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A Vision of Safe Meat

By Sharon Durham
August 5, 2002

Detecting contamination before it reaches consumers is an important part of keeping the food supply safe. Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists in Athens, Ga., have developed a method and an imaging system to find contaminants on food surfaces.

Using a real-time imaging system in the processing plant, researchers Bob Windham, Kurt Lawrence, Bosoon Park and Doug Smith in ARS' Poultry Processing and Meat Quality Research Unit were able to detect feces and recently ingested materials on animal carcasses. Other collaborators include researchers at the University of Georgia, ProVision Technologies (Stennis Space Center, Miss.), and the Institute of Technology Development.

The imaging system scans the surface of a poultry carcass, locating hard-to-detect material such as small particles or those in shadowed areas. This detection system could more reliably detect potential food safety contaminants, thus reducing processing delays and saving processors money.

The system has the potential to be used in many processing situations for the detection of surface contaminants but has been tested only on poultry at the Athens research site. Because the system is expected to work with other animal carcasses, a broad patent application has been filed covering a wide range of poultry and meat products.

An on-line prototype is currently under development and will operate at 140 birds per minute, approximating the processing speeds used in U.S. poultry plants. The researchers expect the system to work at 180 birds per minute--the maximum European line speed--but have no data at this time to predict its efficacy at that speed.

A cooperative research and development agreement has been established with Stork Gamco Inc., Gainesville, Ga., and the researchers expect to test the first prototype system in the lab's pilot-scale processing plant by September of this year.

ARS is the chief scientific research agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.