By Lilian Schaer for AgInnovation Ontario
Waterloo, Ontario – A local company has technology that lets meat and vegetable processors guarantee their product quality and reduce food waste.
P&P Optica’s chemical imaging technology that is being used successfully in the recycling industry and the biomedical field is now being adapted for use in food processing so that companies can verify the quality of their products in a quick, repeatable, and consistent way.
“We’re able to “see” the chemistry in things. The recycling industry, for example, wanted to be able to sort various types of plastics more effectively and quickly, and our technology lets them do that by analyzing the chemical composition of those plastics at industrial speed,” explains company president and CEO Olga Pawluczyk.
Now they’re offering their innovation to large meat and vegetable processors.
In meat processing, the imaging technology could automate the grading process that is used to determine quality in fresh meat, as well as do in-line composition analysis for processed products like deli meats to ensure their rapid, high volume production processes follow the prescribed recipes exactly with every production run.
“Meat grading is still largely manual and it is a subjective activity,” says Pawluczyk of the quality evaluation process used in plants that determines how much farmers are paid for their animals.
“The immediate benefit here is meat quality, such as on hams or pork loins. Grading with our technology means a processor could certify quality and then maximize revenues from markets that are willing to pay for top grade quality, for example,” she says.
The longer term solution would include correlating grading data from the plant back to the farm to determine which animals resulted in the best quality meat and evaluate the impact of livestock genetics and management, and the feed on that meat quality, but Pawluczyk says that’s not an exact science yet.
In produce, P&P Optica’s technology would allow for quicker and more accurate sorting of blemished or spoiled fruits or vegetables.
Current approaches to sorting result in good quality produce being thrown away alongside the undesirable pieces, so further automating that process would reduce waste and labour costs in an industry where margins are consistently small.
P&P Optica has already completed a pilot project with potatoes where they were able to successfully pinpoint areas in pre-cooked potato strips with high sugar content.
Now, says Pawluczyk, they’re in discussions with larger Ontario pork processors to implement their technology on a pilot scale in a commercial meat setting, and she expects to have systems working in the marketplace in 12 to 15 months.
And although they’re currently focusing on larger volume processors, the technology can be adapted to fit the needs of smaller operations as well.
“We’re a research-driven organization so we’re going to continue to put effort into improving and expanding this technology,” she says. “We’ve seen success in other sectors and we see how this can solve problems for the food industry as well. Chemical imaging is not a new or unique concept, but we’ve developed a truly innovative technology that we believe is topnotch in terms of quality and performance.”
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