Device Finds Needles In A Potato Stack

| Cleanrooms and Contamination Control

Bulk potato slider detector systems inspect loose, rolling potatoes for metal contaminants

With food contamination continuing to cause problems for producers and retailers, one company has developed a detection system to keep potatoes free from metal contaminants.

Fortress Technology designed the bulk potato slider detector system to help farmers to safeguard their reputations and livelihoods as they produce one of the world’s most versatile and in-demand food products.

A real risk

The potato industry has had examples of product tampering with needles hidden in crops in the past but it isn’t only deliberate contamination that’s an issue. Drink cans casually discarded in crop fields, machinery nuts and bolts, or wire fencing blown down in a storm, can all be turned into the smallest metal fragments by powerful harvesters

Detection challenges

One of the biggest challenges in detecting metal fragments was orientation. A long thin needle can appear huge in one orientation but disappear into a negligible object that’s hard to detect in another so detecting any fragments will depend entirely on the direction that a bouncing potato is passing through the metal detector.

To combat this, Fortress engineered the metal detector with a rolling-system rather than traditional belt. It provides a stronger signal than stagnant objects. “The potatoes roll through the metal detector to limit the chance that a needle misses detection due to orientation effect,” explains Phil Brown of Fortress.

The machinery is sited alongside existing potato handling conveyors and equipment at the farm and reject products are ejected from the detector to an area separated from other products.

The use of the equipment demonstrates a shift in emphasis from analysing hazards late in the supply chain to sharing the task of contamination control right the way through the supply chain and Fortress believes that contaminant detection from farm right through to fork is essential to securing new business deals and guaranteeing the delivery of consumer-safe products.

Globally, farmers face multiple challenges every year, from floods and droughts to poor harvests, fluctuating energy costs and crop damage. “Although product tampering is extremely rare, in the last decade Fortress has observed a large uplift in enquiries from root vegetable and potato farmers and bulk processors for robust gravity and conveyor metal detection systems. These can help to prevent future adulteration and contamination events from causing potentially catastrophic damage to brand reputations,” concludes Brown.

Jonathan Newell
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