Food: Farm to Fork

Spectroscopy is rapidly adding applications to facilitate the production, processing, characterisation, packaging and appearance of food crops all the way the meal on your table.

Applications can be divided into roughly two categories:

1) Visual or colour based applications
2) Spectral based applications in non visible wavelengths

In principal, when light strikes an object, the light changes. If the change is measurable, reproducible and diagnostic of a characterisation then it can be developed into an application. Some examples:

Spectral evaluation of fertiliser content in crops: The problem – Has too much or too little fertiliser been fed to the crop.

The solution – By using an Absorbance technique, our Chlorophyll Meter SPAD-502 Plus instrument is able to evaluate the fertiliser load by measuring the amount of Chlorophyll in the crop leaf. Its quick, clean and green as it also allows the farmer to manage over use and damaging the environment.

Once the crop has been harvested, prime processing takes place. For example, wheat grain is harvested and then if it is to be turned into bread, it needs to be milled. The colour of the flour created by milling is important to the quality and type of bread to be produced. We spent about 5 years creating a new and precise colour measurement solution to replace a system devised in the 50’s. The Problem – Unreliable Colour Grading and unreliable agreement between grades from different instruments.

The Solution – By using a Reflectance technique and a newly released Konica Minolta CM-5 or CR-5 model especially designed for this type of application, together with a major milling company, we were able to create a finely tuned Colour Scale which can be loaded into the Instruments TARGET data base. The result is that millers can take a sample and within minutes have an accurate colour grade characterisation. Moreover, multiple sites within the group will be able to get the SAME colour grade for the same actual colour, due to the very high inter instrument performance agreement. This system is available to all millers should they wish and is also monitored by the Southern African Grain Laboratory NPC

R&D is also an area where Spectral Data is very valuable. In the ever competitive fruit market, research is being carried out to create fruits that are visually appealing to the consumer, especially for large markets like China where certain colours are more appealing than others. The Agricultural Crop Sciences Fruit Research laboratories use our most sold instrument, the Konica Minolta CR400 / CR 410 Chroma Meters for a host of visible colour research tasks. With the ability to measure surfaces, juice, pulp and pastes, this instrument group is very versatile.

Another very visual application is food spices, especially chilli spices which tend to vary a lot. Fast Food chains on the other hand need consistency of colour under different lighting conditions. Again the Konica Minolta CM5 / CR5 instruments are standard equipment for this sector.

Authentication and counterfeiting is also part of the Spectroscopy application capability. Ocean Optics has developed a portable solution for this market particularly for wines, spirits and in another version food oils like Olive Oil. The Spirit Sampler is robust, self contained and battery driven for use in the field as well as the laboratory.

Production Management has traditionally been managed by small lab samples being tested on a regular basis. The difficulty with this is that with say a 30 ton per day facility, only a minute sample can be taken in a 12 hour days shift in the lab, over a very small volume of sample. We can now however use Spectroscopy to continuously measure In Line using Near Infra Red (NIR) Technology. A typical application can be the manufacture of Corn Flakes where accurate water content, protein content and more needs to be recorded. Suitable for both Bench Top and In-Line an operational system is outlined in this article

There are many more Spectroscopy applications that we will discuss in future. If you have an application, ask us for a recommendation..