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Ultrasound Imaging for Fat Measurement

26 March 2011

Developments in software technology are now allowing ultrasound imaging to be used automatically and repetitively to accurately measure carcase value at each stage of the supply chain, writes TheMeatSite editor in chief, Chris Harris.

The use of ultrasound can help to ensure that value is distributed accurately by measuring at each stage of the chain benefiting both the supplier and the customer, Alan Picken from BCF Innovative Imaging told a recent Quality Meat Scotland R&D Conference in Perth.

However, he said that the measurements that are taken are both complex and varied and can only be assess following slaughter, or on the cutting table or when the product is being eaten.

He said that at present the grading system that is used - the EUROP system - measures the composition and conformation and fat class through a visual external assessment.

Such an assessment is limited but if the internal fat could also be measured it would complement the current system.

This can be achieved by using ultrasound, Mr Picken told the conference.

"Ultrasound is a fantastic tool for visualising internal soft tissue," he said.

"It has been used for measuring fat content manually for pigs, sheep and cattle for 20 years."

However, he said that to date it has mainly been used to focus on the breeding selection process, but a similar process can be used for animals when they reach the production line.

He said that the measurements obtained from imaging the backfat provide a high correlation to the fat composition of the entire carcase.

The internal measurements complement the external visual assessment as well as video image analysis for conformation and fat class.

These backfat measurements can be taken either on the live animal pre-slaughter or on the carcase post slaughter.

"For it to be accepted on the line, you need to get the whole chain to accept it," said Mr Picken.

"But you can get real time read out of fat depth and you can improve you real time meat quality scanning."

He said that using ultrasound removes the need for slow calliper measuring that is used in the manual system and robotic handling of the probe could also improve the repeatability of the process.

Backfat measurements can be taken at a speed of 10 frames a second and the real time feed back gives the operator relevant information about the probe positioning and the accuracy of the scan.

Mr Picken said that the research work into the use of ultrasound is being carried out to test the suitability for a slaughter line that requires a robust system providing extremely accurate and reliable fat depth measurements.

The backfat measuring used post slaughter can provide a complete chain solution to fat measurement and the real time analysis and it can also be used further back in the chain on the farm on the live animal to provide the farmer with data about potential fat and meat yield, giving information about the optimal time for slaughter.

March 2011

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