Frightening food: 6 root causes of foreign body contamination

There’s nothing like a food contamination scare to rock consumer faith in your brand. It’s essential that you take steps to make sure foreign bodies don’t find their way into your products.

Food scares spread like wildfire

In the waters of the www, you don’t have to paddle far to find shocking stories of food contaminated with bizarre foreign objects. There’s the dead mouse in the loaf of bread. The broken razor blade in the ice cream. The squashed gecko in the cucumber packet. And that really is the tip of a sizeable iceberg.

For consumers, these not-so-secret ingredients are straight up horrifying. And in the age of self-publishing and social media, you can guarantee that news of any fright in the bite will spread like wildfire - singeing your reputation with consumers, suppliers and retailers.

That can cause incalculable damage to your bottom line. Then there’s the cost of recalls and production delays. In short: it’s crucial that you take steps to control foreign bodies and protect the integrity of your food products.

There are innumerable factors that can lead to food contaminations. Here are six of the biggest.

1. Lack of staff training

From bits of clothing or jewellery to dirt and plasters, staff bring all kinds of foreign bodies onto your site. It’s essential that you have a procedure in place to prevent these items from entering your production areas. All staff should be trained regularly in your process. And visual aids and reminders should be placed prominently throughout your site.

2. Lack of motivation 

No amount of training will make up for an unmotivated workforce. If your staff feel unvalued or distrusted, what reason do they have to follow rules? Terminally disengaged staff may even deliberately sabotage food with contaminants and foreign objects. 

On the flip side, motivated employees are far more likely to take care, follow rules, stay vigilant to contamination and take action when required. An engaged workforce is key. Find a way to motivate and reward employees, especially those with mundane and repetitive roles.

3. No protocols for the use of mobile items 

Mobile items such as knives, gloves, pens and aprons are commonplace in your production areas. But if you thought their size made it impossible for them to wind up in your food, have a chat with the fast-food customer who found a 7-inch knife baked into his baguette. Implement strict controls on the use of mobile items. You can take nothing for granted.

4. Improper use of hygiene equipment  

Foreign bodies can come from unexpected sources. Recently the customer of a popular takeaway pizza retailer received a scare after swallowing two wire brush bristles that had found their way into his pizza. They had come from a damaged wire brush that service workers had used to clean an oven. 

The moral of the story? All hygiene equipment should be carefully looked after. Proper storage and colour-coding will make it easy for staff to find the right items for use in the right areas. It also simplifies the inspection of hygiene equipment to ensure it’s well maintained.

>> 7 catastrophic consequences of poor hygiene equipment storage

5. No integrity checks 

Whether your checks are done by hand, by eye or using technology like metal detectors or X-rays, it’s important to have some sort of integrity checks in place. They will never be 100% effective (so many factors affect the detection of foreign bodies) but something is better than nothing. Integrity checks should be implemented as a last line of defence.

6. No pest control  

We’ve all heard the one about the fly in the soup. But what about the cockroach in the hash brown? Or the locust in the salad? Or the mouse in the baked beans? Critters and creatures love sneaking into production facilities. It’s essential to secure the perimeters of your site and implement pest control measures inside your production facilities.

Over to you...

It only takes one instance of foreign body contamination to shake faith in your products and generate a wave of negative publicity. Yet when you know the risk factors behind foreign body contamination, you can take action to prevent it happening. A thorough and honest risk assessment of your site is worth it if you want to avoid your brand name becoming tomorrow’s trending hashtag on social media.

Posted on 14/12/2017