New X-ray inspection equipment helps Philadelphia Cheesesteak Co. Inc. keep contaminants out of its Philly-style beef and chicken steaks.

"We expect the product coming in to be boneless, skinless, and free of any foreign objects," explains Jim Trivelis, vice president and general manager. "However, with tens of millions of pounds being further processed each year, it's highly probable that a few small pieces of bone or other contaminant could go undetected by our supplier's quality inspection program."

The cheesesteak company had been relying on metal detectors, but the machines couldn't detect calcified bone and other dense nonmetallic contaminants. From Loma Systems Inc., Carol Stream, Ill., came an Axis Pipeline X-ray inspection system, specifically designed for detecting bone. The inline system marries into existing equipment and is rugged enough to withstand big temperature swings — from cold production to high-pressure/hot-water washdown and sanitation processes.

Though typically for specified continuous runs between 7,000 and 12,000 lb/hr, the system handles linear speeds topping 18,000 lb/hr, says the company.

In production, meat or chicken typically is chunked and marinated before being put in a vacuum stuffer where it gets pushed into a pipeline and runs through the X-ray unit. A 0.8-mm linear array then scans products up to 800 times/sec. If a scan shows an abnormal density, it's highlighted on the live X-ray image and rejected. According to Loma, the machine's ability to automatically search for anomalies with a set of live data is something other X-ray pipeline inspection machines can't do. In addition to bone detection, the new system finds metal, glass, stones, ceramic, and rubber.