SmartSensor is a three-year multi-stakeholder project that aims to develop a tool using near-infrared spectroscopy (NIR) to measure food without actually coming into contact with the product.
Participating companies include Norwegian agri-food cooperative Nortura, frozen food manufacturer Findus, salmon producer Cermaq and Norwegian tech company Tomra.
Research centre Nofima is coordinating the scientific research, instrument calibration and testing while Sintef Digital is developing the instrument itself, with manufacturers such as Findus testing the instrument in the production process. Tomra will commercialise the final product.
One of its “unique” selling points is it can “probe deeply” into food, Nofima said. For instance, it can test below salmon skin without coming into direct contact with the sample.
Currently, manufacturers measure core temperatures by taking samples when necessary. The SmartSensor instrument, however, will allow for continuous measurement and control. If the temperature of the sample is not what it should be, it can be immediately adjusted.
Sintef researcher Marion O’Farrell said: “Measuring the core temperature of each sausage as they pass through the oven has been both challenging and enjoyable. Water vapour, humidity, little space and the fact that we couldn’t see the sausages we were measuring made this quite a job.”
Close cooperation allowed the project participants to solve such problems, O’Farrell added.
The SmartSensor project began in 2016 although the companies did not say when the final instrument would be commercially available.
Senior researcher at Nofima and project manager Jens Petter Wold said: “We have previously developed rapid measuring instruments for use on production lines, but these were unable to penetrate deep enough into products with dark surfaces like salmon and potato skin.
"We have developed instruments that can penetrate dark surfaces, but these needed to have contact with the food, and were therefore unsuitable for measurements in the production line. In this project, we are working towards combining both of these desirable effects, and this will save food manufacturers a lot of money.”
According to the companies involved in the project, manufacturers that use the instrument stand to make “considerable annual savings based on better yields, consistent product quality, less waste and added value in the market”.
Petter Wold added: “This type of instrument will be of great value to food manufacturers because better control will make it easier to handle varying raw material quality, which will reduce waste. We have now completed the development of Prototype version two, which is currently being tested in companies.”