The words 'food safety' are on the lips of manufacturers, politicians and consumers across the world. In response to a seemingly increasing preoccupation with this issue scientists are constantly under pressure to come up with new technologies to tackle the problem. This week scientists at the US Agricultural Research Service (ARS) report that they have developed a method and an imaging system to find contaminants on food surfaces.
Using a real-time imaging system in the processing plant, researchers Bob Windham, Kurt Lawrence, Bosoon Park and Doug Smith in ARS Poultry Processing and Meat Quality Research Unit were able to detect faeces and recently ingested materials on animal carcasses.
The imaging system scans the surface of a poultry carcass, locating hard-to-detect material such as small particles or those in shadowed areas. The researchers claim that this detection system could detect potential food safety contaminants, thereby reducing processing delays and costs.
The researchers are confident that, although the system has only been tested on poultry, it has the potential to be used in a variety of different processing situations for the detection of surface contaminants. A broad patent application has been filed to cover a wide range of poultry and meat products.
An on-line prototype is currently under development and will operate at 140 birds per minute, similar to current processing speeds used in US poultry plants. The researchers expect the system to work at 180 birds per minute - the maximum European line speed - but have no data at this time to predict the systems efficacy at that speed.
A co-operative research and development agreement has been established with Stork Gamco and the researchers expect to test the first prototype system in the lab's pilot-scale processing plant by September 2002.