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Imaging System Detects Contaminants on Poultry

By Sharon Durham
September 11, 2003

Food processors strive to detect contamination before it reaches consumers--an important part of keeping the food supply safe.

Agricultural Research Service scientists in Athens, Ga., have been granted a patent on an imaging system that detects 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 the ARS Poultry Processing and Meat Quality Research Unit were able to detect feces and recently ingested materials on animal carcasses with 100-percent accuracy. Other collaborators include researchers at the University of Georgia and at ProVision Technologies Division, part of the Institute of Technology Development, located in Stennis Space Center, Miss.

The system uses hyperspectral imaging to scan 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 for use in many processing situations for the detection of surface contaminants but has been tested only on poultry at the Richard B. Russell Research Center in Athens. 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 was used to test the system that operates 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 was established with Stork Gamco Inc., Gainesville, Ga., to develop and test a prototype on-line system.

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