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For a global food company like Kraft Heinz, food safety and quality are our highest priorities. It’s the core of our business and we have to get it right. It’s why we’ve embraced several new technologies that have appeared in the last few years. First on the list are increasingly sophisticated X-ray machines that we have installed on nearly all of our product lines. These are used to address one of the largest source of recalls – foreign objects in food. Traditionally, food companies have used metal detectors to ensure that metals do not make it into food products, but these are clearly limited just to metals. Newer X-ray detectors can find metal as well as wood, bone, glass, stones and hard plastics, vastly expanding our ability to prevent anything from contaminating our products. For example, we used to have issues with stones from growers’ fields inadvertently making their way into our pickle jars, but no longer.
Another concern that technology is helping us address is unintentional contamination in food. Here, the emergence of 2D scanners has been incredibly helpful. For example, one of the leading ways that allergens can enter the food supply is simply by putting the wrong label on a product. Labels can be mixed up at the label supplier and sometimes in the food manufacturing plant. The traditional bar code, otherwise known as 1D, contains a very limited amount of information. In contrast, 2D scanners allow for the storage of more information, and can more easily be used on assembly lines. For products that have multiple labels, a 2D code can be put on all labels and scanned to ensure everything is correct. This is also useful when tracking food. We have installed 2D scanners on all of our high allergen products, and have nearly completed their installation on all of our product manufacturing lines – even those with no allergen risk.
"We needed some way to ensure that the ingredients used to make these products do not pick up pathogens when and where they are grown"
We even use the latest in genetic technology to ensure our food is safe. Foodborne pathogens are a huge risk to the food industry, especially in ready-to-eat products. We needed some way to ensure that the ingredients used to make these products do not pick up pathogens when and where they are grown. We use environmental swabbing techniques and genetic fingerprinting of microorganisms to make sure we can respond quickly if we do find a pathogen. Should a pathogen be found on our manufacturing line, we can immediately do detective work we never could have done a decade ago. We can go back and determine the original location of the pathogen, allowing us to eradicate it quickly. These tools allow us to understand where the risk is coming from and how we can eliminate it.
There is no doubt that these types of new technologies have been enormously helpful. However, they are only helpful if we have the types of rituals and routines in place for our employees to make them effective. Yes, x-raying every line is critical, but just as critical is our 30-minute line check, which means that every single product manufactured on every single line is checked once every 30 minutes. We have caught many potential problems because of this routine. The secret is in mastering the small details. I’m thrilled at how it has paid off for us. At Kraft Heinz, we have not had a class 1 recall in over two years, a trend we hope will continue with the use of technologies and ongoing employee training.
Kurt Deibel is Head of North American Food Safety &Quality at the Kraft Heinz Company.