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Foreign Body and Fragment Analysis

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Thursday 21 February 2013

A range of analytical techniques including GRIM (Glass Refractive Index Method/Measurement) are used to identify fragment sourceRapid test techniques are enabling food and drink manufacturers to achieve vital 24-hour turnaround on analysis of contaminants – glass and other fragments – found in their products.

In a recent test programme, independent experts Glass Technology Services Ltd (GTS) found that 70% of fragments, which had been found in products by consumers and submitted for analysis, had originated from items commonly found in the home, such as measuring jugs, mixing bowls and jars and of the remaining 30%, nearly all could not have been introduced in the food manufacturing process.

“Accuracy and speed are clearly vital with these kinds of analyses,” said Andrew Broadhurst, GTS Development Technologist and former analyst with the Forensic Science Service. “Food manufacturers know the potentially devastating impact of customers finding foreign objects in their food and drink – when that object is thought to be a glass fragment, the ramifications are obvious.

“That’s why we have been investing heavily in our fragment analysis service, both for glass and non-glass samples, enabling us to identify the most likely source of stray glass or other material and – most importantly – exclude potential sources. In the majority of cases submitted to us, contamination by the manufacturer is not the most logical explanation, even when glass packaging is used. Results can be issued electronically within 24 hours of receiving the sample and depending on the urgency within a few hours.”

Example of a glass fragment found by a consumer in a food productComposition alone was not enough to determine the source of an object as a wide variety of items could be made from the same kind of glass, Andrew added. The laboratory also looked at how the original article was manufactured and how it failed, in other words how the fragment was formed and what happened to it after the chip, crack or breakage. If potential sources of the fragment were available, the team could match or exclude in order to narrow down the options.

“In many cases we have been able to help manufacturers avoid product recalls as well as of course protect their vital brand reputation,” said Andrew.

In the recent test programme, GTS used a random selection of 125 samples sent to them for fragment analysis.

The findings showed:

  • 32% were borosilicate based glass: typical for cookware and glassware made to withstand high temperatures and most likely to have been inadvertently introduced by the customer during cooking, from measuring jugs or casserole dishes
  • 38% were clear soda-lime-silica based glass: a common glass composition used for a wide range of products, including jars, bottles or mixing bowls, commonly found in the home
  • 30% were from other sources including lead crystal items, green soda-lime-silica container glass and flat glass, but the majority from non-glass sources, including naturally occurring salt. In one case, they even found a piece of tooth that belonged to the complainant.

Example of a glass fragmentGTS laboratories employ a range of analytical techniques to determine fragment identity – using technology widely used in forensics, including:

  • SEM-EDS (Scanning Electron Microscopy - Energy-Dispersive X-ray Spectroscopy) - measures the chemical composition of each sample, while allowing surface features to be examined at very high magnification
  • GRIM (Glass Refractive Index Measurement) – combined with potential sources, provides strong evidence for product matching
  • FTIR (Fourier Transform Infra-Red) Spectroscopy – provides valuable information about molecular structure, particularly useful for plastics/polymers

“Combining these techniques and our unique understanding of glass composition, forming and failure, we’re able to assess a range of vital clues and provide clients with a comprehensive report on a sample’s properties and likely source,” said Andrew.

GTS is accredited to ISO 9001, ISO 14001 and ISO 17025 standards. The team provides analysis, consultancy, testing and research and development support to food and drink manufacturers across the UK and internationally.

For further information, please see:


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