Answering The Most Common Questions Surrounding Detectable Pens

FAQs relating to Detectable Pens: covering everything from the most important design features to the role of the Global Food Safety Standard.

Understanding your equipment is key to the success of your site. This article provides an in depth introduction to a factory essential: Detectable Pens.

The FSA Incidents and Resilience Annual Report for 2021/22 revealed that plastic contamination continues to be the highest reported category for foreign body contamination. The report also stated that, in the UK alone, 2,336 food and food safety incidents have occurred, with this resulting in 150 alerts and 66 product recalls. These findings suggest that it has never been more important for sites to evaluate the risks associated with portable items, paying particular attention to the guidance provided in Issue 9 of the BRCGS Global Food Safety Standard.

Used by most, if not all, of your operatives, detectable pens should be top of this list. Often viewed as a simple and fail-safe piece of equipment, there is a lot more to detectable pens than meets the eye. From the background signal of your metal detector to the brittle nature of pens with a high metal content, there are a number of factors to consider if you are going to find the right pens for your site.

1. What is a detectable pen?

Designed for use across the food industry, detectable pens are suited to the harsh demands of a food or beverage production site. Unlike regular pens, they are typically made from FDA food contact approved polymers that contain small amounts of ferrous material. This material is what makes detectable pens detectable, as depending on the size of the foreign body in question and the sensitivity of your site’s metal detection machine, you will have a greater chance of locating a pen should it find its way into your product. This is why the industry views detectable pens as a viable solution for reducing the risk of foreign body contamination.


2. Are detectable pens mentioned in Issue 9 of the BRCGS Global Food Safety Standard? 

Pens are only directly referred to in Clause of the Global Food Safety Standard, Issue 9. In an effort to reduce the risk of physical contamination, this clause encourages sites to consider the exclusion of non-approved portable items and a total reliance on site-issued equipment. Clause also asks factories to consider the design of their stationery items, with the ideal pen free from small external parts and detectable by foreign-body detection equipment. If a pen or stationery item does not meet these requirements, the standard recommends that it should only be used in designated areas where contamination is prevented.


3. How do I ensure my detectable pens are compliant with the Global Food Safety Standard? 

Let’s start by addressing the recommendation that your stationery items should be designed without small external parts. If you are concerned about meeting this requirement, one option is to select a pen that doesn’t feature a lanyard loop or pocket clip. However, you may be reluctant to do this, as these features tend to be popular amongst operatives and serve the added purpose of keeping pens in place. With this in mind, Retreeva pens feature integral lanyard loops and pocket clips, affording you the benefits of these features, but eliminating the risk of them snapping off. 

BRCGS also recommends that your pens can be detected by foreign-body detection equipment. Here, it’s important to highlight two common misconceptions. The first misconception is that metal springs will be picked up by metal detectors. Although this sounds logical, the small size of the spring means the signal it omits is almost identical to the background signal of your detector, especially if you are processing wet products such as ready meals. Put simply, it has almost no chance of being detected.

The second misconception is that pens with a high metal content are automatically the safest option for your site. Again, this is untrue, as a high metal content leads to a brittleness that could cause your pens to shatter under pressure. This is why your detectable pens also need to be shatterproof. Consequently, Retreeva pens are made with shatter-resistant polymers that are metal detectable, x-ray visible, and FDA food contact approved. This means that even if they are subjected to unnatural or unreasonable force, they will only ever bend or break into two parts – helping you to avoid foreign body contamination and secure audit compliance.

4. What are the different styles, ink, and housing options for detectable pens?

Detectable Pens offer an ink type for every application. For example, regular ink works at ambient temperatures, gel ink is suited to chilled or sub-zero temperatures, pressurised ink works well on soiled or greasy surfaces, and fine tip permanent markers are ideal for writing on shiny surfaces. Here at Retreeva, our pens are also available with four different ink barrels: blue, black, red, and green, plus four different housings: blue, red, green, and yellow. There is also the option to have your pens with or without lanyard loops and pocket clips. Finally, you can choose between pens with retracting mechanisms and fixed cartridges.

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5. What is it like to use a detectable pen?

This depends on whether your detectable pens have been designed with operative-use in mind. This is true of Retreeva’s detectable pens, as despite being smooth enough for easy-cleaning, they have a textured surface that offers an enhanced grip and are contoured for the thumb and finger. Your operatives will also be looking for a firm writing experience, with many sites torn between pens that are easy to use, but have a metal spring and pens that are difficult to write with, but don’t have this unnecessary hazard. In response to this issue, Retreeva pens feature a unique suspension system that eliminates the need for a metal spring, but provides a firm and reliable writing experience.


6. How often do I need to replace the detectable pens at my site?

This will be determined by a number of factors, namely the amount the pens are used and the way in which they are treated by your operatives. It will also be dependent on the ink life of your pens. Throughout the industry, this can vary from 1-2km to 10km of writing length. It may seem like the obvious choice to select a pen with 10km of ink, but sites are often swayed by the fact that pens with 1-2km typically have a lower upfront cost. However, when it comes to long term savings, a pen with 10km of writing length could last your site up to five if not ten times as long.

It is also worth considering the durability of your pens, as a broken pen is not only a foreign body risk, but will also need to be replaced. Shatterproof pens are an obvious solution as they are designed to withstand the daily demands of a working factory. Retreeva pens also feature a Tungsten carbide ball that is much harder than a nickel or stainless steel alternative. This means it is far less likely to be damaged, something that will further extend the lifespan of your pens, with the majority thrown away not because the ink has run out, but rather because the ball point has been compromised.

We hope that by answering the most frequently asked questions surrounding detectable pens we have helped you to gain a deeper understanding of this aspect of your operation. From the most important design features to the impact of the Global Food Safety Standard, you should now have a clear idea of the key points to consider. However, if you do have any further questions that you would like to be added to this article, you can email the Retreeva team at and call us on +44 (0)1473 467 837.

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