Rocky Mountain Natural Meats, the largest bison processor in the U.S., takes great care to produce the highest quality product. In its new 50,000 square foot state-of-the-art fabrication and further processing plant in Henderson, Colorado, three metal detectors inspect bison meat three times twice on the bulk processing side and a third time on the packaging side.
"Rocky Mountain Natural Meats is a premium supplier of premium protein. We operate far above what the USDA expects," noted Ty Ward, Plant Manager. "Compared to beef, bison has a greater risk of metal contamination because of the way it's slaughtered. With three metal detectors inspecting product, we're making sure our product is clean."
The first metal detector inspects bulk product in the fabricating room to assure the highest product quality on meats that are not ground, including custom fabricated products. The meat destined for grinding then moves to the further processing room where a second metal detector inspects the trim prior to the grinder. Set to detect large pieces of metal, the main purpose of this system is to detect and remove trim contaminated with metal to protect the downstream grinder. The third metal detector, set to detect the smallest pieces of metal, inspects packaged product. This third system removes tiny fragments that are too small to be detected by the first and second systems as well as anything that could have been picked up in the grinder. All three metal detectors are PowerPhase models from Mettler-Toledo Safeline.
"The metal detector in the fabricating room and the one on the packaging line are both new. We added them a few months ago," explained Jay Donato, Quality Assurance Manager. "We went with Mettler-Toledo Safeline because we've had great experiences with their metal detectors in the past. That, and they've got the best reputation in the industry and we wanted the best."
The PowerPhase metal detector in the fabricating room was added to an existing line and presented a bit of an engineering challenge since the footprint of the line in the tight space was already set. Metter-Toledo Safeline custom engineered the system with a "z style conveyor," which consists of a horizontal infeed section the metal detector located on an incline section, and a horizontal discharge incorporating a retractable band reject device. The discharge section of the system is cantilevered over the customer's existing take-away conveyor.
"The installation of the big metal detector in the fabricated room could have been tricky but it was seamless. We cut out a section of the old line and dropped in the new equipment without a single hiccup," said Donato.
Operating one eight-hour production shift, five days a week, Rocky Mountain Natural Meats typically processes approximately 100 carcasses a day to produce 20,000 pounds of ground product along with 3,000 pounds of steaks.
During the production shift, the fabricating and grinding rooms are kept at 41°F. During the sanitation shift, the high-temperature, high-pressure washdown causes the temperature and the humidity in the room to soar. To operate reliably, the metal detectors must handle both temperature extremes. They must also be watertight so the electronics are not compromised during the washdown. With an IP69K-rated control panel, the PowerPhase metal detectors exceed NEMA 4X specifications.
To maximize detection sensitivity, the metal detectors feature high frequency coil technology and advanced head geometry that consistently detect all types of metal contamination from common ferrous and non-ferrous metal to the most difficult to detect stainless steel fragments. To virtually eliminate false rejects, a "Faraday Screen," located between the detector coil system and the product being inspected, filters out signals that can interfere.
"We set our metal detectors to achieve the highest level of sensitivity without getting false rejects," said Donato. "We have found the detection sensitivity to be very consistent over time. We check each of the metal detectors once every hour to verify they are functioning properly. We need to recalibrate very rarely." Recalibration is accomplished via an "auto-setup" feature within the Mettler-Toledo Safeline software.
On the packaging line, Rocky Mountain Natural Meats changes the settings on the Safeline metal detector depending on the finished product being run to achieve the greatest sensitivity while minimizing false rejects. Changing over the metal detector is accomplished in seconds by simply recalling the pre-programmed setting via the touch pad no mechanical adjustments or change parts are needed.
"The Safeline metal detectors are easy to operate and easy to maintain. Typically, the operator uses only the stop and start functions. If there is a reject, he'll re-run the product. Our QC person is responsible for the validation checks," noted Donato. "The metal detectors have access codes that allow us to give the QC person deeper access than the operators. We use these access codes to be sure we're preserving the correct settings."
"Thanks to the PowerPhase detectors, we're confident we're achieving the highest level of product quality," concluded Donato. "Compared to other custom fab processors, which typically don't have a metal detector on the trim line, we're a big step ahead. We have very high quality standards here. In addition to our own due diligence, we're audited every year by a third party."
Since being founded in 1986 by Bob Dineen, Rocky Mountain Natural Meats has been devoted to supplying high quality bison meat to grocers, distributors and restaurants nationwide. Today, the privately held company supplies well over 50 percent of the nations' supply of retail bison meat.
For more information about Rocky Mountain Natural Meats, visit www.greatrangebison.com. For more information about Mettler-Toledo Safeline, visit www.mt.com/safelineus.