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Your X-ray questions answered

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By Richard Mills, RIM@foss.dk
X-ray is a proven concept for fat analysis of meat, but is it safe, what exactly can I measure and will it slow down my production? In Focus, asked FOSS product specialist, Jens Borg to give some direction on some commonly-asked questions about the MeatMaster™ II X-ray fat analyser.

The use of X-ray equipment in meat processing plants has become widespread. The main application areas are for detection of foreign objects and for fat analysis. Exposing food to X-rays and placing X-ray equipment such as the MeatMaster II on the production floor in a meat plant naturally raises a number of questions, which I will try to address here:

Can the meat become radioactive?
No, irradiated food does not become radioactive. Irradiating food is allowed in many countries, but although hundreds of studies have shown no increased health hazard, it is not very widely used due to consumer concern.

X-ray analysis of food is NOT the same as radiating food. The minimum level of radiation used when radiating food is more than a hundred thousand times higher than the level used in meat plant X-ray equipment. The radiation level of X-ray inspection equipment used in meat plants is comparable to low level medical procedures used on humans and the meat products do not require special labelling after analysis.

Is it safe to have an X-ray machine in a meat plant?
All ionizing radiation is potentially dangerous to humans. Therefore there are very strict rules for the design, construction, installation and test of X-ray apparatus, enforced by the local authorities. X-ray machines in meat plants, provided they are operated according to instructions, are safe to operate and are safe for the operators working in the vicinity of the machine.

In this respect, the instruments used in meat plants can be compared with the baggage scanners known from every airport around the world.

What can an X-ray machine be used for in a meat plant?
Foreign object detection
The majority of the X-ray machines installed in food processing plants are used for the detection of foreign objects such as metal, stone and glass. These objects can come from production equipment in the plant or be embedded in the product, for example, a piece of barbed wire or a shotgun pellet. Foreign object scanning can take place early in production to protect machinery or later on the finished product/package to protect the consumer.

 

X-ray image with metal in

Fat analysis

In addition, to foreign object scanning, more and more producers are realizing the benefits of using X-ray scanning for measuring the fat content during production. This is an effective way of being able to produce products with a fat content as specified; not too fat and not too lean.

X-ray analysis of fat can be performed on meat with no additives, whether it is fresh trim, ground meat or frozen. X-ray analysis is independent of texture, particle size or temperature and can be performed on beef, pork, sheep and poultry.

Will it slow down my production?
No. It may even allow you to produce more. X-ray fat analysis means the end to re-work caused by blends that are too fat or too lean. While filling the blender, you can now actively control the resulting fat content to hit your target every time. Avoiding re-work frees up time and personnel, allowing you to increase your throughput without further investments.

How does an X-ray machine measure correctly?
Meat is inhomogeneous. That is why it is difficult just to look at the meat and tell the fat content. Vision based systems, as well as NIR based systems, only look at the surface of the meat. X-ray based equipment looks through the meat and therefore measures all the meat. 

It is essential that fat analysis equipment is stable over time and well calibrated. Compared to finding foreign objects like metal, it is a much more sophisticated process distinguishing between fat and lean. It is vital that fat analysis equipment is well calibrated and stable over time, and that a good quality control system is maintained.

With this in place, X-ray fat analysis is a great tool for controlling the fat content in meat products produced by all types of meat plants from slaughter houses to sausage manufacturers. The financial and logistical benefits of in-line X-ray fat control have been proven through effective use by hundreds of meat producers around the world.

In-line fat analysis 

- How do I get this into my production?
Changing the layout of a production floor is not easy. The installation of any new equipment in the production line often requires that other equipment is moved around. This is as true for X-ray analysers as for any other equipment. Depending on where in the production new equipment it is installed, the expense and time required will vary. 

Usually, an X-ray analyser can be installed over a week-end, minimizing adverse effects on production. With the analyser in place, production can continue as before, while the integration and calibration of the unit is finished.

It may be tempting to select an NIR solution, mounted over an already installed conveyor. These units, besides from only measuring the surface of the meat, will not measure the weight correctly or not measure it at all. The measurement results for fat content of batches can therefore be affected by variations in the meat flow. 

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