16 July 2015
With the hundreds of types and brands of breakfast cereal available to the masses, it must be important to make sure that the appearance of your breakfast cereal looks more appealing to the public eye than a competitor. What makes a cereal more appealing is conformity to a pre-conceived notion of appearance. For example, if we are speaking of corn flakes, they tend to lean more towards a yellow or orange colour. Any wheat based cereals, the main colour tends to be brown, similarly with oats. If a customer opens a sachet of porridge oats and finds the contents tinged with orange, you can guarantee it will be thrown away or the product returned.
This leads us to the importance of appearance analysis and how it can help a company produce the best quality breakfast cereals, regardless of ingredients. At any stage throughout production, there will be the opportunity to measure the colour of the product. The choice must be made, depending on time constraints and also the significance of colour at that particular moment, if it is worthwhile to analyse appearance. This decision would be purely individual to a manufacturer and their processes but to follow are some ideas of measurement prospects.
How much sample to use?
The amount of sample would depend on how much is available for use, the instrument being used for measurements and what type of sample it is. For the sake of accuracy, larger sample sizes would be better as it would give a better view of the overall batch appearance. Averages of these larger sample sizes would also increase the precision of colour data representing the batch in question.
Measure the sample cooked or uncooked?
For any discrepancies with a final product, the question must be asked; is it the ingredients that are the issue or the cooking process? If there is a problem with the cooking process, products may appear too dark if overcooked and too pale if undercooked. Firstly, however, it must be confirmed that there are no problems with the ingredients themselves. Why not measure both, cooked and uncooked? Make sure there is no problem with the ingredients before they are cooked; this would stop any unnecessary alterations being made to the cooking process.
Coated or uncoated, before colours or after colours?
Does the cereal have a coating or colouring of any kind? Does that coating affect final appearance? The options of taking colour measurements at this point are similar to cooked or uncooked measurements but it is always advisable to measure the colour of ingredients at the start of the process, the product before and after cooking and the product after coating. If using colourants in the production process, it is vital to make sure the colourants being added are of a consistent, correct colour before adding otherwise the final product is subject to changing with the quality of colourant.
Colour measurements at all of these stages may seem excessive but analysing the appearance at each step could save unnecessary cooking or ingredients being added, therefore saving money.
Before or after other ingredients have been added?
If, as in the case of some cereals, larger ingredients such as fruit and nuts are added and can affect the overall appearance of the product. If colour was to leak from the fruit or the other ingredients were to cast a shadow on the cereal when looked at as a whole, it can change the perceived colour of the sample. Once again it is vital to make sure the larger ingredients being added are of the desired appearance and quality so they won’t unduly affect the cereal itself.
After looking at these issues, the next topic to address would be sample preparation. Let’s say, for example, we are looking at the manufacturing of corn flakes. Measuring during the production process is slightly different as the ingredients, separately, will not be scrutinised by customers but sample preparation can be similar to the final product; what is important are final quality control checks and the best way to be thorough and true to the product during analysis. At any point during manufacturing, any solid samples can be crushed to present a more uniform, flat surface for analysis however, with regards to the finished product when seen by a customer, it is not crushed. To be accurate with analysis as to how a customer will see the product, the product must be in its final form and not altered. This would mean that there would need to be some form of spectrophotometer or colorimeter that could be capable of taking detailed measurements of a sample of irregular sizes and shapes.
What instrument can be used?
The D25 NC is a good example of a bench-top spectrophotometer that excels at measurements of irregular shaped and coloured samples. This space saving instrument allows non-contact measurements of a larger sample size that will create better average data readings and therefore more accurate results.
This instrument’s large turntable design gives a large sample area view of up to 20in2 which, when combined with rapid sampling, can allow for a greater sample selection across a batch. This feature is ideal when measuring the colour of a large batch of samples with irregular appearance and size. The D25 NC is simple to disassemble so the turntable can be removed, cleaned and reloaded with different samples as needed, so the product’s appearance, at all stages mentioned previously, can be quantified and compared to previous batches of acceptable product to make sure the manufacturing process is as it should be.
The D25 NC is able for stand-alone use with its extraordinary internal storage, allowing for up to 250 set-ups and 2000 sample measurements to be stored or, if required, can be connected to a PC via USB for use with EasyMatch QC Data Analysis Software. Having a feature such as this means that standards can be set for different ingredients, stages and finished products and samples can be compared to any of these. For example, if the cooked product is to be analysed, it would be compared against the cooked standard; if a separate ingredient is to be analysed, it can be compared against the relevant ingredient standard.
Quantifying the appearance of any breakfast cereal should not be a daunting task, but rather a valuable asset to any company that can help save time and money.
Content Written by Rachael Stothard