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Agricultural engineer

Automated Chicken Inspection Put to the Test

By Don Comis
May 27, 1998

Tyson Food's poultry processing plant in New Holland, Pa., got a look at the chicken plant of the near future earlier this spring.

That's when Yud-Ren Chen with USDA's Agricultural Research Service tested a prototype for automated chicken inspection. The prototype system, developed by Chen, "sees" the chickens with a visible- and near-infrared light probe and four cameras fitted with filters.

The prototype maintained the same 95-percent accuracy and consistency during a 3-week test in March as in earlier tests, including an off-line test in a West Virginia chicken plant. All chickens in the tests were also inspected by USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service veterinarians. Chen is an ARS supervisory agricultural engineer based in Beltsville, Md.

The light probe sends reflected light to a spectrophotometer linked to a computer. The computer analyzes the resulting data to spot both surface and internal color and tissue composition changes that indicate reasons for rejection. These may include blood-related diseases, bruises or tumors. Another computer uses images from the cameras to further check the carcasses for defects indicated by surface color and texture changes.

The light probe operates in a fraction of a second, capable of scanning chickens at line speeds up to 140 a minute. A red light indicates a bird requires close examination by a human inspector. If the prototype becomes commercially available, the computer would redirect rejected carcasses to a separate "re-inspect line."

The test showed that the equipment can be easily installed in existing plants without redesigning or shutting down the production line. Chen is refining the equipment to be sturdier and more suitable for the humid environment of chicken processing plants.

An in-depth story about the research can be found in the May issue of Agricultural Research magazine. The story also is on the World Wide Web at:


Scientific contact: Yud-Ren Chen, ARS Instrumentation and Sensing Laboratory, Beltsville, Md., phone (301) 504-8450, fax 504-9466,

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