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Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently asked questions related to food sensing technologies.
Image with FAQ to represent Frequently Asked Questions

In this section you will find an answer to frequently asked questions related to the topic of food sensing technologies.

1. What is food quality?

Typically, the term food quality represents the sum of all properties and attributes of a food item that are acceptable to the customer. These food quality attributes include: appearance (including size, shape, colour, gloss and consistency); texture; flavor; nutritional content; and ethical and sustainable production. Food safety and adhering to the standards set out in legislation can also be considered as elements of food quality as they contribute to consumers acceptance of a food product and can be used as a marketing tool to trade products in countries with high food safety standards. The quality attributes or criteria of a food product are typically defined in the product specification. It is conformance to these specifications that determine quality.

2. Can sensors be used to help assess food quality?

Optical sensing techniques such as hyperspectral imaging and spectroscopy are emerging as novel analytical methods for rapid or online food product quality monitoring. Food sensing technologies for food quality analyses images and interprets the data via the cloud using machine learning and imaging-processing algorithms. The resultant information generated from these scanning technologies can determine the freshness of food and could replace the need for use-by and sell-by dates. This could dramatically reduce food waste. As technology advances, both in terms of the miniaturization of these sensors, and imaging and mobile computing advances, consumers may one day be able to gain a greater understanding of what they are buying and its quality and safety in real time using smartphones.

3. What is Near Infrared Spectroscopy?

Near infrared radiation ranges from 780 to 2500 nm of the electromagnetic spectrum. The measurement of the interaction between this radiation and a sample results in a spectrum characterized by weak absorption bands that are broad and superimposed. The fundamentals of vibrational spectroscopy provide the theory necessary to interpret this characteristic spectrum. The typically observed bands in NIR spectra correspond to bonds containing the hydrogen atom, such as C–H, N–H,O–H, and S–H, that are frequently present in most organic and some inorganic compounds. A NIR spectrum is essentially composed of overtones and combination bands containing useful chemical and even physical information. Chemometrics, described as the application of mathematics, multivariate statistics, and computer science, plays a fundamental role in the extraction of all important relevant information hidden in NIR spectra.

4. Why is NIR Spectrometers of interest for food quality?

In the food industry there is a need for cost effective and non-destructive food quality-control analysis systems. As a result, there has been a growing interest in near-infrared (NIR) spectroscopy and the development of handheld devices that can be used in situ. Portable NIR spectrometers are powerful instruments offering several advantages for non-destructive, online, or in situ analysis. In particular, there small size, low cost, robustness, simplicity of analysis, sample user interface, portability, and ergonomic design are all favoured characteristics.

5. Can hyperspectral imaging be used in the food industry?

Hyperspectral imaging technology is a hybrid technology that combines imaging and spectroscopy to generate a spatial map of spectral variations. A three dimensional ‘hypercube’ of image data (x,y,λ) is generated using this technology by taking a series of two-dimensional spatial (x,y) images as a function of wavelength (λ) and super imposing them. Each image plane of the hypercube is composed of pixels and maps the light absorbance by the sample at a single wavelength, λi.

Hyperspectral imaging has been used in a wide range of applications in the food industry for monitoring the quality of natural foods (e.g. fruits and vegetables, meat, cereals and nuts) and processed foods (e.g. milk powder, cheese, processed meat, coffee, food powders and dried fruits, etc.).

6. What is food safety?

Food safety is the scientific discipline describing the handling, preparation and storage of food in ways that prevent foodborne illness. Food can become contaminated in a number of ways across the entire food chain, from farm to fork. There are four main types of contamination: microbiological, chemical, physical and allergenic.

7. What is a biosensor?

A biosensor is an analytical device, used for the detection of an analyte that combines a biological component with a physicochemical detector. The usual aim of the technology is to produce a digital electronic signal which is proportional to the concentration of a specific analyte or group of analytes. The global market of food analysis needs reliable, inexpensive methods for evaluating food safety. Biosensors offer the opportunity to satisfy this demand, since they are ideal candidates for improving food diagnostics in terms of quality control and testing for genetically modified constituents, authenticity and traceability, freshness, and presence of contaminants. Several biosensors have been constructed and assembled for numerous target compounds of agrifood and environmental interest, from food components to water pollutants.

8. What is food fraud?

Fraud in the food and feed chain is defined as food or feed products which have been deliberately placed on the market for financial gain, with the intention of deceiving the customer or consumer. The prevalence of fraud can be explained by the complex nature of our globalized food and feed supply chains and the economic motivation to provide cheaper food products.

9. What are analytical techniques?

Analytical tools are used in the analysis of feed and food for monitoring food quality, safety authenticity. There is two types of analytical methods: screening tests and confirmatory tests. Screening tests will give a strong indication that there is some form of contaminant present, whilst confirmatory tests give indisputable proof that there is some form of contaminant present. There is a wide range of laboratory methods used in the food industry.

10. What is food fingerprints?

Food fingerprints can be defined as molecular markers that represent a characteristic food state or condition, allowing more effective product discrimination. Essentially, it is a marker or set of markers that allow us to answer many questions about food authenticity, such as “Are those organic carrots truly organic?” “Does this saffron really originate from Spain?”

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