precision, and can alert operators to the under or overfilling of product containers. This prevents manufacturers from essentially giving away free product, while ensuring that consumers receive both the quality and the amount of product they are expecting, every time.

What’s next?

The global pet food manufacturing market is expected to grow significantly over the next few years, driven in part by a rise in consumer willingness to invest in higher-end food products and treats for their animals. However, with increased spending comes heightened customer awareness of product quality and consistency, and product inspection systems can provide manufacturers with a valuable toolset to ensure that their foodstuffs are both safe and high quality. The potent combination of checkweighers, X-ray inspection systems and metal detectors can ensure effective and thorough foreign contaminant detection, helping pet food manufacturers to avoid customer disappointment making a dog’s dinner of their reputation.

References

  1. GfK. Man’s best friend: global pet ownership and feeding trends. https://www.gfk.com/insights/mans-best-friend-global-pet-ownership-and-feeding-trends. Accessed 03.07.23

About the Author

Kimberly Durkot collaborates closely with Thermo Fisher Scientific customers to ensure that key market requirements are met during the product development process. Learn more at www.thermofisher.com

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