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March 28, 2022


With plant-based eating now mainstream in the UK, food safety and contamination detection specialist Fortress Technology is reporting high demand for its latest range of hygienic pipeline metal detection and x-ray systems.

According to a 2021 report by Bloomberg Intelligence, the global plant-based alternative market is forecast to grow to $162 billion in the next decade. Up from $29.4 billion in 2020[i]. Suggesting that plant-based is no fad.

Catering to changing demographics, wellbeing trends, and new product developments (NPD) in plant-based alternatives, Fortress R&D in recent months has focused specifically on upgrading its pipeline systems to maintain the highest hygiene standards. Providing valuable reassurance to the British consumers who continue to ditch animal-derived foods.

From explosive sales in oat and soya drinks to the supermarkets more than doubling their vegetarian and plant-based ready-meals and one of the leading supermarkets even trialling a fully vegan ‘butchers’ counter last year, it’s no coincidence that over a similar time period Fortress observed a huge uplift in enquiries for its flexible Metal Detector Pipeline and new Raptor X-ray Pipeline.

One of the key challenges facing the ever growing and evolving plant-based food sector is how best to maintain productivity while providing consumers with safe, uncontaminated products. Further complicated by the fact that there remains no legal definition of vegan products in EU or UK law.

Despite this descriptive labelling minefield, processing compliance in this growth sector demands the highest levels of sanitation. To avoid tarnishing plant-based brand reputations, Fortress Technology’s latest metal detection and x-ray pipeline machines are designed to assist processors inspecting high-viscosity foods to optimise hygiene standards, tackle cross contamination and maintain a robust HACCP system.

Both machines are especially suitable for inspecting products like meatless sausages, broths, gravies, syrups, condiments, juices, fruit and vegetable concentrates, milk and cream alternatives, oils and even plant-based viscous pet food.

Overcoming sanitation challenges

Food inspection pipelines in the past have been notoriously difficult to access and sanitise. To beat the spread of foodborne bugs and prevent bacteria accumulating in protein-alternative processing environments, both Pipeline systems are IP69K rated and USDA certified. This means they can withstand harsh processing environments and high-pressurised washdowns after every product changeover.

By upgrading the structure, Fortress has reduced the external surface area of its Pipeline Metal Detector by over 60%. Also, by routing the connectors through an encased unit, there are fewer areas where bacteria can hide and thrive during repeated washdowns.

Average clean times should now take a matter of minutes, suggests Commercial Manager Jodie Curry. “If sanitation employees have open areas and smooth surfaces to work with, they can more efficiently access and clean equipment to reduce machine downtime or speed up the changeover process from one product to another.”

The Metal Detector Pipeline has a slim design and compact footprint measuring approximately 1 metre for the largest 100mm diameter pipe, including reject. Its modular design allows this pipeline to be ceiling mounted or freestanding. Enabling plant-based factories to change configuration if needed, without significant investment.

To overcome product effect caused by the highly conductive nature and iron content present in some plant-alternative proteins, the Fortress Metal Detector Pipeline applies a powerful digital signal processing technology to clearly distinguish the signal generated by a metal contaminant from the product being inspected. The system also integrates Auto-balance to rebalance the coil heads within the unit, which may over time expand or contract due to changes in product temperatures passing through the pipeline. Helping to maintain metal detection sensitivity.

Adapting to the contamination risks

Blending plant-based ingredients, including soybeans, lentils, chickpeas and vegetables to emulate traditional meat products often requires a complex series of manufacturing steps. This can increase the risk of different foreign contaminants entering the food chain. Utilising x-ray technology, the Raptor Pipeline inspection system is capable of identifying a variety of different physical hazards including stones, metal, glass, ceramics, and high-density plastic in slurries, semi solids, and fluids.

The Raptor X-Ray Pipeline houses a powerful and durable electric linear actuator. Its unique cabinet design also features an innovative three-way reject valve to dispose of contaminated product. Each valve can be easily accessed without the use of complex tools.

The Raptor Pipeline X-Ray can be easily integrated into an existing rigid or flexible piping system or placed behind a vacuum filling machine. It is available in three models: 1 ½, 2 ½ and 6 inches. Average inspection throughput is up to 14,000 kg per hour for plant-based alternative applications.

By inspecting pumped product and rejecting contaminants prior to packaging and processing, the potential for wasted packaging materials and product loss caused by the removal of contaminants after packaging is eradicated. It also ensures the reduction of expensive downtime and damage to downstream equipment.

Featuring sophisticated data capture and reporting software, both Fortress pipeline systems satisfy Quality Assurance mandates, ensuring traceability compliance with stringent food processing requirements, including GFSI/SQF, BRC and HACCP.