High-tech approach uses lights, action and camera to scrutinize fresh produce

May 10, 2011, United States Department of Agriculture

High-tech tactics to carefully examine apples and other fresh produce items as they travel along packinghouse conveyor belts will help ensure the quality and safety of these good-for-you foods.

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) scientists in Beltsville, Md., have developed and patented an experimental, cutting-edge optical scanning system that would use two different kinds of lighting, a sophisticated camera and other pieces of equipment to scrutinize produce-section favorites while they are still at the packinghouse.

The system would provide, in a single image, evidence of certain kinds of defects or contaminants, according to biophysicist Moon S. Kim with USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS). Defects could include cuts and bruises. Contaminants might include specks of fertilizer from orchard or field soil.

Kim, ARS agricultural engineers Yud-Ren Chen (now retired) and Kuanglin (Kevin) Chao, and ARS biomedical engineer Alan M. Lefcourt received a patent in 2010 for their automated approach to detecting defects and contaminants on the exterior of or other items. The scientists work in the ARS Environmental Microbial and Food Safety Research Laboratory at Beltsville.

The team's system harnesses the capabilities of a type of camera known as a high-speed multispectral/hyperspectral line-scanner. Positioned above a , the scanner captures images of each fast-moving item, such as an apple. Each apple is exposed simultaneously to ultra-violet light from a UV fluorescent lamp and near infra-red light from a halogen lamp. The near infra-red light that bounces off the apple can be captured by an instrument known as a spectrograph and analyzed for tell-tale patterns of defects, while the UV light beamed on the apple can disclose the whereabouts of contaminants.

The system combines information from both forms of illumination into a single image with contaminant and defect results. When linked to a , the system can signal the sorter to separate the problem apples from others.

At present, the system offers, at the rate of about 3 to 4 apples per second, a 180-degree view of each apple's exterior, Kim reports. The scientists are working to improve the process so it will provide a 360-degree whole-surface view for thorough inspection.

Preliminary findings from this work appeared in a 2008 issue of the journal Sensing and Instrumentation for Food Quality and Safety.

Explore further: Laser Shows if Fruit's Beauty is Only Skin Deep

Related Stories

Laser Shows if Fruit's Beauty is Only Skin Deep

May 8, 2005

The produce industry is working with the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) to make sure that fruits and vegetables taste as good as they look. They're counting on "machine vision" tools that can predict the quality of ...

Market lighting affects nutrients

May 3, 2011

Many people reach toward the back of the fresh-produce shelf to find the freshest salad greens with the latest expiration dates. But a study led by U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) scientists may prompt consumers to ...

E. coli an unlikely contaminant of plant vascular systems

April 1, 2011

A technique developed by U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) scientists for tracking pathogens has helped confirm that Escherichia coli is not likely to contaminate the internal vascular structure of field-grown leafy greens ...

Hyperspectral imaging speeds detection of Campylobacter

August 25, 2010

A type of high-tech imaging can be used to distinguish the foodborne pathogen Campylobacter from other microorganisms as quickly as 24 hours after a sample is placed on solid media in a Petri dish, according to a study published ...

Found - the apple gene for red

November 30, 2006

CSIRO researchers have located the gene that controls the colour of apples – a discovery that may lead to bright new apple varieties.

Sorter Detects and Removes Damaged Popcorn Kernels

December 16, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- A device developed by an Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientist to sort wheat has been successfully used to detect and remove popcorn kernels that have been damaged by fungi.

Recommended for you

A new polymer raises the bar for lithium-sulfur batteries

January 18, 2018

Lithium-sulfur batteries are promising candidates for replacing common lithium-ion batteries in electric vehicles since they are cheaper, weigh less, and can store nearly double the energy for the same mass. However, lithium-sulfur ...

Looking to the sun to create hydrogen fuel

January 18, 2018

When Lawrence Livermore scientist Tadashi Ogitsu leased a hydrogen fuel-cell car in 2017, he knew that his daily commute would change forever. There are no greenhouse gases that come out of the tailpipe, just a bit of water ...

The early bits of life

January 18, 2018

How can life originate before DNA and genes? One possibility is that there are natural processes that lead to the organisation of simple physical objects such as small microcapsules that undergo rudimentary forms of interaction, ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.