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IRTA makes computer tomography available to the entire agri-food sector

View of the interior of the truck with the CT scan (Photo: IRTA)

• A mobile CT scan, installed inside a truck, will allow this technology to be applied anywhere

• Applications range from livestock, carcasses, cuts and fish, to fruit

Computerized tomography (CT) is a technology that allows to obtain images of the inside of bodies and can therefore be applied to live animals, carcasses or pieces of meat, as well as other food products. Until now, CT devices were only available to technology centres. “With the commissioning of mobile CT equipment, this technology can reach farms, research institutions, slaughterhouses and other food industries that want to evaluate their animals, calibrate carcass classification devices or optimize processes, among others”, explains Maria Font, IRTA’s researcher in the Food Quality and Technology program.

Applications in genetic improvement

It is perhaps the best known application to date, as the CT scan allows you to visualize the inside of the animal and measure thickness, area and volume of each of the tissues. Being a non-destructive technology, it allows to study the evolution of the body composition of the same animal in different phases of its growth. Traditionally, these values were obtained from animal serial slaughtering. The use of the scanner allows saving time and money, and improves the accuracy of the results, because, among other things, uses real measurements instead of estimates. It is also a useful tool for phenotyping both animals and carcasses characterization (of all species).

Calibration of carcasses classification equipment

Another application of the scanner is the three-dimensional reconstruction of the animal. The tool will allow the virtual cutting to predict the composition of fat and muscle for each of the cuts or parts, assess the quality of the carcass and therefore optimize this process for the industry.

Currently, the European Union has approved the use of computer tomography as a reference system for calibrating carcasses classification equipment.

Applications in animal nutrition

CT allows to evaluate the effect of a diet, ingredients and feed additives on the quality of the carcass and/or pieces in order to study its composition. A compensatory feeding strategy, for example, can be evaluated very accurately as repeated real measurements can be made on the same animal at different times of its growth. CT also shows the effect of a diet on the level of bone mineralization.

In the cured ham’s elaboration

The TC is also especially useful for studying and optimizing the salting and drying processes of cured ham, as images of the distribution of salt, water and aw of the scanned sections can be obtained, which can be used for validation or optimization of the elaboration processes.

The prediction of these parameters allows to establish if the minimum concentrations in the most critical zones have been reached, in order to avoid the appearance of sensorial and microbiological problems, and it is especially useful to optimize the elaboration processes when the salt content is reduced.

But there are many more current applications of the computerized tomography in the agri-food sector:

• Support in the design and development of new processes.

• Optimization production of salt reduced meat and fish products.

• Evaluation of the quality of the final product.

• Control of drying processes, anomalies and ageing in food (meat products, fish, fruits, cheeses, etc.).

• Improved productivity and automation.

• Improving the quality of processed products.

• Study of freezing/thawing processes.

• Study of water gradients in different products, etc.