Ready to eat salad products are worth about £600m per year in the UK, driven by consumer demand for more convenience and plant-based diets. These products are intended for consumption without further preparation, so the presence of insects can lead to customer dissatisfaction. This can cause reputational damage, especially when customers express their dissatisfaction on social media, and about 1% per year in lost sales as consumers tend not to repurchase the product for several months.
Currently, a number of contaminant reduction strategies are deployed during growing, harvesting and processing of salad leaves to reduce the risk of insect contamination. However, as insects and invertebrates can be hidden under or in the folds of leaves, these technologies do not provide a comprehensive solution for insect detection.
Ceres is funding the development and commercial testing of a prototype insect detection device, which can ‘see through’ salad leaves to detect a range of insects and invertebrates. This will enable insects to be removed in the factory before reaching the customer. Potential benefits of this technology include improved sales through greater consumer confidence as well as reduced food waste.