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Achieving Efficiency: New Energy Options, New Breakthroughs in Food Processing Technology

Georgia's food processing industry is innovating with new green technologies and cutting-edge methods developed by companies and state universities.

September 2010
GTRI researchers have developed a computer-vision system to automatically screen poultry for overall quality and health.
GTRI researchers have developed a computer-vision system to automatically screen poultry for overall quality and health.
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• Functional Testing of Silver Nanoparticles on Food Processing Surfaces: Researchers at GTRI and the University of Georgia recently evaluated silver nanoparticles as food processing surfaces antibacterials. Inorganic antimicrobial/antifungal nanocoatings (IANs) were deposited on various FDA-approved materials ranging from stainless steel to plastics using a non-university proprietary method. First-year testing showed that the IAN surface reductions were minimal. If pending efficacy results prove promising, the team will work to evaluate the longer-term effectiveness for both IAN deposition as well as pathogen efficacy for FDA-approved surfaces found in food processing plants.

• Waste Heat Recovery for Energy Efficient Poultry Processing: Research focuses on innovative methods for improved waste-heat recovery and utilization. Many industrial processing sectors, including poultry processing and other food facilities, generate an abundance of thermal energy as "waste" heat that, if recouped, will improve process efficiencies, reducing utilities' expenses and emissions. Thermally driven absorbent heat pump technology improvement is one area of opportunity researchers are evaluating, given the possibility of deriving tri-generation (e.g., power, heat, and cooling).

• Intelligent Oven Loading Monitoring System: Researchers have developed a prototype imaging system that monitors oven loading in fully cooked meat operations. Using 3D and IR cameras, the system can identify individual products and detect arrangement issues such as overlapping product. Thermal heat and mass transfer models along with the current oven cook profile are used to determine whether a product will reach the desired end-point temperature. This enables an accurate prediction of the percentage of product that will be overcooked and identifies pieces of meat or arrangements of products that are likely to undercook. In the future, a producer might use this information to fine-tune the product arrangement before it reaches the oven.

• Inspection and Control System for High-Volume Baking Processes: Researchers are using imaging and sensing systems to continuously monitor and control product quality on a commercial bread/bun line and to regulate large-scale industrial ovens.

• Systemic Screening System: Researchers are using an innovative computer-imaging platform to automatically detect product quality defects on high-speed poultry processing lines at a throughput of 200 birds per minute.

• Cone Line Bone Detection System: FPTD researchers have developed a prototype automatic screening system to identify missing bones on a poultry deboning line. The system uses a specially designed cone with internal illumination that has the effect of backlighting the cage (skeleton) so that it appears like an x-ray image. Suspect fillets can then be removed for closer examination.

• Intelligent Cutting and Deboning System: Researchers are developing a prototype system that uses 3D imaging and a robotic cutting arm to automatically adjust to natural size variations of product in order to perform precision cuts that optimize yield while eliminating the risk of bone fragments in finished product.

University-Focused Research
Food processing is also a major focus at the University of Georgia. In addition to having undergraduate and graduate studies in Food Science and Technology, the university's College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences has six centers related to food processing. Those are the Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development and the Center for Soybean Improvement in Athens; the Food Product Innovation and Commercialization Center, the Georgia Center for Urban Agriculture, and the Center for Food Safety in Griffin; and the Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health in Tifton.

A wide variety of research facilities are available at the UGA Athens campus for research, student teaching, and industry projects. This includes more than 20,000 square feet of food processing laboratories, including equipment for drying, freezing, evaporation, freeze drying, retorting, pasteurization, particle reduction, smoking, marination, meat processing, fermentation, and dairy processing. In addition, equipment is available for advanced processing research facilities including high-pressure processing, supercritical fluid extraction, radiant energy processing, extrusion, and impingement drying/heating.

Laboratories include physical properties testing with instrumentation for rheological characterization, light scattering, particle sizing, color measurement, thermal properties measurement, zeta potential, water activity determination, water binding properties, and headspace analysis.

Current research and development efforts are leading to exciting technological advances in the food processing industry. And while these new processes and innovations can put your business on the cutting edge, they serve an even more important function: improving your plant's efficiency. By conducting your own research and combining technological advances with energy-efficient products and services, you can achieve that delicate balance between cutting costs, yet still delivering high-quality products and services.
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