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News

Thinkage and Georgia Tech developing non-contact core temperature sensor for ready-to-eat food

BOC Gases : 09 December, 2003  (Company News)
Thinkage and the Georgia Tech Research Institute are working together to develop a non-contact, core temperature sensor for use in preparing and processing ready-to-eat food products.
Thinkage is one of several food ventures established by the Murray Hill, New Jersey-based BOC, which is investing in high-growth, entrepreneurial companies whose products and services complement its existing temperature, atmosphere and microbe control technologies.

According to Mark Grace, president, Thinkage, the new system combines two technologies to measure the core temperature of cooked products, a 3-D stereo imaging system and infrared sensors. 'Several measurements of a product are taken during various stages of cooking and cool-down,' says Grace. 'Using this data, the system then composes and compares a series of images to determine the maximum temperature reached in the core.'

Grace points out that Thinkage’s Think Gates service already incorporates a core temperature probe that is effective for use with products such as hamburger patties that have a consistent form. 'The problem arises,' he says, 'with irregularly-shaped products such as chicken wings, primal meat cuts such as chops and ribs, and certain cooked bakery and seafood products. Processors need a way to account for variability in the size and shape of a product in order to accurately determine its core temperature.'

Grace says, 'Fully cooked products represent one of the fastest growing segments of the prepared foods market. The challenge for processors is to insure that products are fully-cooked without being overcooked to a point where yield and quality are compromised.'

Craig Wyvill, division chief, GTRI, explains, 'Currently, processors have to rely on the hand-insertion of a thermometer to determine the core temperature of cooked products, a practice that is subject to human error and variation. Consequently, in order to ensure food safety, processors often cook products to an internal temperature that is as much as 20ºF higher than is minimally necessary to kill pathogens. That extra 20ºF not only degrades taste, but it also costs the food industry hundreds of millions of dollars a year in yield loss and higher energy usage.'

John Stewart, GTRI’s lead researcher on the development project, points out that chicken patties decrease in weight by 0.7 percent for every 5ºF beyond 160ºF, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s mandated minimal core temperature for cooked chicken patties. He says, 'Assuming that a typical cooking line operating at 165° F outputs 3,000 pounds per hour of chicken patties for 16 hours each day for 260 days per year, that 0.7 percent loss translates to nearly 900,000 pounds of product lost each year on a single line.'

'On the energy side,' Stewart adds, 'the cost of over cooking product is even more obvious. After excess energy is used to overcook the product, additional energy is required to immediately extract that excess heat as the product is quick frozen, resulting in waste energy costs that can rival the cost of yield loss.'
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