How AI can stop cross-contamination in the kitchen

Is AI the way to stop food contamination?

Automation in the kitchen is already here – think the Thermomix – but keeping food preparation hygienic is still very much a human job. Or is it? It looks like this could soon change with the help of cutting-edge artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics technologies.

Here are some of the ways that AI systems and robots are helping to eliminate the problem of cross-contamination in the kitchen.

Robot chefs

While it can be argued that nothing beats handmade cuisine, robot chefs might still eventually end up replacing the human variety. UK-based robotics firm Moley recently demonstrated a fully robotic kitchen, consisting of programmable robot arms that can prepare an endless range of recipes – and wash the dishes as well.

By perfectly replicating the prerecorded movements of a human chef, it can ensure that important hygiene protocols – such as not using the same utensil twice – are followed precisely every time. According to the robot’s designers, future versions will be able to detect whether there is a food contamination risk during the recording process and, if so, block the recording of the recipe. As a further safety measure, the robot will only operate when a protective screen in front of it has been closed.

Fast food vendors may end up being the biggest beneficiaries of the robotics revolution. US company Momentum Machines has demonstrated a ‘burger bot’ that can assemble, cook and package hundreds of burgers every hour. As well as saving on wages, training and management overheads, the device can eliminate the cross-contamination risks of running a busy kitchen with multiple staff.

Improved compliance and cleaning

While it may be a while before robots take over completely, AI is already helping food workers adhere to hygiene regulations. In Shanghai, the local health agency is using facial and object recognition systems which tap into the power of AI deep-learning algorithms to detect whether food service workers are wearing hats and masks. Problems can be caught and corrected in near-real time, drastically reducing the hygiene risks of non-compliance.

Although AI and robots can help to create a cleaner and safer kitchen, there’s still the risk of contamination occurring further up the food supply chain. Due to strict hygiene laws, food processors and manufacturers often spend several or more hours every day cleaning their equipment – a task that increases production costs and can lead to non-compliance.

To solve this issue, the University of Nottingham is developing an AI-based sensor system that can precisely measure contamination levels inside food processing equipment. The aim is to make the cleaning process much more targeted and efficient without compromising food safety.

The AI assistant

Over the next five to 10 years, AI is likely to be helping chefs with everything from ordering basic ingredients to cooking the perfect consommé. AI assistants such as Google Home and Alexa can already serve as voice-activated recipe guides, for an easier and more hands-free cooking experience.

In the future, it’s easy to imagine every chef having a personal AI assistant. And this can only be a good thing for kitchen hygiene – for example, why ask the head chef to pass you the knife when your AI assistant can help you?

Cooking is a skill that’s often neglected throughout the course of our busy lives. AI and robotics are set to make food preparation easier and safer.

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Is AI the way to stop food contamination?

17th April 2018
Tania Dalton, Research & Innovation, Initial Hygiene
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