Smarter sensors for higher food quality
Varying raw material quality is a major challenge for food producers. Smarter measuring instruments will improve control and lead to less waste.
The goal of the new innovation project SmartSensor is to develop measuring instruments that can be used for the on-line measurement of food products. The technology used by the instrument is based on near-infrared light, and thus it is known as an “NIR instrument”. The instrument is to be able to measure quality parameters that currently used instruments cannot measure.
“We are concentrating on three different areas of application: the measurement of fat in whole salmon, the measurement of dry matter in whole potatoes, and the measurement of core temperature in heat-treated products such as sausages. The principal challenge is the high speed at which the measurement must be made, and the depth into the product at which it must be taken,” says Jens Petter Wold, Senior Scientist at Nofima and scientific project manager of the SmartSensor project.
Making deep measurements rapidly
The scientists are to develop a prototype of a measuring instrument that can carry out measurements at the production line without direct contact with the food product. In order to be able to map the core temperature in heat-treated products, the dry matter content in whole potatoes and the fat content of whole salmon, is it necessary that the instrument can measure deep inside the products. And if the instrument is to be used at the production line, it must be able to carry out the analyses extremely rapidly.
This means that the NIR instrument must comprise a powerful light source and sensors. The latter must respond rapidly and at the same time manage to measure deep inside the product. Rapid algorithms that can continuously analyse the results are also crucial. These properties can only be developed by scientists with solid knowledge of the chemical composition of the products, and expertise in the calibration and use of optical instruments.
The greatest challenge in the use of NIR light will be to obtain sufficiently reliable optical signals from the interior of the samples, since the light must be able to penetrate the outer layers of skin or shell.
– Online measurement of the core temperature of products will open new possibilities to optimise processing on our production lines. Nortura has previously collaborated closely with Tomra and contributed to the development of online equipment for the measurement of fat content in meat, so this project will be exciting and we have high expectations, says Per Berg, head of R&D in Nortura.
Better sorting gives higher value creation
The ability to measure the core temperature of heat-treated products directly while they are being transported along a production line will enable food producers to check that the temperature is sufficiently high to guarantee food safety. It will also make it possible to regulate the heat-treatment process to ensure that the core temperature is optimal, relative to the final quality.
Scientists at Nofima have worked in several projects to discover the best methods of measuring the dry matter content of potatoes. They have concluded that an NIR instrument can provide completely new possibilities that ensure that each individual raw potato is used precisely for its most suitable end use.