Colour coded plastic ties show their mettle…

13 July 2020

In almost any food manufacturing environment, you’ll find plastic ties. Hugely versatile and hygienic, they’re typically found on or around production lines, usually to bundle or manage cables and wires. Performing a valuable function in food manufacturing they’re generally reliable, but that doesn’t mean they’re fool-proof. Even in the best managed environments, ‘things’ happen. During cleaning, washdown or maintenance for example, they can be damaged or dislodged. It’s rare, but possible, for small fragments to break off and fall into machinery or food - and it’s here that problems arise.

As well as threatening well-being, food contamination by foreign matter is a major disruptor for the industry, not least in forcing food recalls. This ‘foreign matter’ includes everything from parts of wood, glass and plastic, but either way, it appears to be on the increase. Foreign matter is the second most common cause of food contamination in the UK and third in the US. According to a report by the specialist UK insurance broker Lockton, product recalls caused by foreign body contamination have increased threefold over the last six years. The same report suggests that some 25% of cases are caused by plastic, metal or glass. This is supported by the Food Standards Agency which has issued 12 alerts concerning plastic contamination in the last 12 months. These cover everything from baby food, breakfast cereals and black pudding through to frozen foods, muffins and vegetarian sausages.

Each incident sets off an escalating chain of costs, direct and indirect. Direct costs include having to close down the lines while the problem is identified, the manpower taken up with solving the crisis and the costs of administering the recall. Most critically of all, there’s the reaction of consumers. A survey by Harris Interactive reveals that 21% of people affected by a recall would never buy anything from that manufacturer again. To all this, we can add indirect costs including brand and reputational damage, contract cancellation and fines, as well as a depreciation of share value. These costs quickly accumulate. In the US for example, a GMA sponsored survey suggests that 5% of companies incurred over $100m in direct and indirect costs. In the UK, Lockton estimates the average cost of a product recall to be around £39,000, which is why every effort is taken to identify and eliminate risk.

Yet still it happens.

Many of these contaminants, including wood, insects and glass, can be extremely difficult to detect. Even if they’re detected in the final stages of production, it’s not always possible to say where they actually came from. This lack of traceability hinders identification and problem-solving.

Until recently, plastic ties presented a similar challenge, especially in small pieces.

But what if this plastic could be infused with metal, so that every piece – even the smallest fragment – could be detected by metal detection systems. Setting out to solve this challenge, HellermannTyton developed a new breed of plastic ties involving the inclusion of a metallic pigment. The resulting fully detectable MCT range virtually eliminates the risk of contaminated products leaving the factory.

The next step was to improve traceability even further – an increasingly important factor in food manufacturing.

From working closely with manufacturers, HellermannTyton is very aware of best practice in food production, especially colour coding on everything from pens and workwear through to clipboards and scoops. With each colour used only in specific locations, it means greater traceability so any issues can be quickly identified. HellermannTyton created detectable ties in three other colours – red, yellow and green - ensuring they’d complement most production requirements. As a result, should any fragments be found, their source could be quickly isolated.

Manufactured in a food safe raw material, and compliant with European food contact standards and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requirements, the MCT-Series coloured cable ties are the next step to overcome the food contamination challenges within the food and beverage industry.

Though only a small part of food production, these cable ties represent a significant enhancement to quality control in the sector.

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