From farm to fork: ensuring food safety with intelligent vision software

Safer foods, less waste and better use of natural resources are key concerns in modern mass food production.

Scientists at Lincoln are working to create a flexible and efficient new computer system which can be used to quickly detect faults in food products and packaging on the production line.

Dr Tom Duckett, from the University of Lincoln’s School of Computer Science, will create new multi-purpose imaging technology to undertake quality inspection tasks in the food industry.

Dr Duckett said: “We are trying to make an application that can detect a variety of issues in food products and packaging.  It’s about ensuring that packaging is sealed correctly and about checking that the right amount of food is in the right place.”

The £823,277 project, Trainable Vision-based Anomaly Detection and Diagnosis, is part-funded by the Technology Strategy Board, the UK’s innovation agency.

Lead partner Ishida Europe Limited, based in Birmingham, UK, has been designing, manufacturing and delivering weighing and packing solutions to the European food industry for more than 25 years.

Ishida will work closely with the University of Lincoln to enable real-time testing of the software in its food processing and packaging systems, and will use it to create the next generation of quality control systems for the food industry.

Gary Tufnell, from Ishida Europe Limited, said: “Our aim is to bring the latest technology to our customers. This is a more compact system which will result in more economic use of factory space. There will be increased assurance for customer health and safety through enhanced product quality and increased efficiencies in food production will lead to reduction in waste going to landfill.”

Local company, Branston Ltd will provide staff time to test and evaluate the emerging technology in the factory environment.

Vidyanath Gururajan, IT and Projects Director for Branston, said: “Branston is supporting this project as it will greatly enhance the capacity of current systems to give feedback on the root-causes of differences in quality.”

The project builds on two previous research projects carried out by the University of Lincoln.

Dr Duckett said: “It is a case of bringing all the previous research together to create a versatile and flexible imaging technology which is currently unavailable today. Manufacturers really want to check every single item of food that goes out of the factory. This system will be more consistent and reliable and should lead to less food waste as manufacturers can detect problems earlier in the production cycle, which in turn will also lead to safer food and make the whole process much more efficient.”

Expertise from the University’s National Centre for Food Manufacturing will be used throughout the project, which is also supported by the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board and runs until October 2015.

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