16 July 2015
Cashews, peanuts, macadamias, hazelnuts; the list can go on. Their uses as a snack, in a salad, in cooking and baking are universal and commonly used by most households. The quality of a perfectly prepared snack is based on many different aspects; the most important to a lot of consumers being appearance as, if a product doesn’t look as expected, it will never get to be tasted.
There are always going to be natural variants in the colour of foods such as nuts unless they have been intentionally artificially or naturally coloured but the basis for any of these snacks is the nut itself. The appearance of the nut is the foundation for the final product. After preparation and cooking, even before extra ingredients are added, any variation of nut should look good enough to eat. After any ingredients are added, the appeal should still be the same.
What is a good tool for the job?
With the production of any mass produced food item any instrument, either colorimeter or spectrophotometer, should be easily used by any operator without the necessity of endless programming and perfected sample preparation and placement. No operator has a limitless amount of time to spend so, for the amount of product being produced, we would be looking for something along the lines of adding the sample, pressing a button and then changing the sample as needed.
There are a wide range of machines out there that can be used for a task such as this but, for the sake of example, I will talk about a certain non-contact spectrophotometer that can best illustrate the application of colour and appearance measurement in this situation and give some indications of certain points to address when analysing appearance. Using an instrument such as the HunterLab D25 NC Spectrophotometer can allow for appearance analysis at any point throughout the manufacturing process. It can accommodate uncooked and cooked nuts of any variety, before and after flavourings have been added. These capabilities make it adaptable to fit into any manufacturing routine and provide assistance with quality control where it is deemed necessary, an important aspect for any instrument. This would be the first point to think of; will an instrument help or hinder our processes?
For a fast flowing production process, any instrument used should be able to keep up with demand. The D25 NC has rapid sampling capabilities that can allow for 5 flashes per second, 25 times per cycle; dramatically cutting down on time spent on quality control whilst simultaneously being able to increase end product standards. Any instrument acquired should be capable of persevering with the amount of sample being tested on a daily basis without sacrificing accuracy for speed.
When it comes to greater accuracy across a batch, the larger the sample size measured, the more accurate the results can be. The D25 NC it’s large turntable design gives a large sample area view of up to 20in2 which can allow for a greater sample selection across a batch, particularly when utilised with its rapid colour measurements. With any irregular sample, such as nuts, the larger the sample size that can be measured the better average can be obtained which gives a broader view of the product as a whole.
If the circumstance arises where a certain type of sample is measured regularly but a completely different sample needs analysis occasionally, a spectrophotometer, such as the D25 NC, should be adaptable to this eventuality. This spectrophotometer is purposely designed for laboratory and plant use as it requires no tools for assembly and disassembly, allowing for thorough cleaning between batches, particularly for the occasional different sample. The ideal tool for the appearance analysis of nuts is a spectrophotometer that can accommodate samples of nuts of any type, in any form and at any stage of the manufacturing process, whilst being able to provide accurate results and be straight forward for any operator to use.
Any spectrophotometer that excels at measurements of irregular shaped and coloured samples should be a space saving instrument and allow for non-contact measurements of a larger sample size that will create better average data readings and therefore more accurate results, making sure that customers are pleased with the product every time.
How does this help with the quality control process?
Being able to measure the colour of the samples at any point enables an extremely thorough quality control process. So when are the opportune moments to analyse appearance?
Before cleaning? This is not especially necessary as external factors will affect the appearance so you will not be able to gather data that represents the nut itself.
After cleaning? This stage is a better idea. After all impurities have been removed from the samples, you are left with a better representation of the nut. At this stage you can evaluate the quality of the nuts and, if not up to standard, discard them before adding to the cooking process and save money by not cooking them unnecessarily.
After cooking? This is another helpful stage for measurements as colour of a product after cooking can determine the quality of the cooking process itself. Too light and it has been undercooked, too dark and the product is overcooked.
After flavourings? Monitoring appearance after any external factors have been added, such as flavourings or coatings, can ensure that the final appearance remains consistent and appealing to the eye, batch after batch.
What about the flavourings themselves? Why not measure the coatings before spending the time and money adding them to the nuts? If the coating is not to the correct quality then it would be extremely costly to combine with the nuts as the final appearance would not be correct and the nuts would be wasted.
Of course, every manufacturing plant is different and has different routines, methods and operatives. Whatever the instrument and method chosen, it should be easy for everyone to use and adhere to, collect the desired results and help with the quality control process. Providing the best equipment and method for evaluating appearance that suits everyone is key for the finest possible product.
Content Written by Rachael Stothard