Bone fragments in poultry fillets - a challenge for the industry

Food safety is increasingly required in the production process

Sensorx Poultry Inline Bone Detection

Bones and bone fragments in boneless meat are a challenge for poultry processors around the world, facing the demands of increasing productivity and optimization of production. Food safety and quality are vital in the poultry processing industry and the human assessment is not always effective in bone detection. To meet industry safety and quality standards, automatic bone detection has become an essential part of the food production. X-ray technologies, such as Marel’s SensorX, are available to support this process.

Courtesy of Avicultura Industrial, nº 05, 2020 – by Humberto Luis Marques

Measuring the damage that bone fragments cause is difficult, since some variables are determinant for impact on the company. Depending on the market, industry, customers and the legal environment, bone particles in deboned meat can result in complaints, recalls, fines, all resulting in direct economical losses. "From the indirect impact, the damage to the brand is the effect which is most difficult to turn around again. A dissatisfied consumer can change a brand permanently," says Luciano Paterno, Sales Manager for Marel Poultry.

Luciano Paterno explains that in many parts of the world, especially the United States and many European countries, customers require food safety in all food processing operations. "Customers only buy food from companies that can ensure that all their products on the market are effectively checked for the content of bones and foreign materials such as metal, glass and stone. To secure brand protection and maintain worldwide sales, processors must pay special attention to food safety. It is necessary to keep consumers safe and increase customer satisfaction by constantly improving quality and competitiveness.”

A relevant issue around the world

In places like the United States and many European countries, bone fragments in meat are a relevant problem in the industry. Every day, companies seek new ways to process boneless meat, using procedures for higher safety and quality, to satisfy both industry and final consumers.

"Companies around the world invest in automation to supply boneless products to the market." According to Paterno, Marel is the market leader in poultry bone detection and promotes continuous improvements to strengthen this position. In countries in North America, Europe and Oceania, SensorX  equipment that performs this type of detection in production lines has set the industry standard. Even in other markets with a less developed industry, consumer awareness and demand for quality drive processors to seek automated solutions. “No wonder Marel has already sold more than 1,100 SensorX detection systems in more than 40 countries around the world," says Paterno.

In the poultry industry, the most common complaints in products are actually the bones, mainly related to the wishbone, rib bones and delta bones, which are usually found after the manual or automated deboning process. Contaminants such as metal, glass, stone, rubber, plastic are also common, which are usually accidentally added to the product during the process and found at the end of the line by means of metal detectors. "In many countries, shipments with a high level of bone content result in high fines for the processor. Depending on the severity, the processor is forced to make a recall."


Marel’s SensorX uses X-rays to identify bones and other hard contaminants in the poultry industry, and is operational in several processing facilities in Brazil. This system automatically locates bones and other foreign objects in the meat, using double energy X-ray signals and highly advanced software to guarantee a maximum rate of detection of bones and other contaminants. It has been designed to minimize handling, increase the value and improve the safety of products supplied to customers. This results in reduced bone content complaints, improved monitoring and minimized cross-contamination between inspected products. "The machine is very efficient for bone detection in most types of fresh meat, especially in chicken breast fillets and thigh fillets, as well as turkey and duck deboned meat. We recommend to install SensorX right after the deboning process to minimize waste and optimize yield," says Paterno.

“For poultry processors, the ideal X-ray machine should detect bone remnants and other contaminants with the highest degree of precision, with a low false positive rate,” explains Marel's Sales Manager. A false positive is a completely boneless product that is registered by the machine as if it contains residual bone. In this situation, detection statistics, although they seem impressive, do not reflect the actual situation and can be misleading for plant managers. "Our latest SensorX software not only reduces the incidence of false positives to an absolute minimum, but also detects extremely accurately those tiny bones that are difficult to see. This means less rework and fewer inspectors," continues Paterno.

Rejected products

The process is simple and fast. After deboning, the products on the conveyor belt enter the SensorX bone detector. Then, inside the X-ray emitter, the sensor captures an image of the products individually.

Using sophisticated processing, the image is analyzed for bones, identifying individually the parts that need to be removed before processing. Such a product is immediately rejected from the main product stream and redirected, via a return belt, to a workstation. Luciano Paterno explains, "SensorX uses a state-of-the-art rejection mechanism, separating contaminant products on a return conveyor belt, which directs the products back to the front of the system, where operators at the rework station will inspect the product, remove the bone particle and put the product back on the belt. This ensures that all products are re-checked and all contaminants are actually removed. The use of SensorX is especially critical in markets such as the US and Europe, where food safety is essential in all food processing operations and also important for brand loyalty. "If bones and fragments aren’t effectively removed, end customers will easily switch brands. Considering these requirements, it’s logical that 80% of our SensorX units have been sold in North America and Europe," Luciano Paterno concludes.

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