Fresh meat guaranteed
The controller aims his scanner like a pistol at the joint of pork. The small yet subtle difference: He won’t be making any holes. Instead the laser light is reflected and returns a wealth of information on the condition of the raw joint.
A scene like this has long ceased to be a vision of the future. Under the overall control of the Fraunhofer Institute for Reliability and Microintegration (IZM) researchers have developed a fresh meat scanner for the FreshScan project funded by the Federal Ministry for Research. One crucial contribution was made by the Ferdinand Braun Institute for High Frequency Engineering in Adlershof (FBH). Here Martin Maiwald and his colleagues developed two tiny laser light sources for the scanner – robust and energy saving for daily applications. Using light of a specific wavelength the FreshScan researchers can track chemical changes that for instance take place in the proteins when the meat matures and ages. “It works pretty well with pork”, explained Maiwald. Now the researchers are transferring this to other kinds of food as well.
In a similar manner the freshness of fruit and vegetables can be measured, their ripeness assessed, and key constituents determined. “Thanks to microsystems engineering these devices are getting cheaper and compacter and can also be used in future as mobile units for nondestructive inspections in production areas”, explained Martin Geyer, Head of the Horticultural Engineering Department at ATB Potsdam. Light sources that earlier covered whole tabletops are today no larger than a paperclip. Small sensors with a radio and memory unit can even be implanted in fruit, e.g. for analysing the impact loads en route from the tree to the consumer. Transport can therefore be optimised and quality losses prevented. “These developments can potentially monitor the entire production stream”, explained Geyer. As early as agricultural production they could identify water and fertiliser needs. And as intelligent labels on food packaging they can continuously register storage and transport conditions like humidity and temperature – so that rotten meat scandals stay a thing of the past.
Dr. Uta Deffke