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On-Line quality control: Advances in sensor technology

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  1. Introduction.
    1. The success of new product introductions.
    2. The development of new sensors which address industrial needs.
  2. Types of on-line sensors.
    1. Sensing technologies.
    2. Optically-based sensing.
    3. Electrically-based sensing.
    4. Other sensing technologies.
  3. Sensing methods.
    1. Physical sensing.
    2. Chemical sensing.
    3. Microbiological sensing.
  4. Food processing system sensor needs.
    1. Baking.
    2. Meat/fish processing.
    3. Dairy processing.
    4. Fermentation.
    5. Beverages.
    6. Fats and oils.
    7. Packaging.
    8. Fruit and vegetable processing.
  5. Conclusion.

The success of new product introductions lies with consumer acceptance of key food attributes such as texture, color, flavor, freshness, and nutrition. Automation in food processing allows for control of the consistency of these attributes by measuring a specific property, adjusting processing conditions to maintain the attribute associated with the property, comparing the measurement to predefined specifications and through computer control, adjusting the process to maintain overall consistency. Such automation is essential to the establishment of dynamic, flexible, and competitive manufacturing technologies. Well positioned, on-line sensor technology is at the core of efficient process control and assurance of high product quality. Measuring physical and chemical attributes of food materials in real-time must be achieved to meet process control targets and ensure product quality. Traditional measurements, done off-line in a laboratory, are performed under controlled conditions. Since these situations do not mimic actual processing conditions, such measurements will obviously be of limited usefulness for real-time process control.

[...] Conclusion On-line sensor technology is currently emerging to address both process efficiency and quality improvement in food processing operations. Processing of food products is complex, involving many steps which, when controlled, can have a direct effect on the quality of the product as perceived by the consumer. To control a food process, sensor technology can be coupled with process control systems. This technology can take many forms, from simple physical measurements of material weight and ingredient size, to complex analytical chemical and biosensors which can measure chemical reactions as they are occurring during food production. [...]

[...] This overall effort allows the development of new sensors which address industrial needs, with shared technology development risk by the companies and sensor manufacturers, offset by government funds. Many other contributions from linkage of individual research organizations and instrument and sensor manufacturers are also bringing new sensor technology forward. It is important to remember that it is only in recent times that sensor manufacturers developed the capability to manufacture sensors which can be used in food processing environments. This is due to the emergence of new materials, new micro fabrication and miniaturization strategies, and the development of knowledge-based computer technologies such as fuzzy logic and expert system neural networks which help accommodate for the variability in process measurements. [...]

[...] Wide variations in butterfat content of milk have been reported and the production and cost savings derived from using a process control system utilizing on-line NIR measurement described. Two developments related to cheese manufacture are of significance. A fiber optic sensor was developed to measure the changes in diffuse reflection of coagulating milk using NIR reflectance. Time correlations between enzyme addition and signal pattern were developed to predict cutting time, defining feasibility of the technology. Moisture measurement in cheese using NIR and a new thermo moisture probe were also reported. [...]

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