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Technology improves food processing quality

Researchers at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory have developed an ultrasonic technology that could tell food manufacturers if foreign objects have fallen into their product long before it reaches the consumer.

The technology uses sound waves and optical capabilities to detect foreign objects in processing streams. PNNL's patented inspection method can detect cartilage, metal, plastic or anything else that should not be in the product.

Inspection methods, such as x-ray, can be costly and slow and require added safety precautions and complex operator training. The PNNL method offers the option of automation. Ultrasonic technology alleviates much of the added difficulty currently incurred by manufacturers when inspecting processed food products manually.

"Our method is the only one we're aware of that uses both acoustics and optics," said Aaron Diaz, PNNL staff scientist. "Because it can be automated, it's inherently safer and more effective than inspecting certain types of process streams manually."

Acoustics, combined with light transmitted through the product, adds to the data extracted from the stream, making results more accurate. The two methods may be used separately, depending on the properties of the product being inspected.

This technology could bring the inspection quality of processed food to a whole new level. "It's a useful technology that could positively impact manufacturing in many areas," Diaz said. More information about the technology is available at http://availabletechnologies.pnl.gov.

(Photo caption: This prototype shows multiple acoustic and optical sensors configured along a process stream to detect foreign objects. The technology can be used to detect metal, plastic or cartilage in products such as ice cream or baby food.)

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