Bakers Journal

‘Baker, There’s a Bolt in My Bun’

May 20, 2008
By Paul Medeiros

A fly in one’s soup is disgusting, but finding a bolt in one’s bun will
do more than just “bug” your customer — it could lead to serious
injury, a product recall, lawsuit and/or lost business (although
contamination by pests can have similar consequences).

A fly in one’s soup is disgusting, but finding a bolt in one’s bun will do more than just “bug” your customer — it could lead to serious injury, a product recall, lawsuit and/or lost business (although contamination by pests can have similar consequences). 

Bakeries tend to address the risks of product contamination with foreign material by implementing programs, and using certain technologies to prevent, detect, and remove foreign material from their baked goods.  However, bakeries often fall short in understanding which controls they actually need, and in using these controls effectively.  The results can be troubling; in my own experience, working with food companies, I’ve witnessed incidents where foreign materials — ranging from plastic, screws, knife blades, to equipment lockout devices — wound up in finished product.

Take recent examples:


2006:  U.S. cake manufacturer recalls products due to possible metal contamination;

2005:  Public warning issued after a U.K. bakery firm receives five customer complaints of glass and needles in baked products;

2005:  U.S. bakery firm recalls several products due to potential of metal and plastic contamination;

2004:  Canadian bakery firm recalls several bread products after receiving consumer reports of glass findings; and,

1999:  U.S. bakery recalls several bread products after a clock falls off the wall and shatters, sending glass fragments into production area.

Relying solely on technology, such as metal detectors or sifters, to control foreign material is a recipe for trouble.  Foreign material prevention and control involves much more.  The following highlights important tools and considerations to keep your baked goods free of bolts, flies, and other physical hazards.

Increase Your Efforts Upstream
Reduce the prevalence of foreign materials in your raw materials and you reduce their prevalence in your finished product.  Therefore, the more your ingredient suppliers can do to reduce foreign material contamination, the better off you are.   Consider these questions:

1.  Do you keep a foreign material “score card” on each of your ingredient suppliers, and encourage them to continuously improve?

2.  When foreign materials are found in your ingredients, do you accept excuses from your supplier; or, do you ask for a formal investigation that includes the identification of “root causes”, establishing “corrective actions” in order to prevent a recurrence?

3.  Do you maintain a list of “approved” ingredient suppliers, and (at least for the critical ones) request to see copies of their inspection or audit reports?  Do you take the lead yourself in requiring your suppliers to undergo third-party food safety audits?

These questions can help you identify ways of improving the quality and safety of your ingredients.

Don’t become a source of foreign material contamination
Typically, most foreign material control efforts involve implementing the necessary controls to avoid contamination within your facility.  Some key programs and practices to implement include:

A food security program:  Two of the foreign material incidents listed earlier were the result of intentional tampering.   Steps bakeries can take to reduce the risk of intentional tampering include:  (1) controlling visitor and contractor access; (2) keeping external entrances locked, or controlled (including access to silos and bulk ingredient ports); (3) training employees to identify signs of product or equipment tampering; (4) controlling (lock) access to chemicals within the bakery; and (5) conducting routine “food security” inspections.

An effective, ongoing pest control program:  This includes keeping the bakery clean, and well maintained at all times, in order to prevent pest harbourage.

Good personal hygiene practices:  Elements include: (1) avoiding the use of false fingernails or nail polish;  (2) avoiding carrying pens or other items in breast pockets;  (3) wearing hairnets properly (right size, fully covering ears);  (4) refraining from wearing jewelry; and (5) refraining from eating in production or storage areas.

Good maintenance practices:  Elements include: (1) conducting preventive maintenance on equipment so parts do not wear or break off; (2) maintaining tool and parts control to prevent a part from falling into the product, and becoming baked in;  (3) avoiding the use of temporary repairs (like tape), that could wind up falling into the product; and  (4) keeping “sanitary design” principles in mind when purchasing, repairing or modifying equipment.

Ongoing maintenance of the overall facility:  Elements include:  (1) using shatter-resistant or shielded lights; (2) using approved building materials and paints that are less likely to flake or break off into the product.  Keep these items well maintained; (3) avoiding the use of glass in the facility.  This includes clocks, meters or gauges with glass covers, as well as unshielded glass windows in the production or storage areas; and (4) implementing a glass and brittle plastic breakage policy, in order to provide a safe means of cleaning up broken glass or brittle plastic.

Detect, and Remove Foreign Materials During Production
There are a number of useful tools and technologies for foreign material detection and removal.  Factors such as product-type, cost and throughput will determine which technology is suitable for your bakery.  Some technologies include:

Bulk sifters and screens:  These are used to remove a variety of foreign materials from dry, flowing products.  They’re often used to remove foreign materials prior to their entering into the production stream.  Sifters and screens should be checked regularly to ensure they are in good repair.  Tailings (foreign materials caught in the sifter or screen) should be identified, and investigated with the supplier.

Strainers: Similar to bulk sifters and screens, but used for liquid ingredients.

Magnetic traps and separators:  There are a variety of magnetic traps and separators available for use.  Their purpose is to remove metal contaminants from free-flowing products.  They are often used early on in the production process, to prevent metal contamination from continuing, and potentially damaging equipment, or being missed by the final metal detection step.  magnetic traps and separators need to be checked for effectiveness regularly.  In addition, since their effectiveness is reduced as throughput or product type changes, bakeries should verify effectiveness whenever such changes are made.

Metal detection:  These are ideal when metal may be imbedded in the product, or is too small to be easily caught by magnetic separators.  Metal detectors detect and cull non-magnetic contaminants in food — including brass, aluminum, lead, and austenitic stainless steel.  Metal detectors are typically used in a final inspection after packaging, or immediately prior to packaging.  As with screens and sifters, any findings should be documented and investigated.

Machine vision (optical techniques):  Machine vision technology uses the interaction between visible light, food products and potential foreign objects to identify surface defects or foreign material in loose product.  Defects are found on the basis of colour, shape or size.  Some advantages of these technologies include the fact that they can accommodate extremely high throughputs, do not fatigue or lose mental focus, are very sensitive and after a high initial investment, have reasonable ongoing maintenance costs.  Some disadvantages include the fact they identify only visible foreign material and are not “intelligent” (like humans), so they may fail to identify non-foreign material such as grease, as a “defect” and allow the line to continue running.

X-ray detection:  Some food processors have replaced metal detection with X-ray technology since they are better at detecting austenitic grades of stainless steel (grades 304 and 316) and can detect non-metal contaminants (glass, some hard plastics, etc…).  Some drawbacks to X-ray technology include its cost and the large amount of space  require compared to metal detectors.

Listen to Your Foreign Material Detection Tools
As a general rule, metal detectors and other foreign material detection tools and methods do not control foreign material, but they do tell you how well your foreign material controls are working. Thus, the information they provide should be used to measure the effectiveness of your foreign material controls, and to target improvements. 

A foreign material finding indicates a “failure” of your controls.  Improving your foreign material controls can only occur once the “root cause” of the failure has been determined.  This is an area where bakeries and other food manufacturers often fall short.  Typically, the “immediate cause” is identified and addressed; however, if the “root cause” has not been addressed, it is bound to surface again, and lead to a repeat failure.  For example, if a pen fell out of an employee’s shirt pocket, landing in a mixer, one might conclude that “retraining” the employee on the importance of not keeping pens in shirt pockets will prevent another incident.  However, the root cause may be something else entirely.  It may be linked to the fact that this employee’s pen is stolen whenever it is left at his work station; or it may be linked to the fact that he has no pant pockets to keep his pen; or it could be linked to the fact the bakery uniforms have “conveniently placed” shirt pockets; or it could be due to other “root causes”.  Therefore, unless those “root causes” are addressed, the employee is likely to return to keeping his pen in his shirt pocket, no matter how much “retraining” is conducted.

Findings of foreign material, and the results of the investigation and followup should be documented.  The foreign material findings themselves should be tracked based on product type, ingredient, and ingredient supplier (if applicable), foreign material type (metal, hair, etc.), and date.  Other items to track could include shift, line number, etc….  The tracking of this information can be used to measure improvement in your controls, and to validate the costs associated with running the control programs.

Value Customer Complaints
A customer complaint should be viewed as an opportunity to impress your customer with the depth and extent of your response.  As it relates to complaints of foreign materials, it is also an opportunity to improve your internal controls, in order to avoid similar complaints.

Complaints involving foreign materials should be tracked, in order to measure your improvement from year to year.  They should also be fully investigated, in order to identify the “root cause”, and subsequent corrective action.  All complaint findings should be fully documented.

In order to make the most of customer complaints, a bakery should designate a person to lead customer complaint resolution efforts.  In addition, bakeries should make it easy for customers to complain by providing adequate contact information (where possible), and avenues for complaints (websites, phone numbers, in-person visits).   All customer contact staff should be fully trained to understand the importance of customer complaints, and the process for handling them.

Protecting your bakery products from foreign materials involves many elements, ranging from prevention, to detection, to removal.  Keeping these elements working effectively, on a consistent basis, involves understanding how they work, and devoting the time and resources to maintaining them, and to constantly improving them.  The effort is worth it, since – as foreign-material-related recalls, lawsuits, and lost business have proven – avoiding bolts in your buns will improve your chances of putting cash on your bottom line.

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