A look beneath the peel of a potato

12-07-2023 | |
Photo: SciMingo
Photo: SciMingo

Belgians are already very good at making fries. Still, things can be done even better thanks to technology, says Wout Vierbergen (ILVO – KU Leuven). He uses hyperspectral cameras and artificial intelligence to search for black spots beneath the peel of a potato. For example, he wants to help fries producers to trace bruised potatoes, so that they only have the best ones left to make fries.

Passionate about technology, food and agriculture, and sustainable systems, it is no coincidence that these aspects are reflected in Wout Vierbergen’s research. His doctoral research at the Belgian ILVO (Institute for Agricultural, Fisheries and Food Research) and KU Leuven investigates how you can measure food quality by combining infrared light measurements and innovative artificial intelligence. The aim of this research is to contribute to processes used in the food industry to ensure food quality and safety.

“In our laboratory, we succeeded in detecting black spots beneath the potato peel using hyperspectral cameras. Instead of the three colors that we see as humans, red-green-blue, we can observe up to several hundred different colors, or wavelengths, with hyperspectral sensors. By also looking at the infrared light, we can observe black spots under the skin. Thanks to our special cameras, we make the invisible visible,” says Vierbergen in an explanation video for Science Uitdokterd (English subtitles), an initiative of the non-profit organization SciMingo, which promotes science and technology in Flanders, Belgium.

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Problem solved?

Has this solved the problem of black spots on French fries? “Not really. It is not easy to make the transition from laboratory to industry. The sensors we use are quite sensitive. If you use a different lighting, the potato has a different shape, or if you suddenly want to make fries from a different potato variety, the system may unfortunately no longer work,” explains the researcher. “Together with my colleagues, I therefore try to facilitate the transition from laboratory to industry during my research. By collecting data in a smart way and using artificial intelligence, we also hope to be able to detect the black spots beneath the peel on a larger scale,” he continues. By using the potatoes with black spots to make puree or to process them in animal feed, the detection with hyperspectral cameras ultimately also helps to prevent food waste, Vierbergen concludes.

Ed Asscheman Online editor Future Farming
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