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Using low-cost smartphone-based infrared cameras to evaluate cooling and storage conditions of fresh produce


The University of Georgia (UGA) Department of Food Science and Technology (FST) in partnership with the UGA Center for Food Safety (CFS), proposes to evaluate, through grant funding from the 2020 CPS Grant Program, the effectiveness of using low-cost smartphone-based infrared (SBIR) cameras to monitor the cooling and cold storage conditions of whole and fresh-cut produce. Populations of pathogens may increase in fresh produce when subjected to temperature abuse during post-harvest handling and storage. The use of modern temperature monitoring tools in produce handling facilities may allow the implementation of effective intervention strategies to control foodborne pathogens. Infrared (IR) thermography provides the industry with a “real time, non-destructive” monitoring solution to detect areas where temperature abuse could occur after cooling and during storage. Advanced IR cameras have been utilized in applications where accurate and high-precision temperature measurements are required. However, their cost has limited their use in produce handling environments. The recent availability of SBIR cameras has created a whole new realm of possibilities and opportunities to develop applications of these technologies aimed to improve the safety of the food supply. Hence, our team has hypothesized that the performance of SBIR cameras can be comparable to those of advanced IR cameras to monitor temperature profiles of fresh produce during cooling and storage. The specific objectives of this proof-of-concept project are 1) to compare the performance and accuracy of SBIR cameras against a professional-grade IR camera for evaluation of proper cooling and storage conditions of whole and fresh-cut produce and 2) to develop effective user-friendly methods to operate SBIR cameras in produce handling facilities. Thermal images will be acquired a professional-grade IR camera and five SBIR camera models. Also, thermal emissivity of lettuce, spinach, leafy greens, sprouts, cucumbers, tomatoes and melons will be determined. Then, thermal images of unpackaged and packaged produce will be acquired at different environmental conditions (room temperature = 4 and 20°C; relative humidity = 50 and 75%) and distances. Leafy greens and melons will be hydrocooled, cut/sliced, packaged in Ziploc bags and/or plastic trays and stored at different locations and heights in a cold room at 4°C. Thermal images of produce will be taken after hydrocooling and during 14 days of storage. Infrared temperature measurements will be compared and analyzed against measurements taken with type-K thermocouples. All experiments will be conducted in triplicate and data will be statistically analyzed (α=0.05). User-friendly methods to operate SBIR-cameras in produce handling facilities will be developed based on the experimental results. The holistic approach of this proposal will a) provide the fresh produce industry with a practical, easy-to-use, and cost-effective temperature monitoring alternative that will allow a quick response to unexpected process deviations that may compromise the temperature of fresh produce during post-harvest handling and storage and b) help the industry to improve the safety of the food supply. The objectives of this project perfectly align with the CPS 2020 RFP research priorities 3b (Postharvest receiving, Staging and Cooling – Water quality in cooling) and 5a (Shipping and Distribution – Temperature Control).

Kevin E. Mis Solval, Ph.d.; Govindaraj Dev Kumar, Ph.d.
University of Georgia
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