Woody Breast
The Tomra QV-P is an inline tool designed to help processors identify woody breast on processing lines.

Detection and inspection

The primary way woody breast is detected in processing plant environments is through inspection by quality assurance personnel on the processing line. Line workers use tactile evaluation by feeling the chicken breasts for the hardened tissue. Then they can segregate the affected product from the rest.

Last year, USPOULTRY helped fund a research project that investigated possible ways to use imaging technology to detect the woody breast condition. Results from the study, “Identification of the Wooden Breast Condition in Broiler Breast Fillets Using Imaging Technology,” were released Aug. 19, 2016.

In this study, which was funded in part by $11,500 from USPOULTRY and an endowment from St. Cloud, Minnesota-based GNP Co., researchers used various imaging technologies to attempt to differentiate between the muscle surface characteristics of normal fillets and those affected with woody breast. Study results concluded that imaging analysis could clearly distinguish between fat, muscle and connective tissue on the surface of breast fillets to assess their relative quantities. Breast fillets in the study could be categorized as having woody breast with more than 95 percent accuracy.

“These results point to the feasibility of adapting imaging technology to detect wooden breast in an online processing plant setting,” USPOULTRY said in a statement. “The development of such imaging technologies for detecting the WB condition would allow processors to more easily and accurately segregate product based on quality and uniformity.”

The next step, Glisson says, would be for an imaging company to design specific equipment that could go into a commercial setting to perform this task. Enter the QVision system from Asker, Norway-based Tomra.

The sorting equipment company’s QVision system has been used in the red meat and seafood industry for more than five years. Its patented “interactance spectroscopy” technology uses infrared light to penetrate about 1 in. into a piece of meat to analyze fat, moisture and protein.

After the woody breast condition became a more prevalent concern for poultry processors, Tomra decided to take a closer look at its QVision system to see if it could be tweaked and used to detect the condition. “With the muscle myopathy present in the upper 1 in. of the chicken breast, it allowed us to deploy our existing technology to look for the specific changes in the chemical composition of the affected part of the fillet,” says Thorsten Niermeyer, business unit manager for process analytics at Tomra Sorting Ltd. Finding those changes in the chemical composition means being able to detect woody breast, Niermeyer says.

After a small amount of redesign, the Tomra QV-P is now being sold specifically as an inline tool to help processors detect woody breast on their processing lines. The inline system enables poultry processors to identify quality deviations and has the capability to communicate in real time with sorting conveyors or robots to remove affected product from the production line.

“The system not only detects the presence of woody breast, it also records the data and statistics per flock, allowing processors to track suppliers,” Niermeyer explains. “It provides information about the variation of the myopathy in different flocks, allowing comparison and payment terms according to quality.”

While a consensus has yet to be reached among researchers and industry academics about the cause of the woody breast condition, all agree that it’s in the processor’s best interest to be able to remove the product from the line before it ends up in the consumer’s mouth. Whether this is done manually or with detection equipment, it’s essential for poultry product quality control.

“Detecting woody breast allows processors to sell prime quality product, rather than getting customer complaints,” Niermeyer says. “There is monetary value for a processor, as they can receive the highest price for a premium product. Devaluing an entire batch, due to presence of woody breast fillets, would have severe financial consequences.”