Meat is notoriously difficult to test because of its inhomogeneous nature, but now a new era in near infrared analytical technology is helping quality controllers to do more testing more quickly. The improved information flow means better control for producers constantly seeking new ways to improve efficiency and sustainability.
One such producer is Smithfield Foods, Inc. The company is committed to producing high-quality food in a responsible way, while lessening its environmental footprint. It is a commitment that is reflected in a progressive approach to quality control, making senior science manager, Kaitlyn Compart, a rather busy person. Nonetheless, we tracked her down for some all-important insight into how a new version of the well-known FoodScan analyser (FoodScan II) is working out.
With around 20 units of the original FoodScan analyser already installed throughout the organization, the use of NIR for testing multiple parameters such as fat, protein, moisture and salt is already familiar to Smithfield quality controllers, but now a new version of the well-proven FoodScan concept offers new possibilities to take operations to a new level. With this in mind, the FOSS FoodScan II was put on trial last year and now installed in everday use. So what is so special and why is it worth investing when older units are working just fine?
Faster results with less sample preparation
“We are a meat company, so getting really homogenous samples is hard. We are always on the look-out for any improvements in technology to get the best we can,” says Compart. “We were interested in looking at it because of the shortened time to scan going from about a minute to 30 to 40 seconds.”
The promise of less sample preparation involved was also interesting because of the wide variety of meat products that need to be tested. All require some grinding which generally needs to be done twice to achieve the right degree of homogenization.
A study was performed to see how the FoodScan II could make a difference. A product was ground once and half the sample was tested on the FoodScan II. The remainder of sample was then ground a second time and run through the original FoodScan. The results were found to be very similar.
The study was only done for on a small set of products and further investigation is ongoing for other products such as hams. As one of the least homogenous products in production, a lot of time can be gained if users only need to grind once instead of twice for this type of product.
The speed of testing combined with less sample preparation all adds up to a higher throughput of tests. “The less time the technician has to stand and wait, the more samples can be run in the same time. And if I only have to grind once, I can move more samples through,” says Compart.
More subscans with new NIR
The new FoodScan II instrument can test faster with less sample preparation because it scans more of the sample than its predecessor. There is a greater number of sub-scans and the overall area scanned is larger. It is all to do with a feature called sub-scanning as Compart explains: “As the science manager, a thing I like about it is that there are more scans so you are reading more of the sample in the sample cup. Even if we grind twice, we still have variability, so it is nice to get as much of the sample scanned as possible.”
Tests as an integral part of production
Upwards of 20 -30 scans a day are made on the instrument. Some are for regulatory requirements as far as composition is concerned for parameters such as fat and moisture. Then there are the internal quality parameters to be checked by pulling samples right off the line as the products are being produced. These are done to both check final products and to control production.
“We have some facilities where we have two Foodscan units, one at the end for testing final product and another upstream to test blends pre-cooking for example. The more samples I can run, the more I know about the product I am making,” says Compart. “Instead of taking just one snapshot sample, I can maybe take four samples for a more complete understanding of what is going on. We can make more informed decisions to get better control and more consistent product.”