The Rapid Assessment Unit is a continuing collaboration between James Cook University and the Queensland Government's Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (QDAFF) established under a collaborative agreement executed in February 2004. It is located within the Cairns, Nguma-bada campus of James Cook University.

A Joint Management Committee oversee the progress of the joint venture as set out in the formal agreement.
RAU avocado scan graphicImage capture of an avocado with a scar defects using a research NIR system

The Rapid Assessment Unit was developed in response to the need to be able to rapidly and non-destructively evaluate the quality and safety attributes of horticultural, agricultural and forestry products, and extend into new areas including processed food, seafood, meat, dairy etc.

The outcomes of this initiative are providing industries with the ability and tools to non-invasively and rapidly assess (fraction of a second per test) various chemical attributes of the desired sample, with the potential of assessing every item in an in-line application. This enables industry to guarantee quality and safety of products entering the food chain and environment.

Rapid Assessment Unit research foci also include equipment modifications for use in the field (hand-held units to check quality of fruit on the tree, uses in breeding programs and in marine sciences) and environmental monitoring (mining, waste stream management, water quality etc).

The Rapid Assessment Unit has an ongoing program of research encompassing non-invasive rapid assessment technologies with the initial focus on near infrared (NIR) spectroscopy, while evaluating future work with other emerging technologies such as nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) imaging, X-ray optical density and acoustic assessments in the determination of food safety and quality, and to adapt these new technologies to transform the food industry.