Applications of hyperspectral imaging in food safety

Professor Da-Wen Sun and Xiahui Lin examine the merits and applications of hyperspectral imaging in food safety.

Unsafe foods containing harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites or chemical substances, can cause more than 200 diseases. According to the World Health Organization,1 unsafe food causes 600 million foodborne illness cases with 420,000 deaths every year. The rapid and accurate detection of microbiological and chemical hazards plays a crucial role in protecting consumers from contaminated foods and ensuring food safety. However, traditional methods that assess microbiological and chemical hazards are tedious and time consuming. For example, current pathogen detection approaches, ranging from culture-based methods to molecular technologies, can take days or up to a month to obtain the results. These delays adversely impact operating cycles, and some food businesses may risk a possible food recall to allow their products to move onto the next step in the food supply chain before receiving the results.

To improve the efficiency of food testing, some researchers focus on modifying the traditional approaches to accelerate their determination procedures, while others attempt to find an alternative technique to replace the traditional methods. Hyperspectral imaging (HSI) technique combining spectroscopy with computer vision has the capability to identify food components and visualise their distributions. Therefore, hyperspectral imaging technique has emerged as a non-invasive, rapid, chemical-free and environmentally-friendly method, and represents an alternative tool for food safety assessment.