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Space-age tools boost food safety, quality.

Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists are developing portable inspection devices for detection of food safety and food quality problems by adapting optical technology used for remote sensing of the Earth. The team is led by Yud-Ren Chen at the ARS Instrumentation and Sensing Laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland.

Prototypes include binoculars with lenses that detect fecal matter on meat, produce, or processing equipment, well as diseases or quality defects. A camera/light combination can be helmet-mounted or used in a hand-held device to expose fecal matter as white specks on an eyewear-mounted computer display.

The team also has developed a prototype of an online imaging system for chicken inspection. Next up will be a system for inspection of fruits and vegetables.

Stephen Delwiche, working with colleagues at the ARS Grain Marketing and Production Research Center, in Manhattan, Kansas, has succeeded with high-speed optical inspection of wheat and other grains, detecting protein content as well as mold.

At the ARS Sugarbeet and Bean Research Unit in East Lansing, Michigan, Renfu Lu's team uses laser beams to judge taste, firmness, and other quality aspects of fresh produce.

Machine vision nicely supports human inspection because its instruments shine light on every single fruit, vegetable, grain kernel, or meat or poultry product that speeds along the processing line. It also enables inspectors to scan equipment and processing areas for contamination invisible to the naked eye.

More on the research can be found in the January 2007 issue of Agricultural Research magazine at
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Title Annotation:EH Update
Publication:Journal of Environmental Health
Date:May 1, 2007
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