16 July 2015
The topic of animal feed is a broad one with thousands of variations included in the term. When we talk of animal feed it is to include dry kibble and wet food for dogs and cats, fish flakes and pellets and even farm animal pellets. Of course every variation of animal feed cannot be described in a single article, but the measurement of most animal feed can be accomplished in a similar way. With the controversy surrounding animal feeds today, top quality and consistent appearance is key to a good reputation.
The first step to address if you were looking to measure animal food colour would be what type of animal feed and what form the feed takes. Are you a manufacturer of wet feed or dry kibble for dogs? Does your fish feed form in flakes or pellets? Do you manufacture pellets for cows or other farmyard animals?
The first animal feed that is more scrutinised by members of the public would be dog and cat food. With owners able to spend up to £200 on one bag of dog food alone, it is a keen investment to make sure the kibble being provided is of a good, consistent quality every time.
So when should you be measuring the colour?
If we look at a general dry kibble manufacturing process, there are a few instances where colour could be measured to ensure a top quality finished product.
Colour measurement of the animal food could be taken at the end of the process with the finished product itself. Measuring at this point is a good final quality control check and reinforces the visual quality of the product before it is packaged and shipped off. However, if an error has been made at some point during the production of the finished kibble and affects the final appearance, a lot of money can be wasted by producing kibble that is not fit for sale.
Colour measurement can also be taken after the coating that is added to the kibble before packaging has been applied. However this oil and fat based coating can change the appearance of the kibble and an unsatisfactory product can result in batches being discarded. When measuring the colour of the kibble at this point, the question must be raised; is it the kibble that is of the wrong colour or the coating?
That leads on to the next instance where colour can be measured. The dried kibble and the coating can be measured separately to make sure both ingredients are satisfactory. By this point, the kibble is cooked, cooled and been extruded into its final shape. A discrepancy in colour at this point may indicate a problem with the cooking process. A kibble that is overcooked may appear darker and, alternatively, if it is undercooked it will appear lighter. These changes in appearance can be noticed by consumers. However, although the kibble can indicate an error in the cooking process, is it accurate to assume that peculiar cooked kibble colour is a result of faulty cooking alone, or can the ingredients be to blame?
The uncooked paste could be measured. This paste is the result of the wet and dry ingredients being mixed together before cooking. If this paste is of the wrong colour then the cooked product will definitely not be right. But what can be done about the paste?
This leads to the beginning of the manufacturing process; the ingredients themselves. Before being mixed together into the paste, dry and wet ingredients are ground up separately. This would be an opportune moment to measure the colour of the powders. By measuring at the start of the process before no external factors can be considered means that any problems can be solved from the start to save costs and time.
If the quality of the feed is of utmost importance, why not measure at each stage?
Pellet type feeds are made in a similar way to kibble and their appearance can be measured in similar stages in the manufacturing process.
Starting at the beginning with the ingredients is always a positive start to the quality control process. Once ingredients are ground down into a powder ready for mixing, they can be measured. Ingredients will appear different depending on the state they are in; with the ingredients in powder form, it allows for a more uniform surface for measurements to be taken, therefore increasing accuracy.
The ingredients can also be measured after the cooking process. It would be fair to assume the mixed ingredients would have no erroneous appearance if the ingredients themselves were deemed acceptable, but a varying colour after the heating process can indicate the pellets being overcooked or undercooked.
A final opportunity to inspect the appearance of the pellets would be right at the end of the process, after they have been cooled. Measuring here would ensure a final quality control check before being sent to a consumer.
Another similarly produced feed would be flakes made for fish. As fish have been proven to be drawn to certain colours, care should be taken during the manufacturing process of the fish flakes to make sure they are of an appetising colour to the fish. Again, there are varying points in the manufacturing process to measure the colour.
We can start right at the beginning with the individual ingredients. The majority of the ingredients are in powder form, such as the fish meal or wheat flour. In addition there are the colorants to take into account. These need to be correct and consistent to start with or the final product wonâ€™t look as expected. Also included in the ingredients are oils such as soy and paprika. These can be measured for colour but also haze; an indicator of the presence of impurities that affect the finished appearance and quality,
After the ingredients have been mixed, cooked and rolled into paper-like sheets, the colour can be measured again. Measuring the colour at this point may indicate an error in the cooking process and prevents any unacceptable batches of a certain colour being mixed with the remaining colours. It would not be cost effective to have to re-do all of the colour batches if only one was unsatisfactory.
These two points are the only optimum stages to measure the colour as after the different colour batches are mixed, the colour cannot be measured effectively.
Wet dog or cat food, however, can be slightly more difficult to measure as once the ingredients are mixed, they are put into containers, sealed and then cooked. This process makes it imperative that the ingredients are of consistent quality at the start as once mixed, they are inaccessible unless the finished product is opened.
So what can you use to measure the colour of animal food?
Measuring throughout these processes may seem complicated, but these measurement intervals can actually prevent the production and sale of unsatisfactory products, saving time and money in the end. The addition of a colour measurement practice in the manufacturing process neednâ€™t be a hindrance so it is important to find an instrument that supports any process.
An instrument that is proficient of taking measurements at the different intervals would be a D25NC Spectrophotometer. The D25NC has proven to be an ideal, versatile instrument used in many manufacturing processes as it is easily cleanable and can take a vast sample of the product for analysis. The D25NC works through use of a turntable system that can measure a large batch of irregular samples and be emptied and wiped clean for use with another sample. It may be that the powder ingredients require measurement at the start of the process yet the final kibble product measurement is needed at the end. Simply discard the powder, clean the turntable and add the kibble.
If it is just the start ingredients that require measurements, a ColorQuest XE could be used. This productive instrument can measure the powdered ingredients at the start of the process, but also the liquid ingredients included in the production process. The ColorQuest XE can also measure how much haze there may be in a liquid, such as oil, to ensure there arenâ€™t any impurities rendering it unsatisfactory. A ColorQuest XE is also ideal for the use in wet feed production as the ingredients involved are both solid and liquid.
How time consuming would measuring samples be?
Providing quantifiable data of the food measured should not be time consuming at all. The key is having a clear method of sample preparation and measurement procedure. To use the ColorQuest XE is very simple. Just fill a sample cup with the powder or liquid product that requires analysis, place the sample cup at the measurement port and press the button. Using the D25NC is even easier; it conducts non-contact measurements so time doesnâ€™t have to be spent getting a perfectly smooth sample surface. The sample can just be poured onto the turntable dish and measured.
Dependent on the production process and what is required, quality control via colour measurement is a task well within the capabilities of animal feed manufacturers and should be a necessary quality control procedure to stop unsatisfactory products being sold to caring pet and farm owners.
Content Written by Rachael Stothard