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David Hewitt, Asia sales manager for Loma Systems, discusses the increasing requirement for food quality control in the Asian aquaculture market.

As with most manufacturing industries, the competitive forces both around the world and within Malaysia have demanded that the food industry make significant steps toward production automation and with this has come the need for automated quality control and inspection.

The food processing sector accounts for 10 per cent of Malaysian manufacturing output, with processed foods being exported to more than 80 countries worldwide.

The Malaysian seafood industry is the second-largest food export industry in the country, with a total export value of more than USD2.5bn (GBP1.7bn) annually.

Since the late 1990s, the Asian aquaculture market has seen huge growth and is up nearly 119 per cent.

This rapid growth in aquaculture production has made the sector vital to the Asian economy and, in the case of some primary traded aquatic products, the sector has become an important source of supply or the main supplier.

The current significant growth in the Asian export trade can be attributed to two major influences.

The particular climate has optimised the farming of fish in the region, attracting a number of international investors.

In addition, the boom in tourism has increased consumer demand for the availability of local fish in western supermarkets.

Asian markets such as China, Korea, Thailand and Malaysia will expand as local economies grow and consumers demand more seafood.

Two major traded products in Asian aquaculture are shrimp and prawns.

Malaysia currently controls three per cent of the world shrimp export, with Thailand holding 25 per cent of the total world export.

The demand for these alone is expected to increase in the forthcoming years and will, therefore, need correct development in food production methods to ensure sustainability.

With increasing pressure to meet demands and the market developing at such a pace, there is a requirement for accurate, reliable and safe inspection systems in production and processing plants.

Increasing awareness among consumers about food quality has fast-tracked the requirement for accurate food inspection systems in processed fish, for both international trade and home consumption.

As international trade increases, so does the risk of potential contaminants.

This has resulted in a common realisation for an integrated solution to food safety, thus developing a market need for leading suppliers in food safety inspection systems.

Investment in these systems will ensure product integrity and support the long-term future trade in Asian aquaculture products.

The number of checkweighers and metal detectors protecting Asian food processing plants has increased dramatically.

They have developed to become key processing systems for the modern food manufacturer.

The main role for metal detectors is to ensure that no metallic contaminants, from a fault in the manufacturing process, make it through to the consumer.

From a quality control perspective, both checkweighers and metal detectors can protect brand integrity and identity while ensuring food safety.

Seafood processing traditionally challenges most metal detectors.

As the product is wet and salty, it can cause equipment to trigger false alarms, resulting in disruption to production.

This, coupled with a working environment that fluctuates from cold and humid during operation to hot and humid during sanitation, requires the purchase of food safety systems to be carefully considered as an incorrect selection and can cause significant problems and result in downtime and inaccuracies.

The machine needs to be adaptable to cope with a variety of products; it must also be durable and have the ability to be thoroughly cleaned in what can sometimes be a hostile production environment.

Loma Systems provides a precise solution for fish processors with the IQ3 and IQ3+ ranges of metal detectors, which offer variable-frequency operation with tough IP69K environmental protection.

The company’s metal detectors are robust and sensitive and can operate at frequencies between 40KHz and 900KHz.

The systems can be configured to automatically calibrate up to 200 different products, as opposed to the standard few with multi-frequency detectors.

The IQ3 metal detector can select the correct operating frequency in seconds, eliminating the past performance restrictions caused by single- or multi-frequency detectors, reducing machine costs and simplifying the production process.

Integrating combination checkweigher and metal detectors creates a space-saving aspect in smaller production lines, while providing cost benefits and extra product safety.

Manufacturers have also been developing a touch-control panel that enables continuous production, monitoring and control.

Seafood processors should ensure that they are using the most up-to-date technology in their production lines to ensure consistent quality standards.

Adhering to safety standards is an essential part of the food production process.

With growing concerns about food safety, increasing efforts have been undertaken to improve the quality of Asian aquaculture products.

Malaysian seafood exports have reported an estimated loss in the sales and production of more than USD1.5bn to date.

Ready stocks are currently in cold rooms, but are not viable for export to foreign countries owing to packaging and regulation requirements.

The introduction of mandatory Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP) requirements for exports to the US and the European Union has encouraged suppliers to demonstrate due diligence.

With the growth of modern distribution channels expanding, companies are under increasing pressure to monitor and record all stages of food safety for traceability insurance.

Processors must also keep up-to-date records of every package that is dispatched.

Seafood processors should simplify the inspection process by integrating electronic network data capture systems into their food production management systems.

These are essential reference points for food manufacturers and are designed to capture accurate records of the inspection process.

Loma Systems’ range of inspection equipment offers a flexible data capture solution, including OPC and Ethernet capabilities that can connect to any network.

All data collected can be saved to a USB storage device, allowing data to be compiled into production reports.

Although a major part of total output from aquaculture is consumed internally by producing Asian nations, traditional eating habits are very different from those of the Western world.

Consumer confidence is important, which is why global retailers will try to ensure that the best working practices are being implemented.

The Asian aquaculture export market is a valuable commodity and if it is to grow and develop it must consider and have in place reliable and accurate automated quality control and inspection systems to ensure food safety when internationally exporting.

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