State-of-the-art automated solution helping meat processing plants more accurately inspect for safety and quality
By Sean Tarry
For those operating within the meat processing sector, there are few things more important than ensuring the safety and quality of the product that leaves their facilities on their way to store shelves. Perhaps the most critical aspect of providing this assurance for consumers is possessing the ability to identify foreign materials in the meat that’s being processed. However, it’s increasingly becoming just as important to be able to confirm the quality of the product as well. In fact, according to Heather Galt, VP, Customer Experience and Strategy at P&P Optica—a developer and provider of proven automated solutions for meat processing plant inspections—it’s the single biggest potential differentiator among competitors, and of utmost importance in the minds of consumers.
“Finding anything in a product as a consumer can be extremely off-putting,” she asserts. “And, when a company has to make the announcement of an unfortunate recall, there is often quite a bit of negative exposure, especially when it’s caused by the presence of foreign materials. So, this is an area of paramount importance for meat processors, both from a detection and prevention perspective. It’s an ongoing priority for the industry whose operators are constantly looking for newer, more effective ways to keep foreign materials out of their stream of products with a focus on ensuring that clean product leaves their doors on their way to stores and eventually the consumers’ home.”
Smart Imaging System
It also happens to be an area of intense focus for P&P Optica and the technology-enabled equipment that it develops for use by those operating within the meat processing industry. The company’s patented Smart Imaging System, which combines hyperspectral imaging, artificial intelligence and machine learning, is able to identify the chemical composition of products in-stream while detecting the presence of low-density foreign materials as well. It’s a ground-breaking advancement within the realm of meat inspection that Galt says stands P&P Optica apart from others within the inspection solution space.
“Processors understand that foreign materials, especially those of low-density like plastics, are really hard to find within their product with existing solutions,” she explains. “X-rays are able to spot high-density materials, and metal detectors can detect metal. But there are a lot of other materials within processing plants that can go undetected, even with those solutions in place. Because we use chemistry we’re able to identify each and every piece of foreign material within a meat product, regardless of its composition.”
An incredibly powerful tool
Galt goes on to explain that by combining hyperspectral imaging, artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies to understand the chemical composition of meats, it also enables processors to control the quality of their product as well. For instance, P&P Optica’s technology is able to identify muscle myopathies like woody breast in chicken, while measuring a meat’s lean point, moisture, pH level and more. And, it’s all done in-stream, in real-time, without compromising the detection of foreign materials.
“Because our system is equipped to detect foreign materials and assess quality characteristics at the same time, collecting and processing an unparalleled amount of information concerning food chemistry, in real time, it makes it an incredibly powerful tool for processors.”
Beyond the actual inspection for foreign materials and analysis of chemistry composition of product, during which P&P Optica’s Smart Imaging System makes over 16 million decisions every minute, identifying issues in real time, pixel by pixel, it’s continuously learning and improving. Driven by machine learning, performance of the system is constantly optimizing for faster, more accurate results. And, incidents that are captured by the company’s system are stored and presented in PPO Insights—a dashboard where users of the solution can review and analyze particulars concerning their plant’s inspections. It’s all part of what Galt refers to as a “comprehensive suite” of inspection services made possible by P&P Optica’s advanced system.
“Certainly for meat processors, our system offers all of the capabilities they require in order to ensure that their name is consistently on a foreign-material-free, top quality product,” she says. “It also dramatically reduces the chance of a recall becoming necessary, saving the credibility of companies and enhancing the perception of their brands in the minds of their consumers. In the end, satisfying the consumer and ensuring an excellent and safe product is the objective for those working within the meat processing industry. And, given the increased expectations of today’s consumer, those processors who can do this most consistently will differentiate themselves from their competitors who cannot.”
Digitizing and automating
Given the range of benefits that P&P Optica’s Smart Imaging System offers its users, it’s easy to understand the confidence with which Galt speaks of its capabilities and possibilities. And, looking ahead, she’s just as optimistic about the plans the company has to broaden its focus and the extent of the technology’s potential where food safety and quality is concerned, suggesting that the system will soon provide even greater use and benefits for the industry.
“One of the most important parts of our strategy moving forward is to take that chemical data that we get from the facilities that we’re working with and help them use it beyond the incident itself. If a piece of plastic is found on the line, the priority is to remove it. The next priority is to ensure that the same incident doesn’t happen again by learning how to better manage suppliers and processes, and by identifying patterns that suggest areas for improvement and figuring out ways those improvements can be made. It’s how processors can start to digitize their plants, use more automation and leverage the resulting data to continue making enhancements to their operations.”