Space-Age Tools Boost Food Safety, Quality
Tokarz January 19, 2007
Portable inspection devices that detect food safety and quality
problems are being developed by Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists. Recent food safety
outbreaks highlight the need for "space-age" ways to prevent such problems at
every step in the food production processfrom farm field to grocery store
Scientists led by
Chen at the ARS
and Sensing Laboratory, Beltsville, Md., are designing such portable
inspection devices by adapting optical technology used for remote sensing of
Prototypes include binoculars with lenses that detect fecal matter on
meat, produce or processing equipmentas well as diseases or quality
defects. A camera/light combination can be helmet-mounted or used in a
hand-held device to expose fecal matter as white specks on an eyewear-mounted
The portable devices are the next stage for a team that recently
handed industry a prototype of an on-line imaging system for chicken
inspection. Next will be a similar system for inspecting fruits and vegetables.
Delwiche, working with colleagues at the ARS
Marketing and Production Research Center, Manhattan, Kan., has succeeded
with high-speed optical inspection of wheat and other grains, detecting protein
content as well as mold.
At the ARS
and Bean Research Unit, East Lansing, Mich.,
Lu's team uses laser beams to judge taste, firmness and other quality
aspects of fresh produce.
Machine vision nicely supports human inspection because its
instruments shine light on every single fruit, vegetable, grain kernel, or meat
or poultry product that speeds along the processing line. It also gives
inspectors an extra pair of eyes for scanning equipment and processing areas
for contamination invisible to the naked eye.
more about the research in the January 2007 issue of Agricultural
ARS is the U.S. Department of
Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.