Understanding Foreign Materials in Foods – Part 3

What are the potential hazards to consumers?

31 March 2020

We can all understand why it would be concerning to a consumer to discover a foreign material in a food product, as a result of not knowing the dangers that the unexpected object or material might present. Manufacturers and distributors need to have a strong understanding of their products, how consumers interact with these products, and the potential hazards that might occur upon responding to a foreign material scenario. Before we dive into the potential hazards of foreign materials in foods, let's first think about how consumers, well, consume.

Food is intended to be eaten. Regardless of the food, eating begins with getting the product into the mouth. Packaging, surprisingly, can play an important role here. Using milk as an example:  a paper pint of milk will likely be consumed directly from the carton, whereas a plastic gallon of milk will likely be poured into a glass before it is consumed. Also, for consideration is that a liquid is consumed differently than a solid – something like milk is just swallowed, whereas something like a granola requires a lot of chewing and time in the mouth before it's ready to be swallowed. While this may seem obvious, packaging, delivery method, consistency, and oral interaction all play crucial roles in how consumers interact with food products and, if a foreign material is present, the kinds of hazards to which consumers may be exposed.

Looking deeper into that first phase of eating – oral processing. The mouth is the area of the consumer's body that is most exposed to hazard. In addition to being a very sensitive area of the body, which is filled with highly sensitive nerves and easily-exposed surface blood vessels, the mouth is also the easiest section of the gastrointestinal system for consumers to detect injuries. Lacerations and burns are the most frequent oral injuries accounting for ~75% of all injuries to the mouth1. If something cuts, bruises, burns, scratches, or otherwise injures the inside of a consumer's mouth, they will know about it immediately. The next leading contributor to oral injuries is dental damage, data shows that chipping, dislocations, and even full breakages can occur when consuming a foreign material.  Anyone who has ever received a bill from a dentist can attest to this: dental injuries can not only be painful, but extremely costly. Protecting consumers from these types of injuries is of paramount importance to a brand.

As a foreign material moves further into a consumer's body, the hazards change, and identifying them can become significantly more challenging. Consumers may have difficulty swallowing foreign materials depending on the size, shape and consistency of the foreign material, which can lead to potential choking or aspiration events, often requiring some amount of hospitalization or medical intervention, and sometimes even being fatal.  Further into the body, foreign materials still have the potential to cause lacerations or damage to more fragile portions of the digestive system. These injuries can be chronic in nature and very challenging to detect, and over time increase in severity. As foreign materials spend more time in the body, chemical concerns can also start to play a larger role, as those materials might not be safe for consumption. This too can manifest in unexplained illness or have other chronic affects, where the root-cause is challenging to identify. Foreign materials have also been known to result in gastrointestinal blockages, which can lead to a whole host of complications if the body isn't able to process and expel the material. The longer these objects stay in the body prior to expulsion, the more severe the effects can become.

If you are a manufacturer, you may be asking yourself, "Couldn't I just expect the material to pass through the consumer without them ever knowing? Why do I need to do anything at all?" To a certain extent, you might be correct. Foreign materials are likely ingested every day and pass through consumers (with no one being the wiser). However, the chance always remains that something won't make it through unscathed, leading to negative consequences for your consumer and your brand.

Contamination of food from foreign materials can occur and potentially present a hazard to the end consumer.  Intertek experts are here to help, our services include: risk assessment; 24-48 hour turnaround for foreign material reviews; medical expert review; and hazard identification and severity. For more information visit: https://www.intertek.com/food/services/physical-safety/

Don't miss the opportunity to learn from the experts….

Intertek will be offering a complimentary Webinar, "Not All Foreign Materials are Created Equal" on April 9, 2020 at 11am EDT, 10am CDT, 8am PDT. Register here.

1 CPSC NEISS Database 1983-2017

 

Solomon David,
Project Manager, Safety Consulting, Product Assurance
Health, Environmental & Regulatory Services (HERS)

 

Today's expert blogger is Solomon David. Solomon, Project Manager, Safety Consulting, has been at Intertek for 4 years advising clients on the safety of consumer products by evaluating and identifying safety and regulatory requirements. He works closely with companies on continuously improving their safety processes. Solomon attended Purdue University where he received a B.S. in Engineering Management.