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High definition cameras improve safety and quality for processors of frozen fruits and vegetables

20 January 2016

With consumers increasingly demanding convenient and fast-to-prepare foods, frozen fruits and vegetables, such as green peas, beans or berries, are a growing market segment in the food industry.

At the same time, food safety regulations are tightening and consumers have come to expect an impeccable product. 

A major concern is the potential presence of foreign materials, such as small stones or pieces of glass, wood or plastic in the packaged product. 

Optical sorters with InGaAs cameras are highly effective in detecting and removing these objects. Bühler pioneered the use of this sensor technology in optical sorting in 2007. Now, the market leader is introducing InGaAsHD. With double the resolution, these high definition cameras are able to detect foreign materials down to half the size previously possible, resulting in substantially better detection and removal. 

InGaAsHD will be available in the SORTEX E product range and will enable processors of frozen fruits and vegetables to meet the highest safety requirements, while ensuring maximum quality of their product.
 
Frozen fruits and vegetables, such as strawberries, green peas, sweet corn or baby carrots, are a fast growing market segment in the food industry. Not only do they meet the demand for food that is quick and easy to prepare, in or out of season, but they can even be nutritionally superior to retailed fresh produce, as they are harvested at their peak ripeness - when most nutritious -  and frozen soon after, preserving their vitamins and antioxidants. 

“While increasing amounts of frozen fruits and vegetables are being processed, food safety regulations are tightening in most countries and processors have to guarantee the safety and quality of their products”, is how Stephen Jacobs, Global Product Manager at Bühler, sums up the challenge.
 
Among the biggest safety concerns are foreign materials, such as small stones, pieces of wood and glass, or slivers of plastic. If contained within packaged frozen food products, they will pose health risks - including lacerations, choking or broken teeth. For food processors, they may result in expensive product recalls and damage to reputation.
 
With its vast range of optical sorting solutions, Bühler has worked for decades to enable food processors to efficiently identify and remove foreign materials. This is achieved by using a variety of sophisticated detection technologies. InGaAs cameras, for instance, are very effective for separating foreign materials from good product of the same colour. They are based on semiconductor sensors  made from indium gallium arsenide alloy and operate in the short wave infra-red range (SWIR). 

As a conseqence, they are able to detect even the subtlest of colour differences that cannot be seen in the visible spectrum.
 
Bühler pioneered the use of this technology for use in the packing line, as a final check, to ensure that difficult–to-detect packaging materials such as light coloured wood in potatoes, cardboard in carrots and coloured plastic in vegetable mixes, were quickly identified and accurately removed from the product stream.
 
Bühler has continued to advance this technology and the development of the new high definition InGaAsHD cameras now mark the latest step in this process: 

“By combining a new hardware, software and lens package, we were able to engineer a new camera with double the resolution. As a result of this in-house development, our sorter will be able to identify foreign material objects down to half the previous size”,  as Benedict Deefholts, Head of Sensor Development at Bühler, describes the key advantage of the new HD cameras.
 
Thanks to this development, Bühler’s sorting solutions for processors of frozen fruits and vegetables now offer even better detection and removal capabilities for a wide range of foreign materials in several different stages of the processing and packing line and is particularly beneficial for processors with stringent safety specifications such as for the baby food market.
 
The new InGaAsHD cameras are now available for Bühler’s SORTEX E product line. Processors that are already operating SORTEX E optical sorters with Enhanced InGaAs cameras will be offered an upgrade option, enabling them to benefit from the improved detection performance of the new HD cameras with their current solution.


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