Physical contaminants, also referred to as foreign body contaminants, are physical objects that contaminate food. From farm to factory to fork, physical contaminants can enter food products at any stage in the food production lifecycle. For this reason, food quality control programs rely on inspection technology to detect and remove physical contaminants at many points throughout the manufacturing process.
Physical contaminants in food take many forms, and their presence in food products can range from unpleasant but harmless to highly dangerous if chewed or swallowed.
Some physical contaminants, such as seed pits, plant stalks, or bone fragments, are naturally occurring in the food ingredient but valueless in the product. Other physical contaminants, like dirt, stones, or insect fragments, are naturally occurring in the environment in which the raw food material was harvested. Non-organic physical contaminants, like bits of plastic, metal, or glass, may enter the product during food processing and distribution.
Because physical contamination can happen at every stage of food harvesting, processing, and preparation, HACCP standards emphasize that food products must be inspected several times on their journey from raw ingredients to finished meals.
Adequate prevention of physical contamination can be accomplished with a range of food contamination detection equipment, food quality assurance methods, and proper hygiene.
The following series offers guidelines for the safe detection and removal of physical contaminants in industrial food processing.