PHOTONICS FOOD!

Photonics is a technology of generating and harnessing light and other forms of radiant energy whose quantum unit is the photon. Photon is going through a molecular stage. And as we know everything is created by molecule. So, photonics can help us to improve our food quality from the molecular level.

  • Improving food on the molecular scale

Making the lightest, most delicious birthday cake used to be a feat executed only by Grandma. Now, scientists are replacing culinary intuition with imaging techniques to improve the quality of food. An EU-funded project called Inside Food aims to understand food's physical qualities through microstructure measurement. The project focuses on understanding the spatial distribution of food components, on detecting foreign material in food, and on texture. Researchers have developed instruments and software for inspecting food microstructure that can be implemented in food processing plants.

The researchers use scanners and optical techniques often used in biomedicine to investigate the food's structure. OCT, time- and space-resolved spectroscopy, nuclear magnetic resonance relaxometry and acoustic emission are just a few of the technologies addressed in the project. The information gained from testing allowed the scientists to build mathematical models that describe how microstructures change under the influence of process situations. Currently, scientists are researching to design and optimize a food product by computer. A later step can be the production of foods by 3-D printing.

Sugar and gluten-free products, raised to prominence as a result of diabetes, celiac disease, and other health issues, were the focus of special attention. Texture largely depends on microstructure. The challenge is to create new sugar and gluten-free foods with the same texture.

PHOTONICS IN FOOD INDUSTRY

Food structure research on this level is not new. However, the application of these specific photonic technologies to food imaging and mathematical processes is a new venture.

Just a few examples on using photonics in food industry

  • Automatic X-ray inspection for foreign objects in food.
  • Hyper-spectral imaging, combined with intelligent software, enables digital sorters (also called optical sorters) to identify and remove defects and foreign material that are invisible to traditional camera and laser sorters.
  • Non-destructive, 100 percent inspection in-line at full production volumes. The sorter’s software compares the Hyper-spectral images collected to user-defined accept/reject thresholds, and the ejection system automatically removes defects and foreign material.
  • Non-invasive detection of qualities. Characterizing the ripeness of fruit, such as Granny Smith apple, by monitoring their luminescence spectra.
  • Monitor quality control of distilled spirits.
  • Judging the perfect time to harvest and ship so-called climacteric fruits with laser scanners.
  • In- or at-line processing monitoring and direct real-time monitoring at a high volume.

We have presented few examples of photonic systems that have been developed. All these examples indicate that photonics has an immense potential which is still largely unused. Advances in making of better, healthier and low-cost efficient foods.