What is Food Sensing

What is Food Sensing exactly? Discover all you need to know about food sensing right here!

Food sensing, or food processing sensing is an approach that emulates human perception to measure and record the properties of foods and beverages. These properties include primarily colour or appearance and ultimately, our eyes are converting data into colour. Other invisible wavelengths (NIR or UV) can be used for added measuring of processed food properties. Colour is measured in Nanometers and therefore minute samples are possible.

The first sense we use to determine the quality of food, is sight. How something looks to us will tell us whether we should go ahead and taste the item. The colour of food also tells us how we think the food will taste. For example, yellow is often associated with something sour, while red or purple may be associated with something sweet. This is a completely natural process.

Since the beginning of time, we as humans have been using our sense of sight, before smell and taste, to determine whether a food is both safe and desirable to consume.

In fact, there is research that weighs in on how colour gives us an expectation about taste which we cover in our blog ‘Why is Colour so Important to the Food and Beverages Industry’. Within the first 3-7 seconds of viewing an item, you are likely to make a decision on whether you want to taste it or not. Food has to look right in order to taste right – or so our senses tell us.

Natural Food Sensing

Think about your last trip to the supermarket or greengrocer. If you were shopping for vegetables, you may have chosen a few tomatoes, onions and potatoes out of their respective bins and had them weighed. Or you may have looked at the veggies in the bin and opted for the pre-packed options instead. What made you make the choices you did? The appearance of those vegetables would have provided you with an indication of their potential quality and therefore their taste, as well as whether they were as fresh as you would expect.

Why do food manufacturers measure the colour of food?

By measuring the colour of ingredients and final products, food manufacturers are able to:

  1. Control and improve quality and consistency
  2. Predict shelf life
  3. Reduce waste through Right First Time manufacturing principals
  4. Eliminate uncertainty and reduce risk
  5. Detect adulteration and authenticate raw materials
  6. Maintain consistent quality standards
  7. Improve the appearance of food
  8. Meet different markets colour requirements
  9. Optimise production steps to reduce costs and increase output

To Control and Improve Quality and the Consistency of Colour, Food Sensing or Food Processing Sensing is key… 

Top food and beverage manufacturers go to great lengths to ensure that the colour between batches remains consistent at all times. Why do they do this? Quite simply, a consumer expects a food to look the same each and every time they purchase it. In fact, they will make their decision at the shelf when viewing an item and if there are any inconsistencies of a brand on the shelf, they will likely opt to not purchase the product at all.

Colour Control in Food Sensing

This was experienced by a leading restaurant chain not too long ago. They had decided to produce ‘home style’ sauces for sale at a few large supermarkets. They specifically opted to create batches of one particular sauce using natural ingredients and because colour had not been controlled, this resulted in differing colours of the sauce between batches. Consumers did not like this, and sales dropped. They then decided to control the colour of the sauce and specifically it’s ingredients to ensure a consistent colour across batches. Sales once again improved.

It is one thing to measure food colour when artificial colourants (LIMITED) and additives are used. It is quite another when it comes to natural food colour in food sensing.

According to a Sensient national survey in South Africa, 63% of consumers are more likely to purchase a brand that has replaced artificial colours with colours from natural sources.

So how do you ensure that the colour of food and beverages – specifically natural food and beverages – are always consistent?

The trick is to measure each ingredient for a standard in colour, as well as the food and ingredients during various stages of the manufacturing process.

This ensures that a standard of quality is reliably produced for every single batch which aligns to what consumers expect on the shelf and ensures that the actual quality and taste of the food or beverage remains consistent.

How is colour in food measured?

Food manufacturers across the production chain – quite literally from farm to fork – assess the quality of their food through colour measurement, or food sensing.

They do this using a spectrophotometer and spectroscopy and we cover these terms in detail in our blog post ‘Definitions of Spectrum, Spectroscopy and Spectrophotometer’.

There are various spectrophotometers on the market. Konica Minolta is ubiquitous in food processing and manufacturing, but we supply a wide variety of spectrophotometers. When it comes to understanding which spectrophotometer to use, Narich is able to assist you to determine which device will work best for your particular application.

How does Food Sensing help control freshness in perishable foods…

Food Sensing Perishable Items

Any colour differentiations in meat, fish and poultry will indicate changes in freshness and spoiling, while in fresh produce such as fruits and vegetables, colour variations will detect degradation and the loss of quality. Sometimes VALUE is linked to colour.

Leading supermarket chains use strict protocols when it comes to the colour of foods packaged for them by farmers and manufacturers. Their objective is the uniformity of colour and when packed, this consistency of colour translates to the perception of freshness and quality.

Is it possible to reduce waste using food sensing and ensure a Right First Time approach?

By sensing the colour of ingredients and product at every stage of the food and beverage production process, you can reduce waste significantly.

For example, colour grading flour (watch how to grade here) before it is used to produce a baked product, such as biscuits, can help reduce waste. This is because the correct colour of the flour can be established before production begins which, using the right methods and baking conditions, will result in a product that is aligned with your required specifications.

This means that you can identify where a problem exists in your production process – whether it be the raw ingredients or the baking process and help you identify where waste is occurring.

We talk more about why you should measure the colour of biscuits in our detailed blog post that covers this subject in detail.

Assessing the safety of foods and beverages can be achieved using food sensing…

Best before dates and visual assessments are an ineffective method for determining the safety and freshness of foods. As an affordable and highly effective method, spectrophotometry has been used extensively in the food manufacturing industry to monitor the safety and quality of food and is an internationally approved method of analysis.

Using food sensing and standardised product colour specifications, we are able to test how fresh a food item is by checking it’s colour.

Again, leading supermarkets use colour referencing and food sensing to determine the freshness of their fruits and vegetables, as well as meat products. Foods at the manufacturing or packing stage are assessed by checking colour against optimal guidelines.

This is where we talk about sample data tested against target data. The target data represents the ideal and using spectrophotometry we are able to establish the quality of a sample against this data.

We talk about this in depth using the measurement of beverages as an example. This practical example uncovers exactly how the food sensing process works and what it means in the analysis of food.

Let’s talk solutions in food sensing – what is the next step?

Food sensing is so simple that nearly anyone can do it. Using the right spectrophotometer, you are able to control with precision, the quality and safety of your foods and beverages during the manufacturing process, as well as during packaging and before delivery.

We have a wide range of spectrophotometers to choose from and so choosing the right one could be confusing. That’s why we are here to assist you.

How do you choose the right spectrophotometer in food sensing? 

Konica Minolta Spectraphotometer

There are a few things that we consider when it comes to helping you choose the right spectrophotometer:

  • The application and nature of the product?
  • The problem and requirements for colour measurement?
  • The size of the spectrophotometer – do you need to transport it or need a hand-held device?
  • The cost – what will your budget allow? What is the cost of the problem that needs to be solved?
  • Spectral vs Non-spectral data?
  • The durability – in what environment will you be using it?

These are the basic considerations we will take into account, but during a call with you, we would discuss the specifics of your application and business objectives.

We have worked with a diverse range of companies and have experience in your specific application. Here are some of the applications that we have assisted our customers with. Our range of products and options is diverse and allows us to choose the perfect instrument for your needs.

If you would like to discuss how food sensing impacts your business and the best tool to get the job done, send us a message, we would love the opportunity to help you.

How do you use a spectrophotometer?

This is a very good question. While Konica Minolta provide user videos such as this one, currently, there is no tertiary qualification that covers the use of a spectrophotometer. Most customers that invest in these spectrophotometers, are left with lengthy user manuals to wade through so that they can understand how to operate their device.

Narich makes things easy for our clients. We are here to support you through the purchasing of a device, through the initial setup, to managing and maintaining your device in the future.

This is why we have introduced the Narich Academy to customers which includes our Narich Nano Support Service.

The Narich Academy is a one stop destination for knowledge, support and learning. Geared to helping you understand how to implement colour measurement technology in your business, the Narich Academy is here to help you. Whether it is hardware or software related, we have an abundance of resources and support to help you.

The Narich Academy includes three key pillars, these are:

  • Technology Transfer – we transfer knowledge from our expert team to yours in a way that is convenient to you. We provide single topics to full day training either face-to-face or via online platforms such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams.
  • Customer Support – we offer rapid support when you need it through our Nano Support Service. Support is fully personalised and you get the one-on-one, undivided attention of an expert when you need it.
  • Learning Centre – providing a wide range of resources relating to colour, light and spectroscopy, we provide you with a wealth of information. From blogs, booklets and manuals to videos, you have all the information you need at your fingertips.

So what is your next step?

Having uncovered most of what there is to know about food sensing, you may be wondering how you can review a spectrophotometer for your own company. Whether you are sitting in the lab or in the office, our team can assist you with a full, remote or face-to-face demonstration that is tailored to your specific manufacturing requirements.

We offer bench-top and handheld devices which all come with full support that includes training as we mentioned earlier, as well as setup and with our Service Centre – maintenance, troubleshooting, repairs, inspections and annual instrument certification.

Get in touch with us today and let’s get talking. Simply send us your details below and we will get in touch with you immediately to discuss the most convenient time to meet with you, online or in person.

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