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Automated Chicken Inspection Ready To CommercializeBy Don Comis
August 30, 2002
Moving automated chicken inspection into the nation's 300-plus poultry-processing plants is the goal of cooperative research between the Agricultural Research Service and Stork Gamco, Inc., of Gainesville, Ga., one of the largest chicken-processing plant equipment manufacturers in the world.
Stork Gamco will soon test a system, developed by ARS agricultural engineer Yud-Ren Chen in Beltsville, Md., that moves 140 birds a minute.
In a processing plant, the test equipment will be mounted alongside a processing line at the point right after the chickens are killed and defeathered. The equipment takes two complementary readings of the carcasses' condition. For one, a probe bounces light off the carcasses. The reflected light goes to a spectrophotometer and then a computer-- which is in a room away from the moist conditions of the processing line--for analysis. Differences between light shining on the chicken and light reflected back are due to variations in external skin color and meat tissue composition that are clues to problems.
For the second reading, a camera takes three spectral images of each chicken through different color filters. Then the computer reads the spectral images and decides if the carcass is wholesome or not, as well as identifying local tears, bruises or tumors and carcass size.
Together, the equipment pieces quickly diagnose physical or biological conditions causing inspectors to reject chickens. They spot both definitely unwholesome carcasses for rejection and suspect ones requiring closer human inspection.
The equipment does not detect bacterial contamination. But the ARS Poultry Processing and Meat Quality Research Unit in Athens, Ga., has signed a companion cooperative research and development agreement with Stork Gamco to find a way to spot contamination from the ruptured crops of chicken carcasses and from fecal matter, both of which contain bacteria.
For more on machine vision inspection of chickens, see the August 2002 issue ofAgricultural Research magazine.
ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.