Special edition: product inspection

Primary challenge for poultry processors is detecting bones

By Yousef Fatayer

- Last updated on GMT

©iStock/shotsstudio
©iStock/shotsstudio

Related tags Meat Chicken

Poultry is processed in one of the harshest environments in the industry and as global appetites increase so do the food safety expectations of regulators, retailers and consumers.

Global production of broiler chicken meat (birds raised specifically for meat production) is expected to hit a record 89.7 million tons in 2016 - a rise of 1.1% on 2015, according to US Department of Agriculture (USDA) figures.

So processors must meet demanding production schedules while ensuring the safety of product entering the retail supply chain.

Challenges for poultry processors

For poultry processors the primary challenge is the detection of bones – mainly the rib, fan and wish bones, as the majority of product processed is breast meat (or filet). These three bone types have different detection levels.

The wish bone is the easiest to detect as it is denser, then the rib bones, followed by the fan bones. The fan bones are very thin, almost like cartilage, in young birds.

Yousef Fatayer_Eagle PI
Yousef Fatayer of Eagle Product Inspection

A chicken breast reaching a consumer with bone present can be reported through social media channels, which can damage a brand’s reputation. If a product has to be recalled consumers may avoid it throughout this period – with some potentially not returning after the all clear has been given.

Finally, it can be hazardous to consume a product with unexpected bones. Aside from risk of choking, chicken bones tend to splinter and can cause injury if bitten into or swallowed.

These challenges are compounded by the fact that the majority of birds are slaughtered before they reach maturity, meaning the bones have not had a chance to calcify properly.

Calcification hardens bones, which creates a greater disturbance in an X-ray image and makes them easier to detect, but processors are reluctant to increase the lifecycle of the birds processed to allow for greater calcification as it is often not viable from a cost or demand perspective.

X-ray inspection offers many layers of benefits

Many processors still inspect poultry manually, but this should not be encouraged as a primary method of contaminant detection due to the margin for human error. Given food safety regulations, such as HACCP, and the fact that many retailers demand products be inspected by an X-ray system to do business with them, it is preferable to make bone detection an automated, in-line process.

That is not to say the human element should be removed altogether. Secondary inspection can reduce product waste and integrated trim stations enable rejected product to be sent to a rework station, where operatives can double check for contaminants, remove the object and then rescan the item via the X-ray system.

The advantage of the X-ray system is that 100% of product is inspected as it passes down the line – reducing the risk of contaminants continuing further downstream, where they also have the potential to damage machinery.

X-ray inspection systems designed specifically for poultry applications are often capable of detecting calcified bone down to 2mm thickness at a speed of 120FPM (36MPM).

Due to the sensitivity levels needed to detect bones of this size, other contaminants such as metal fragments, glass shards and some rubber and plastic compounds are also easier to detect. 

Presentation consideration

How processors deal with product is important when installing X-ray inspection equipment, as the systems will need to be calibrated and positioned accordingly.

There are many advantages of employing a pipeline inspection machine at the beginning of the process to inspect poultry in the form of breasts, ground meat or trim.

Contaminated product can be removed before further value is added downstream, which can lead to savings in terms of waste, downstream equipment can be protected from damage caused by physical contaminants and consumers against potential harm.
Bulk (or loose) flow is the most common presentation for poultry.

Many manual and automated processes leave products open to contamination – such as the tips breaking off knives or metal parts shearing from machines – and X-ray systems are capable of providing a catch-all in this situation. The presentation of bulk flow product also aids better detection capabilities, as it is often passed through the system unpackaged and at a shallow depth.

Finally, for packaged products - such as chicken breasts in trays – X-ray adds value in terms of the number of quality checks performed simultaneously.

In addition to detection of physical contaminants, components can be counted, total and zoned mass can be calculated to reduce product giveaway and prevent underweight packages getting to the customer.

When looking to introduce inline product inspection, such as an X-ray system, it is important to work with an expert supplier from the outset.

Different processing procedures and applications require specific equipment and settings, and by taking all production needs into consideration at the beginning, processors can reap the benefits of systems from day one.

Look at what is being processed, where the critical control points on the line are and work with a supplier that understands how to make a system work hard for its money and for you.

  • Yousef Fatayer, project support group manager and poultry inspection expert at Eagle Product Inspection, took up his current position in July 2015. Fatayer joined in December 2014 as inside sales project manager, having worked with Elreha – a designer and manufacturer of electronic controls. He manages internal and external applications teams to provide applications engineering services and control for non-standard product configurations

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