Current inspection technologies for meat, poultry and other soft food products can miss very small fragments of bone, metal, glass and other foreign materials—or lead to ambiguous results that require time-intensive verification.
Battelle has developed an approach that significantly improves detection probabilities and reduces the need for manual verification. The use of microfocus, dual-energy radiographic imaging along with advanced algorithms can detect and identify contaminants.
Three components are combined to vastly improve the accuracy and resolution of contaminant detection.
- A microfocus X-ray tube allows smaller objects to be seen and provides better measurements for dual-energy attenuation properties
- Dual-energy radiography, using high-energy (HE) and low-energy (LE) tube outputs produces two radiographic images. Materials with different radiographic densities respond differently to HE and LE, providing the basis for dual-energy radiography.
- A physics-based computer algorithm combines the two images to produce a third detailed image, enhancing the presence of nonfood materials.
Combining these approaches provides better results than are possible with other approaches used today. The microfocus technique improves the dual-energy process and allows for more accurate measurement of radiographic density.
Maximizing the Probability of Detection for the Food IndustryWe have tested this approach to detect contaminants in meat and poultry. Testing demonstrated accurately detection and identification of glass, bone and plastic fragments as small as 1 mm in diameter in meat and poultry.
Improving the probability of detection for contamination would provide significant benefits for the meat and poultry industry. Conventional screening systems have a probability of detection for bone fragments between 3–4 mm of 50–70 percent. Using either microfocus or dual energy alone provides measurable improvement. When both of these methods are combined with a smart algorithm, the probability of detection for bone fragments of this size nears 100 percent.
Implications for Other Food ProductsIn addition to improved detection capabilities, this approach offers several advantages for food safety and security applications.
- It is noninvasive and can be used with already packaged products.
- It can be retrofitted into existing inspection and security systems, so conveyor belts or other mechanical components.
- It does not slow down throughput.
- It requires minimal retraining for inspection staff.
About the Authors
Vicki A. Barbur, Ph.D., is Battelle's Senior Director of IP and Technology Commercialization and Richard J. Davis is a Senior Research Leader.
This article was originally published in Food Safety Magazine.