Magnetic resonance used to evaluate food quality

by Matt Hamer
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SPECFit magnetic resonance
SpecFIT was developed in partnership with the Magnetic Resonance Laboratory at Embrapa Instrumentation.
 

SÃO CARLOS, BRAZIL — Nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) is widely used in the medical field, and to a lesser extent in agribusiness, where it is used to test the quality of seeds and other plant and animal products. Now, Fine Instrument Technology (FIT) based in São Carlos, Brazil, is bringing that technology to the retail commerce sector.

FIT has developed a low-field NMR device that can perform chemical analysis on food products such as grains, fruit, olive oil, milk, meat and other products in the space of a few seconds. Named SpecFIT, this device can measure sugar and fat content, moisture, tenderness and other physical and chemical properties. It does so by measuring the fade duration of an incident radio frequency pulse and then digitally compares the information in a database that translates the measurement into chemical composition information.

SpecFIT was developed in partnership with the Magnetic Resonance Laboratory at Embrapa Instrumentation, a division of the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corp. in São Carlos. The lab supplied the template for evaluation of food products.

Another application of the device is measuring the oil content of seeds without having to dehydrate them first.

“In the conventional approach, the measurement of oil content in samples requires an extraction method that can take up to 48 hours and entails the use of solvents and heat,” said Daniel Consalter, managing partner, FIT. “With the new technology the entire procedure takes no more than three minutes, including sampling, weighing and measuring.”

FIT gained funding from the São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP) Small Business Innovative Research Program (PIPE) to develop a small-scale NMR spectroscopy and image system.

“The technology is different from that used in NMR devices for medical applications,” Mr. Consalter said. “FAPESP’s PIPE program contributed to development of the imaging technology, as we were interested in the use of NMR in scientific research, especially analysis of grains.”

FIT also received funding from FAPESP to develop low-cost transportable commercial equipment for physical and chemical analyses of agricultural and food products. The project is currently in progress, and the resulting SpecFIT Food system is expected to be available by the end of 2017. The system will include a low-field NMR device with an antenna or probe, a radio transceiver and a computer.

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