Sensors detect foreign objects
A new ultrasonic technology could alert food manufacturers if foreign objects have fallen into their product somewhere along the processing stream. Researchers at the U.S. Dept. of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Richland, Wash., developed a patented inspection method that uses sound waves to detect foreign objects in food products.

Originally developed to look for bone fragments and foreign materials in chicken breasts, the method can also detect almost anything that should not be in the food product, such as cartilage, metal, and plastic.

The processing stream goes through multiple steps on its way to becoming a finished product, and during processing objects can fall into slurry or liquid mixtures, bones can be left in meat, and pits and seeds may be left in fruit.

The method developed by the PNNL researchers combines both ultrasonic and optical capabilities. Acoustics, combined with transmitted light though the product, adds to the data extracted from the stream, making results more accurate. The two methods can be used separately, depending on the properties of the product being inspected.

Multiple acoustic sensors are configured along a process stream to detect foreign objects. According to Aaron Diaz, PNNL staff scientist, "We flood the stream with sound pulses of acoustic energy, while at the same time transmitting optical energy. We’re looking for reflected echoes that we can correlate with location, such as depth and lateral position, in the stream relative to the product’s flow rate."

When the received acoustic response is abnormal, that means that there is something foreign in the stream and that the general location of it is known, added Diaz.

He said that one of the challenges of the technology is that it may interpret air bubbles that are naturally present in chicken breasts as bone or other foreign material. But he adds that it has been quite successful in correctly identifying foreign material in a number of other foods such as baby foods.

Battelle, Columbus, Ohio, funded the research.

Deal for beverage makers
Ocean Spray, Lakeville- Middleboro, Mass., and PepsiCo. Inc., Purchase, N.Y., have entered into a strategic alliance in which Pepsi-Cola North America will market, bottle, and distribute single-serve cranberry juice products in the United States and Canada under the Ocean Spray name.

"Over the past several years, we’ve built successful, mutually beneficial partnerships with strong brands like Lipton and Starbucks, and now we plan to work side-by-side with Ocean Spray to create a major healthy refreshment business focused on cranberries," said Dawn Hudson, President and CEO of Pepsi-Cola North America.

The agreement also includes opportunities for the development of new product innovations across multiple trade channels in the future.

GM rice possibly enters food stream
The European Commission last month decided to require imports of long-grain rice from the United States to be certified as free from the genetically modified LLRICE601. This followed an anouncement by the Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service that trace amounts of a bioengineered variety of rice were detected in samples of commericial long-grain rice and may have entered the food and feed supply in the U.S. The EU plans to review these measures in six months.

"We have strict legislation in place in the EU to ensure that any GM product put on the European market has undergone a thorough authorization procedure based on scientific assessment," said Markos Kyprianou, the EU Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection. "There is no flexibility for unauthorized GMOs; these cannot enter the EU food and feed chain under any circumstances. The measures we have taken will ensure that unauthorized GM rice is not inadvertently imported."

FDA and USDA assured the public that the LLRICE601 variety is safe and will not adversly affect the food supply.

"Based on the available data and information, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has concluded that the presence of LLRICE601 in the food and feed supply poses no safety concerns, remarked Mike Johanns, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture. "USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service also conducted a risk assessment, which indicates LLRICE601 is safe in the environment."

Bayer CropScience, Monheim, Germany, the developer of LLRICE601, notified FDA and USDA about the presence of LLRICE601 at low levels in some samples of commerical rice seed.

The rice expresses the phosphinothricin-N-acetyltransferase (PAT) protein, which provides tolerance to a particular herbicide. According to USDA, this variety of rice was not intended for commercialization and was not submitted to FDA for evaluation under the agency’s voluntary biotechnology consultation process; however, crops that contain the PAT protein have previously been evaluated for safety by FDA through the agency’s voluntary biotechnology consultation process.

"The protein found in LLRICE601 is approved for use in other products," Johanns commented. "It has been repeatedly and thoroughly scientifically reviewed and used safely in food and feed, cultivation, import, and breeding in the United States, as well as nearly a dozen other countries around the world."

He also said that USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service estimates that in 2006 61% of the corn, 83% of the cotton, and 89% of the soybeans planted were biotech varieties.

USDA said that it will continue to monitor the situation and investigate to determine if any violations of its regulations occurred. Bayer CropSciences said that it is cooperating with USDA and FDA by providing additional safety information about the PAT protein.

Wine institute opens
The Institute for Continental Climate Viticulture and Enology will soon move its offices and personnel to the University of Missouri–Columbia to help serve Missouri’s wine and grape industry with new research and educational resources.

The university’s Division of Food Systems and Bioengineering in the College of Agriculture, Food, and Natural Resources will house the institute’s faculty, which will eventually consist of seven institute-funded faculty and staff members. One group of faculty will focus its research efforts on viticulture and the other group on enology.

Several university departments, including food science and its related activities, play roles in the grape and wine industry and will benefit from the institute’s resources.

"Initially, the institute will focus on research and extension efforts for grape and wine producers in Missouri and surrounding areas," said Jinglu Tan, Director of the Division of Food Systems and Bioengineering. "It will be fully integrated into the full MU teaching, research, and extension programs and will involve students at the graduate and even the undergraduate level. Our long-term vision is this institute will help prepare MU students to step into that work force."

Basic support for the institute will come from the Missouri Grape and Wine Board. Currently, most Missouri grape production research is conducted on co-operating, privately owned vineyards across the state. That work will continue under the direction of the institute.

Oil high in oleic acid
Iowa State University recently introduced to the food industry a new soybean oil that contains twice the amount of oleic acid found in conventional soybean oil and only 1% of linolenic acid.

Tests conducted by a group of food manufacturers will determine if the oil can be used in food products such as cereal and energy bars, powdered cheese sauces, and non-dairy creamers that require more stability than previous unhydrogenated soybean oils could deliver.

This is the latest step by researchers at the university to produce soybean oils that do not require hydrogenation. Using various plant breeding methods, the researchers were able to combine the genes that control the elevated oleic acid trait with soybean varieties that contain 1% linolenic acid.

Walter Fehr, Charles F. Curtiss Distinguished Professor of Agriculture at the university, said that the evaluations by the food industry will be extremely important for assessing the importance of elevating oleic acid in soybean oil.

"We know that the 1% linolenic acid oil performs very well. The tests by the food industry will determine if elevating the oleic acid has made the oil even better. If the results are positive, soybean breeders will develop varieties with the two traits that can be grown by farmers to expand the market for their crop," Fehr said.

The process of hydrogenation produces trans-fatty acids, which have been linked to an increased risk of heart disease. On January 1, 2006, the Food and Drug Administration began requiring food manufacturers to show the amount of trans-fatty acids on Nutrition Facts labels. Research such as this conducted by Iowa State University continues to lead to the development of new oils that can help food manufacturers reduce or remove trans-fatty acids from their products.

The Iowa Soybean Association and United Soybean Board funded the research at Iowa State University.

by Karen Banasiak,
Assistant Editor
[email protected]