Aflatoxin is a major issue for Chinese food manufacturers and processors. Food exporters face even more challenges, as products exceeding the aflatoxin level imposed by import countries can often be rejected, which can have a negative impact on the brand image.
As the global pioneer in food safety assurance technology, TOMRA has been collaborating with global and Chinese food brands to increase public awareness of the potentially lethal effects of aflatoxin. At the same time, TOMRA strives to reduce food safety risks in the processing lines by continually advancing its sensor-based sorting technology.
Hsufuchi Foods, a sub-brand of Nestlé Group, is a well-known food brand with the biggest snack and candy market share in mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. To reinforce its position, Hsufuchi Foods puts quality as its top priority and enforces strict quality control measures to gain and retain consumers, leading to a large market share.
Even with strong quality control measures in place, Hsufuchi Foods never stops actively seeking effective measures for quality enhancement. Since its acquisition in 2011, Hsufuchi Foods has adopted Nestlé’s global quality standards, which are more stringent than China’s domestic food safety regulations.
To achieve this improvement in food safety standards, Hsufuchi Foods installed two of TOMRA’s Helius sorters in September 2016. Since then, the aflatoxin level in its processing lines has been consistently below the 20-ppb allowed by Chinese regulations.
TOMRA: TRUSTED GLOBAL PARTNER OF NESTLÉ GROUP
Nestlé implements strict quality standards across its entire product portfolio, from foods and beverages to services. Recently, Nestlé identified TOMRA as a long-term partner to assure a solid quality control solution, with several of its process-ing lines across the world installing TOMRA’s state-of-the-art sorters, helping to ensure the quality of raw materials and final food products, meet Nestlé’s uniform global standards.
In China, Hsufuchi Foods is already leading the industry in terms of food quality control measures, and the brand has enjoyed increasing popularity among local consumers. In terms of aflatoxin control, Hsufuchi’s products meet national food safety requirements of below 20-ppb (1ppb=1μg/kg).
Nestlé understands the potential lethal threat of this substance, and implements a strict standard across all its hubs. Driven by business ethics, Nestlé asked Hsufuchi Foods to look into improvement measures to further bring down aflatoxin levels in peanut products.
To ensure its final products meet Nestlé’s targeted aflatoxin level, Hsufuchi Foods asked its suppliers of raw peanut materials to improve quality, but soon realized that it was not enough.
To overcome this, the company decided that in-house aflatoxin detection and removal was a necessity. Understanding the bottleneck, Nestlé recommended Hsufuchi Foods work with TOMRA for an effective aflatoxin detection solution.
BUILDING CUSTOMER CONFIDENCE VIA A SIX-MONTH TEST PERIOD
To tackle the aflatoxin issue, TOMRA recommended its Helius sorter with Detox technology as it is able to recognize aflatoxin, which is invisible to the human eye, in foods such as peanuts and almonds, and dried fruits including figs.
To validate the effectiveness of the Helius, Nestlé’s R&D team and TOMRA’s application support teams conducted a six-month test in Hsufuchi’s processing line in Dongguan. During the testing period, over 500 tons of peanuts of different varieties and origins were sorted, with all the final products passing Nestlé’s stringent quality standards. After extensive testing, the company decided to install two Helius sorters.
Zhang Ahfung, deputy general manager in charge of production, comments: “From August 2015 to February 2016, we had six-month on-site test with TOMRA’s Helius sorter. During this period, we tested several different peanut varieties, and TOMRA’s application support engineers could adjust the sorting parameters, per quality features of the different varieties.
“We used several quality inspection measures to validate the aflatoxin content in the sorted products, and all the validation results proved that the aflatoxin level conforms with Nestlé’s high internal quality standards. Meanwhile, the sorter ensures that the loss of good product is kept to a minimum, in line with Hsufuchi’s sustainability goals. We are very pleased with the sorters’ performance and user-friendliness.”
GLOBAL RESOURCES, LOCAL SERVICE AND THIRD-PARTY INSPECTION
“During the on-site testing period, TOMRA offered comprehensive support and technical consultancy. TOMRA’s local application support engineer would spend days on-site, and technical experts from Belgium also flew in to work on the challenges we had with sorting some specific raw peanut materials.”
On top of technical support, TOMRA also actively cooperated with Nestlé on quality inspection and invited a third-party inspection agency to define validation protocols, ensuring the validation process and results are representative enough. Zhang Ahfung continues: “TOMRA’s technical support has been very efficient and quick in response, both in the test phase and after machine installation. The team demonstrated its professionalism and dedication during the testing stage, and convinced me that this highly efficient team can ensure a smooth sorting line and maximized uptime.
“Through the customer care hotline, which is available to us around the clock, we can contact TOMRA’s service team whenever we run into problems, and sometimes we can have the issues fixed over the phone by following their instructions. For issues that cannot be solved over the phone, TOMRA will send a service engineer to conduct on-site troubleshooting. Their timely arrangement and the competence of the service engineers helps to greatly enhance the efficiency of our sorting line, and it puts my mind at ease, because I do not have to worry about our product quality any more, and I’m assured the sorting line is, and always will be, up and running.”
NESTLÉ GROUP ACKNOWLEDGES TOMRA’S SORTING TECHNOLOGY
Since installation in Hsufuchi’s plant in September 2016, the high performance of the two Helius sorters has been widely acknowledged by its customers.
Quality and safety are one of the ten corporate principles at Nestlé and it has decided to choose TOMRA as the strategic partner in fighting aflatoxin contamination. The company has also recommended that other Nestlé facilities, with products containing peanut as raw material, install a Helius sorter where necessary. In the future, Nestlé will also suggest its suppliers install the sorter.
Zhang Ahfung concludes: “Through many tests, we are now assured that TOMRA’s Helius sorter can effectively control the level of aflatoxin in peanuts. Therefore, fulfilling Nestlé Group’s quality policy of offering products and services that match consumer expectations and preferences, we will consider implementing a Detox-technology based sorter in all facilities where aflatoxin problems arise. We hope this will then reduce the harm of aflatoxin among all Nestlé products.”
Aflatoxin is 68 times more lethal than arsenic, and is classified as a group 1 carcinogenic agent by the World Health Organization (Source: World Cancer Report 2014). It can cause serious damage to human and animal livers. Aflatoxin can be found in all kinds of nuts, especially peanuts, and widely exists in soybeans, rice, corn, seasoning and cooking oil.
Aflatoxin can easily grow in damp environments, and is invisible to the naked eye, and is difficult to detect via traditional methods and technology.