Packaging protects food products from environmental influences, assuring quality and safety throughout shelf life if properly performed. Packaging quality depends on the quality of the packaging material and of the closure or seal. A common problem possibly jeopardizing seal quality is the presence of seal contamination, which can cause a decreased seal strength, an increased packaging failure risk and leak formation. Therefore, early detection and removal of seal contaminated packages from the production chain is crucial. In this work, a pulsed-type active thermography method using the heated seal bars as an excitation source was studied for detecting seal contamination. Thermal image sequences of contaminated seals were recorded shortly after sealing. The detection performances of six thermal image processing methods, based on a single frame, a fit of the cooling profiles, thermal signal reconstruction, pulsed phase thermography, principal component thermography and a matched filter, were compared. High resolution digital images served as a reference to quantify seal contamination, and processed thermal images were mapped to these references. The lowest detection limit (equivalent diameter 0.60 mm) was obtained for the method based on a fit of the cooling profiles. Moreover, the detection performance of this method did not depend strongly on the time after sealing at which recording of the thermal images was started, making it a robust and generally applicable method.
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