Breaking down the pros and cons of metal detectable and non-metal detectable equipment for use in food production. 

When it comes to sourcing the right equipment for your site, there are a lot of important decisions to be made. What is the best colour coding policy? What is the most hygienic storage solution? Will the roll out require any additional training? But, out of all the questions to answer, one of the most common has to be: Does my site need metal detectable or non-metal detectable equipment?

The following article hopes to provide an answer, covering the benefits and limitations of both metal detectable equipment and an alternate approach: prevention before detection. It also aims to put right the common misconception that a standard metal detector will always pick up small metal detectable parts and brush bristles.

First and foremost, we want to be upfront and say that, at Klipspringer, we supply both metal detectable and non-metal detectable equipment, and hold these in stock for same-day despatch to our 4000+ food industry customers. Although this article will provide plenty of guidance, it is important that you assess the risks and food safety needs of your site processes, along with your audit standard stipulations, when deciding which design type is right for you.

It’s also important that we are clear in our definition of metal detectable utensils, with examples including: brushes, scrapers, spatulas, buckets, and shovels.

You may have noticed that metal detectable pens are not included in this list, as they fall into a different category and should be treated as such. The benefits and limitations explored in this article are not applicable to metal detectable pens, so to learn more about their role in the food production industry, simply follow the button below.

Discover the benefits of Metal Detectable Pens

Why do sites consider Metal Detectable Equipment?

Working with food and beverage production sites for over twenty years, we have noticed that factories typically turn to metal detectable equipment in response to a surge in customer complaints or a factory closeout following a major non-conformance.

Often the order will come from the top down, with senior management teams perceiving a high risk of foreign body contamination and deciding that the solution is metal detectable utensils.

Another fairly obvious factor is whether or not a factory carries out metal detection in the first place. After all, there would be little point in using metal detectable equipment without a functioning metal detector on site. Frequently, businesses that have newly invested in a metal detector will also purchase metal detectable equipment, believing the two work in tandem.

All of these motivations are entirely understandable, with the term ‘metal detectable’ providing a certain level of reassurance. In fact, it is a common misconception that metal detectable equipment will always be detected. Unfortunately, this belief is one of the most common reasons for sites to consider metal detectable equipment, resulting in a culture of complacency that needs to be addressed.

What are the pros and cons of Metal Detectable Equipment?

If you have been faced with a serious complaint or non-conformity, switching to metal detectable equipment is often a quick and easy way to display a commitment to reducing the risk of foreign body contamination. As mentioned above, there is a concern that this will be taken too far, with the equipment viewed as a fail safe solution. However, if the metal detection process is properly understood and risks are managed elsewhere, it is possible that metal detectable equipment will meet the requirements of your site.

As you would imagine, metal detectable equipment has a high content of metal. This makes it more brittle and likely to snap, splinter, or break. This also means that metal detectable brushes are only available with stiff bristles that aren’t as strong as the standard alternative. Whilst this may be a disadvantage in a bakery, where dry flour needs to be swept away with a soft bristle, it could be that the processes at your site are suited to a stiff bristle that needs to be strong enough to lift a stubborn residue, but not as strong as a regular stiff bristled brush.

One possible drawback of metal detectable equipment is its relationship with colour coding, as it tends to only be available in four colours: blue, red, yellow, and green. When compared to the eleven possible colours of our non-metal detectable equipment, this could be viewed as a limitation. However, most sites only see a need for their food contact equipment to be metal detectable. As you will know, standard colour coding policies usually assign blue to this application anyway, which means the blue metal detectable equipment should fit right in.

One issue that may be harder to resolve is the fact that your metal detector is unlikely to detect your metal detectable equipment. Imagine a bristle clump from a metal detectable brush or a strand of plastic from a metal detectable scraper. If they make their way into your product, it would be understandable for you to expect them to be picked up by your detector.

However, in order to identify an item this small, your detector would have to be adjusted to an incredibly sensitive setting. The problem with this is that all products produce a ‘background signal’, especially wet products such as dairy and ready meals. If your detector is too sensitive, it will be triggered by this ‘background signal’, regardless of whether or not there is a small metal detectable item hiding in the product. Batch after batch would be falsely rejected, resulting in a significant loss of time and money.

Finally, metal detectable equipment can lead to a culture of complacency. If your operatives fail to understand how unlikely it is for your metal detector to identify small metal detectable items, it is possible that they will take risks they would otherwise avoid.

Say your team carries out an equipment audit and someone notices a utensil is particularly worn or the bristles on a brush are coming loose. If they understand that there is no way for a small broken part or a singular bristle clump to be detected, they will likely raise this issue and source a replacement.

However, if they are reassured by the term ‘metal detectable’ and falsely believe that an infallible safety net is in place, your operative may try to extend the lifespan of the equipment, unaware of the risks posed by doing so.

Even if you do manage to get your core team on board, you will also have to convey this information to agency staff who may only be on site for a couple of days at a time.

What are the pros and cons of 'Prevention Before Detection'?

Prevention before detection shifts the focus away from metal detection and towards the goal of preventing foreign bodies from entering your product in the first place. Standard hygiene and production equipment meets this requirement, as it is much more durable than metal detectable equipment – less likely to snap, splinter, or break.

It is also worth noting that there are more designs available within this range. For example, the brushware offers a choice of extra soft, soft/medium, medium/stiff, extra stiff, and combination bristles. This will make it easier for you to find the right utensil for each application, something that will not only help your team and speed up your operation, but will also reduce the risk of equipment breaking from incorrect use.

Unlike metal detectable equipment, prevention before detection emphasises the role and responsibility of the individual operative. It removes the risk of your workers placing all their trust in just one part of the production process. Instead, foreign body contamination will need to be a priority throughout. Whether your operatives are putting away their tools at the end of a production run, searching for the right utensil to clean out a machine, or carrying out a thorough inspection of the equipment on site, it’s important that they understand the ‘why’ behind what they are doing and feel responsible for the safety of the finished product.

The only real downside of prevention before detection is that it involves more thought and effort than the impulse purchase of metal detectable equipment. It requires you to look at all aspects of your operation, identifying any areas where there is a risk of foreign body contamination. Whilst this could be viewed as a negative, it is likely to benefit your site in the long term, as you will be working towards an effective approach to safeguarding against foreign bodies.

Key Points to Consider

Metal Detectable Equipment:

  • Quick way to display a commitment to reducing the risk of foreign body contamination
  • High metal content, more likely to snap, splinter and break
  • Brushware only available with stiff bristles
  • Leads to a culture of complacency
  • Small parts and bristles won't be detected
  • Adjusting the sensitivity of your metal detector could result in false rejections
  • Limited colour coding options
  • Shorter lifespan than standard equipment

Non-Metal Detectable Equipment:

  • Strong and durable
  • Brushware available with four different bristle options
  • Doesn't provide a false sense of security
  • Shifts the focus to 'prevention before detection'
  • Available in 11 different colours to suit your colour coding policy
  • Longer lifespan than metal detectable equipment
  • 'Prevention before detection' requires you to evaluate all aspects of your operation

Now that we’ve worked through the pros and cons of metal detectable and non-metal detectable equipment, it is all about making the best decision for you and your factory. Even if you are dealing with a customer complaint or a point of non-conformance, the most important thing is to remain calm, acting from a place of confidence rather than panic.

You can achieve this by involving your Hygiene, Technical, and Production Managers in any key decisions, especially those surrounding the purchase of new equipment. Another important step is to reach out to your equipment provider for support, as they will be able to help you find the right utensil for each application. If you share key information about your processes, they will also be able to advise you on whether metal detectable equipment is a suitable choice for your site.

As the leading provider of food safety compliance, we would be happy to help you with this matter and can be contacted on 01473 461800 or Alternatively, you can fill out the contact form below and one of our friendly team members will be in touch. 

If you would like further guidance relating to your quality management system, the Klipspringer team would be happy to help. Share your details below to arrange a free consultation.