Mettler-Toledo representative Neil Giles explains how automation and advanced machine vision technology can help food operations untangle complex labelling issues and requirements.
FoodProductionDaily.com: What are some of the recent developments in food labelling requirements that processors should be aware of?
Neil Giles: Regulations governing food labelling, such as the European Union (EU) Directive 2000/13/EC, have existed for a number of years to protect consumer rights, health and well-being. To comply, manufacturers must ensure that the correct weight, price, barcodes and ingredient information are displayed. However, due to an increase in the number of private labels, more and more retailers have introduced their own food safety guidelines to which their suppliers must comply. This is to protect consumer safety and uphold the retailer’s brand reputation. It is prudent, that food manufacturers minimize the risk of mislabelled food products by fully automating their label inspection processes.
Vision inspection systems can ensure that every pack is verified for correct labelling rather than a small sample, to minimize the risk of a product recall. Advanced vision inspection technology offers precision label inspection at high throughput speeds to optimize uptime, and enhance manufacturing efficiency and productivity. In addition, they can check the food container is correctly formed before filling, inspect for seal integrity to guarantee product quality and verify fill level for increased portion control to minimize consumer disappointment if the container is underfilled and wasteful product giveaway for the manufacturer.
Many retailers have their own guidelines for food suppliers to follow, and those guidelines differ from retailer to retailer. Why might this present problems?
The main problem of having varying guidelines is the increased pressure on food suppliers to meet the different rules. In many cases the guidelines from different retailers are very similar, which can lead to confusion for manufacturers. As retailers attempt to differentiate among their competitors, they try to be ahead of the curve by setting their own standards and guidelines. However, having different standards could hinder the ability of suppliers to meet all the different safety requirements and impact small manufacturers’ ability to compete on a global scale when compared with larger companies.
What challenges are food manufacturers going to have to surmount to bring their operations up to speed?
To comply with labelling regulations, food producers need to inspect the labelling of every pack on their production line. However, this can have an impact on production line speeds. In addition, producers need to ensure labels are correctly designed and attached to the container. Vision inspection technology fully automates label inspection, allowing producers to inspect each and every pack, minimizing the risk of mislabelled products reaching the end consumer. By inspecting for lot numbers and barcodes, vision systems also enhance traceability for producers, allowing them to potentially track each pack back through the supply chain. This enables them to demonstrate due diligence in the event of a legal claim against them.
A major challenge facing food manufacturers is the seamless installation of new product inspection technology into the processing line. This can be achieved by selecting an experienced vision inspection partner with detailed knowledge of the technology. In addition, installing metal detection, checkweighing or x-ray inspection machines next to the vision system can allow manufacturers to solve multiple quality control challenges at the same time.
Will meeting standards such as the EU Directive 2000/13/EC require much in the way of financial outlay—new equipment, training, etc.?
The EU Directive 2000/13/EC combines two existing directives into one law. For the manufacturers who previously followed these, the capital outlay will be very minimal to meet the new standard. For companies which don’t follow either, it will be more costly to make the updates needed to comply. There may be a need to invest in new equipment, such as new vision inspection systems. One of the best ways for companies to ensure that the cost to comply with new regulations remains relatively low is to “future-proof” their investment by selecting product inspection equipment that has the flexibility to grow with their future needs.
How can vision inspection technology help the process?
In response to increasing consumer demand, manufacturers in the food industry are looking for greater flexibility and to maximise productivity. Vision inspection system innovators, such as Mettler-Toledo CI-Vision, are developing technology capable of precision label verification at ever higher throughput rates to boost manufacturing efficiency for food and beverage processors. Technology suppliers are also introducing advanced data collection solutions to enhance traceability and facilitate the demonstration of due diligence in the event of product recalls or legal claims, ensuring manufacturers comply with food safety standards worldwide.
How can food companies and packaging operations ensure the effectiveness of their label inspection without sacrificing throughput rate?
One way is by incorporating a vision inspection system into the production line to verify the correct label is applied in the correct position on the pack. This would enable manufacturers to identify potential issues with product labelling, from incorrect labels to illegible printing. This allows corrective action to be undertaken quicker, minimizing the risk of entire product batches needing to be reworked, saving time and material cost.
Can you tell me what products you’ve introduced in recent years that will help processors/packaging partners get up to speed?
An example of a recent innovation for food processing lines is Mettler-Toledo CI-Vision’s CLS Series vision inspection technology. Available in a choice of three machine sizes developed specifically for flat-packed fresh food products, the CLS Series is capable of inspecting the labelling of packs of varying widths and heights for positioning and orientation, correct best-before date, lot number and barcodes at high throughput rates. By tracking each product’s lot number as it passes through the processing line, the technology can also support compliance and due diligence through traceability throughout the supply chain. The design has been optimized to withstand potentially tough cleaning regimes required by food producers, while the cameras automatically adjust position to facilitate set up for product changeovers, ensuring correct camera focus and lighting for accurate label inspection regardless of pack height.
The CLS Series makes use of CIVCore software that analyzes high-resolution images at up to 250 packs per minute, a throughput speed that is faster than traditional systems. The conveyor speed automatically adjusts according to the speed of the processing line, maximizing flexibility and ensuring the vision inspection system’s performance meets the manufacturer’s productivity needs.