Calculations show that the recent flurry of food contamination recalls could have provided meals for every homeless person in the UK.

The price of chicken rose above £3/kg in 2022 and has remained there throughout 2023. But it continues to be spoilt and wasted by inept food safety inspections.

From 2021 to 2022, the number of food items recalled increased by 700%, according to data from the FDA.

For USDA-regulated foods (meat, poultry, and egg products), the primary reason for recalls was foreign body contamination. It was also the top reason for recalls by unit count, with one recall accounting for 148,000 pounds of chicken, or 67,131 kilograms.

Typically, portion sizes state that 1kg of chicken feeds between five and six people. If this is accurate, the amount of chicken discarded could have provided meals for each of the 240,000 homeless people in the UK – nearly twice over.

These staggering figures are only based on a single recall. Imagine if recent recalls of cereal and snack packages or beef products had also been prevented and the food wasted given to those in need.

Aside from recalls, foreign body contamination is also a common cause of non-conformances, reputational damage, and consumer harm.

Read on for ten steps outlining how, by implementing an effective hazard audit, your factory can eliminate any possibility of needless food waste.

Step 1: Risk-assess your delivery and storage areas, production lines, and site perimeter

The first step relates to a thorough risk assessment of your production site.

That begins with your delivery and food storage areas. Forensically examine these zones for all potential foreign body hazards. No risk is too small or inconsequential – better to be safe than sorry.

Ingredients and packaging are two areas in delivery and storage areas with hazards aplenty.

Your freshly packed ingredients are susceptible to contamination by any number of foreign bodies, from stones to cockroaches. This is why it is critical to conduct intake quality checks after unloading ingredients.

If not handled correctly, packaging can also become a foreign body risk. A common example is bits from a plastic bag getting caught, then ending up in the production mix.

We recommend listing all of these potential hazards for future reference.

The next area to risk assess is your production lines.

Look out for hazards on, above, or adjacent to the production line.

Potential risks include diffusers, mastic in the ceiling or wall panels, overhead leads, nuts, bolts and screws in equipment, plastic or glass dials and plastic covers.

Assess each line one at a time, ensuring thoroughness. It may also be advisable to work with the engineering team on this.

Wherever there’s food, insects, rodents, and other creatures are not far behind. The Internet is awash with stories of small animals making their way into consumer food, from ants in sweets right up to mice in loaves of bread and tins of baked beans.

Check that the perimeter walls of your site are properly secure and consider areas where pest control measures may be necessary.

Step 2: Consider the use of mobile items

In each area of your production site you assess, consider the use and storage of mobile items such as knives, aprons, and cooking utensils.

These items also pose a risk when it comes to foreign body contamination. A pen made from non-detectable materials, for example, could easily fall into a vat and go unnoticed.

You can create a tagging system for each individual item, or provide a dedicated home for all equipment using a solution such as shadow boards. Read more about shadow boards here.

Step 3: Assess likelihood and severity of risk

At this point, you should have a reasonably extensive list of potential contamination hazards, relating to your delivery and storage areas, production lines, and perimeter.

The next step is to assign each hazard a rating based on likelihood of hazard. To do this, first consider the likelihood of each risk happening. The higher the likelihood, the higher the rating, from 1 (low likelihood) to 10 (high likelihood).

After this, go back through your list and allocate a rating based on severity of hazard. For instance, some foreign bodies may be a choke hazard or contaminate a large amount of product. These are high severity hazards. Others may be easy to detect post-production and affect only a small batch. These are lower severity hazards. Again, score items from 1 (not very severe) to 10 (very severe).

Having assigned likelihood and severity ratings, add these scores together. The total sum represents the hierarchy of risk posed by each hazard on your list.

Step 4: Assign frequency of integrity checks

Now that the likelihood and severity of each hazard has been identified, precautionary measures can be taken.

Committing to a consistent frequency to check each risk is essential to this. For example, your team could conduct integrity checks once per month for items scored between one and two. These checks could increase to weekly for items scored between three and five, and daily for items scored between six and eight, and twice daily for items scored nine or ten.

Step 5: Implement Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)

Next, it is important to define – in writing – exactly how each integrity check should be performed, and what actions should be taken if an integrity check is failed.

These guidelines are called standard operating procedures (SOPs) and there should be one in place for each of your integrity checks.

Incidentally, SOPs are also useful for proving due diligence in the event of an investigation or audit in future. Given the overlap in many of your hazards, it is likely the some of your integrity checks will be identical for different areas of your site – meaning you could have one SOP for multiple integrity checks.

Step 6: Determine how integrity checks will be sorted and archived

A simple step, but an important one nonetheless. Whether digital or physical, you need to keep records of your integrity checks.

These records should include:

  • when they were executed
  • who performed them
  • whether they were passed or failed
  • details of any corrective action taken

We recommend using a checklist auditing system to reduce paper usage and system search time – but an ordered physical record system may be suitable for some environments.

Step 7: Allocate responsibility for completing integrity checks

Production speed is inseparably linked to profits. While integrity checks are crucial and should be thorough, it is also important that they are completed as speedily as possible.

For this reason, it is a good idea to distribute the responsibility for integrity checks across your workforce.

Spread the load to make sure checks are performed quickly as well as thoroughly – and that no one member of staff is unfairly bogged down with an extra responsibility. Staff who carry out integrity checks should be trained thoroughly in the respective SOPs.

Step 8: Audit

Conduct regular (at least yearly) audits to make sure your integrity checks are being made and recorded accurately and in accordance with SOPs.

Audits are particularly important when your site undergoes significant change. Examples of this might include the implementation of new equipment, the construction of a new area, or a shift in the location of certain machinery.

Hopefully, your processes are watertight, and you pass this self-audit with ease. However, even with the most seemingly foolproof risk assessment and integrity checks in the industry, there is still a chance that a contamination incident could occur.

In this case, follow Steps 9 and 10…

Step 9: Take action

Your SOPs will provide a framework in how to respond to a failed integrity check. Action might include stopping the production line, or identifying and quarantining any contaminated products.

Make sure your team have a written record of what happened – as well as the corrective action taken.

Step 10: Complete a root cause analysis

Once the incident has been remedied, it is essential that you carry out a root cause analysis.

Retrace the steps that preceded the incident and ask what caused the problems that led to the failed check.

Again, this forms part of your due diligence – so store this document safely. Depending on the outcome of your root cause analysis, you may wish to revise your SOP to prevent the same issue happening again in the future.

As a food manufacturer or producer, one of your key responsibilities is to keep your customers safe. That aside, contamination scares hurt your reputation, delay production, and can lead to costly product recalls.

Following the ten steps outlined above will help to prevent that. To learn more about foreign body contamination, read this article on why detection should be the last resort. You can also contact us on 01473 461800 or Alternatively, you can use the form below to arrange a consultation

If you would like further guidance relating to this topic, the Klipspringer team would be happy to help. Share your details below.